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The Philosophy of Tipping: Restaurants
By Matthew Treder
You know the drill. The restaurant bill reads $54.61, and all the math equations you once had forgotten try to climb out of the cobwebs. You think, “20% of 54 dollars is what? Wait, is it 55 dollars? And was the service worth 20%? What’s 18% of that? You think that’s fair?” You pull out your iPhone and land on 16%, just because you had to ask a second time for your ranch dressing. It’s not that big of a deal, really.

If you like to dine out, follow this simple, cardinal rule: Always, always, tip 18-20%. Now, take this with one tiny grain of salt, because if we’re talking about “never check on you, mix up your order three times, hair in the food, I hate my job” type of service . . . we can make exceptions. Most often than not, though, we as customers receive good quality service, and that is where my rule falls into place.

As a former waiter myself, you may think I’m biased. Well, yes, I am—but with good reason. I raked in $2.15 per hour, and needless to say, this alone wouldn’t suffice in handling my expenses. I love the argument that “you chose to do that job, so live with it”. True; and you chose to come to my restaurant and dine out, which tipping is very much a part of. Look, I’m sorry, but if you can’t pull out a few extra dollars to make your servers happy and show appreciation for them waiting on you, then maybe you shouldn’t be eating out in the first place.

A few things to consider: 1) You cannot relate the quality of food to your server; that lies directly on the cook staff. 2) If they don’t swing by your table every minute, look around, they probably have at least a half dozen other tables to serve. Your extra napkins or drink can wait a couple minutes. 3) The difference between a 20% tip and a 16% tip on a $50 bill is just two dollars! The money should not be an issue, and to servers, the difference in percentage can make their night. In addition to that, your ensuring the next guests will enjoy an up beat server, which in effect should create a great trickle down affect.

Here’s an example of what not to do, which I experienced back in my waiting days: I was assigned a table which sat a daughter along with her two parents. It wasn’t that busy so I made sure I kept a close eye on their needs, but apparently that didn’t hinder their horrible attitudes. Plenty of beverages and some steak/lobster combo-plates later, I thought “sweet, here should be about $20”, as the bill was around $100. After they had shuffled out, I walked to the table and laid eyes on my fate—$2. Yes, two dollars or 2%! The movie Waiting comes to mind. Needless to say, it ruined my shift and I’d bet subsequent tables felt my angst, which none of them deserved.

Keep in mind that plenty of servers will feed off the emotions they receive from customers. Servers can also be under an enormous amount of stress, so give them some slack and a “that’s Ok” when they apologize for missing your water refill (it’s also acceptable to look them in the eyes, it bugged me when people acted like I would turn them to stone if they did so).

Let me close by saying that I am all for saving a few dollars here and there, and that can add up over time. This sort of thinking can apply to grocery shopping, skipping a movie rental, or staying in on Friday night—but if you venture out into the service industry world, know that there are expectations. There’s a reason some places automatically charge a gratuity for tables of a certain size; they want to protect their workers and ensure they are paid for their service. Appreciate your servers, because they are a big part of what makes going out such a pleasant experience.

Bars are a different animal . . . and that’s another story.

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