Tipping Guide for Good and Bad Service from an Ex-Waitress

by Jamie Simmerman · 1,668 comments

Waitress getting tipped for good service

When we go out to eat, my husband always asks, “How much should I tip?” It seems as though this flexible figure stymies many patrons, especially when the service is above average or far less than stellar.

As a former waitress and hostess, I can honestly say that dealing with the hungry public can be challenging and exhausting, and that servers deserve far more than the reduced minimum wage plus tips the government says they’re worth. With more and more people seeking second jobs or temp work to boost their incomes, this issue is more important now than in previous years.

How do you determine how much to tip?

Here are a few basic guidelines to help you out:

Tipping Guide for Good and Bad Service

  •  The general rule of thumb (for me) is to round the bill up to the nearest $10, and leave 20%. This is easy to calculate, and it rewards servers for good service. I know many people claim 15% is adequate, but keep in mind that your server is making just over $2 an hour without tips to run him- or herself ragged. Go ahead and splurge for the 20%. You’ll make your server feel good, and you’ll get great service when you return to the restaurant.
  •  If you receive poor service, don’t leave without providing a tip. Believe me, a $1 tip will be noticed much more than no tip, since your server may think you just forgot. Before you leave a lower tip, however, try to take into consideration the staffing and patron level in the restaurant, and remember that your server may just be having a bad day. Leaving a pleasant note of encouragement, or a decent tip, may be enough to turn their day around.
  • Include a kind word and a smile with every tip and try to clean up after yourself as much as possible. If my kids leave food on the floor or sticky messes on the table, I ask for a dustpan or a wet cloth to return the table to its condition prior to our arrival. You never know if your server will turn out to be your next door neighbor, a single mom, a volunteer firefighter, or your child’s teacher, so treating them with kindness and respect is a required part of every tip.
  • If you receive truly awful service, talk to your server. If the service doesn’t improve after communicating your needs and failed expectations, then ask to speak to a manager. Never go straight to the boss with your complaints when there’s a possibility of rectifying the situation one-on-one.
  • Don’t skimp on tips in order to save money! If you can’t afford to tip adequately, choose someplace less expensive or opt for an establishment where you’ll serve yourself.
  • If your server only brings your drinks, or the food is served buffet-style, it’s appropriate to leave a lesser tip, but 10-15% still applies.
  • If your chosen establishment includes a bartender, hostess, bus boy, or other additional serving staff, keep in mind that your server will probably have to share tips with these other members of the wait staff, as well. In this case, it’s best not to tip solely on the performance of one staff member.

While it’s important to live frugally and pinch pennies when possible, tipping is not an area in which you should be trimming your budget. If you’re going to eat out, an adequate tip is a standard part of the bill.

Do you agree? How do you determine what to tip for good or bad service? You may also want to hear other people’s opinions on tipping, as we’ve discussed this topic before both here and here.

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{ 1668 comments… read them below or add one }

Waldaddy September 8, 2014 at 12:09 pm

The article is ridiculous, maybe the waitress had a bad day and isn’t up to doing a good job so we should be considerate and clean up after ourselves. Are you kidding me, if i do that at my job i would be fired. Waitresses are mostly over paid for what they do. I worked in restaurants in my college days as a cook and a dishwasher and i know that i worked a lot harder then waitresses are ever expected to work for less than waitresses make with tips and we have to be accountable to everyone. Also waitresses don’t pay taxes on what they earn above minimum wage. Also the article say’s it inst the waitresses fault it they give me bad service because of staffing issues so we should still tip well. That is wrong, i go out to eat and to be served well and it is the restaurants job to provide that or l will not be back and everybody loses when that happens.

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oktipper September 9, 2014 at 8:46 am

You are joking right?
Your hourly pay is not the customers concern.
Staffing and patron levels should be managed. This should not be a consideration by the customer.
It is not the customers job to clean up after themselves.
Also not the customers responsibility to talk with servers about bad service. You should be trained.

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Alex October 3, 2014 at 10:58 pm

I don’t get what you’re saying. Shouldn’t anyone’s pay be irrelevant to the customer? I think in a tipped environment, either everyone shares tips (making that food, busing the table, and cleaning the dishes is arguably all much harder than running it from table to table and cycling through your tables to ensure drinks are filled & dishes served). BUT…that doesn’t happen, and so in a lot of placed waitresses are the only ones tipped, despite the cooks/cheifs having the most skilled job, and dish people having an arguably harder one.

As for staffing, sorry, but if the waitress has to have twice as many people as a normal person can handle, she should be getting twice the tips. If service is half as good though, then her tips should be half as much, which balances out if she’s doing twice the tables but can’t devote enough time to give any of them GOOD service. That’s just simple math.

As for talking to the servers, you should, unless you have a social anxiety condition that prevents you from addressing problems with the people you’re having them with. There is always a way to confront people with a given problem, in a manner that is kind and disarming.

Anyway, I tip 10-15%. That was enough in the 90s, and since it’s a percent, it should scale adequately with inflation, since food is subject to that as well. If it doesn’t, something needs to be reformed, or the hourly wage for tipped staff needs to be brought up, but that’s not my problem either. If everything percent based kept going up, we would eventually have to pay more than 100% of our money to various areas of our budget. When you hit about 90% it becomes unsustainable.

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Monica September 18, 2014 at 10:41 am

1) If “more and more people (are) seeking second jobs or temp work (as wait staff) to boost their incomes”, that is a reason to reduce compensation, not increase it. The law of supply and demand applies;

2) The general rule of thumb (for me) is to leave 10%. This is easy to calculate, and it rewards servers for good service.

3) Don’t rely on tips in order to make money! If you can’t afford to work for your salary, choose a different line of work or opt for an establishment that pays a living wage.

“keep in mind that your server is making just over $2 an hour without tips”: nonsense, that is simply untrue in any civilized country.

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brian September 22, 2014 at 12:21 am

it is completely true 2.13 and hr in most states. I would imagine however that you make barely a livable wage yourself. If you have ever been a server then you would know that it is a stressful job an important job. With a name like monica i assume your black. and i admit i do treat blacks with a pregidous while serving your table after the first time i get tipped by you. I read a study recently that most blacks dont know how to tip because its a cultural thing. now that you have read this article you monica have been educated. Pass this forward maybe if you tip better you will get better service.

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Alex October 3, 2014 at 11:08 pm

You think a NAME, and one that is derived from Egyptians, makes someone black? Did you get that out of a study as well? If you’d ever actually worked as waitstaff before, you would know that Indian people actually have the lowest tip percentage, from a cultural standpoint, and that moreover there really haven’t been any valid studies on this, since seemingly cultural differences can easily be socioeconomic ones depending on the segregation in a given area, or actual cultural trends for the area itself, venue, or cultural trends of a dominant minority sector.

PS – the word ‘I’ is capitalized no matter where you use it. So are names. I could go on, but I’d probably just blow your little mind. Educate your own self for fucks sake.

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david October 7, 2014 at 7:37 pm

monica,
i want you to know the rate in Massachusetts is $2.63 for waitresses. I think you need to get in touch with yourself.

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Jack October 7, 2014 at 10:32 pm

You are so dumb on so many levels.

If someone is working hard at their job, they should expect to be compensated fairly for it, no matter if it’s part-time, full-time their fourth job or their only job. We live in America, not Pakistan. The law of supply and demand also has nothing to do with minimum wage, which is a basic right in America.

I like that you used the phrase “rule of thumb” (look it up) very appropriate here in an ironic way. 10% would be seen as an indicator that your were given bad service and/or are extremely cheap. It’s also just as easy to calculate 20% as 10% (multiply the tip you would have given by 2) or even 15% (multiply the tip by 1.5). And everyone has a smartphone or a phone with a calculator these days so this is all moot anyway.

“Don’t rely on tips in order to make money” and “If you can’t afford to work for your salary…” I’m not even sure where to start with this idiotic dribble. I’m pretty sure that most servers do “work” in order to earn a wage, it would stand to reason that since their wages come entirely from tips in order to earn those tips they actually have to sell something to the customer. Furthermore, how else is a server supposed to make money if they aren’t getting tipped and they are making $2.13/hr (which is what the majority of states still pay)? I’ve never heard of a salaried waiter so please enlighten me on that one.

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Muze Angler September 24, 2014 at 2:04 pm

Really Brian?
With a name like “Monica” you assume she is black?
The meaning of the name “Brian” is “high”. It is of Irish origin from the Brittany region.
Should I assume you are a racist pot head irishman from Brittany who can’t spell the word prejudice?
It never ceases to amaze me how a fool can turn any subject on the planet earth into a racial matter! You’re truly nuts!
We’re talking about tips man!!!!!!

The minimum wage here in California is $9 an hour! That goes for EVERYBODY and anybody can google it! What the minimum wage has to do with tipping is beyond me but these are the facts.

A servers job is to make the dining experience pleasant for each and every diner, each and every time a diner sits down. That’s your job. Period.

Want a tip? Do your job!

Please do not consider yourself educated.

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david October 7, 2014 at 7:40 pm

i believe the minimum wage does not apply for a tipped form of employment.

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Cliff September 27, 2014 at 12:29 pm

It is a fact that waitstaff are not paid minimum wage by their employers, because they receive tips. There is a loophole in the minimum wage laws that allows this. California may be different, I haven’t waited tables there. But in Texas waitstaff are paid $2.13 per hour.

When I waited tables I also learned that the IRS presumes you are being tipped at least 8% of your sales. So 8% of your sales was automatically assumed to be income for you and you are taxed accordingly. Based on that it would take something more egregious than I have yet encountered to make me tip less than 8%. For really bad service I will still tip 10% but usually leave a note of explanation, I have also sought out management. 15% is for bad to adequate service. I usually tip 20%. I don’t ask for a dustpan. If my kids make a mess (they generally dont, my kids aren’t brats, nor would I let them be.) I pick up the big pieces and expect that my business has provided ample compensation for standard cleanup of whatever is left.

I know from experience that waitstaff is expected to share their tips in some way with bartenders and busboys whether or not they sold any drinks or bussed all their own tables because the busboys were too busy. I think this is ridiculous. Busboys are not servers. They’re housekeeping. Paying them is the responsibility of management and shouldn’t be foisted upon other employees. With customers and waitstaff themselves subsidizing the payroll it’s a wonder so many restaurants fail.

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Bob October 1, 2014 at 1:58 pm

1st believe what a waiter/waitress says about tipping. She forgot you don’t tip on the tax…

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Bob October 1, 2014 at 2:11 pm

Let me add, since waitress/waiter is about the same as working at Burger King and let’s say we upgrade them to oh say $10.00 and hour. Really shouldn’t we be paying them for our time in the restaurant?
So my future tipping will be… If I’m in the restaurant an hour and I’m their only customer wouldn’t it make sense to pay them by the hour? Since they get $2. Something an hour, wouldn’t I tip about $8.00 bucks for a hour at the table?
If they have 2 customers I should tip $4.00 for my hour at the table.

I’m glad I read this, I think I’m stumbled on the proper way to tip…

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Greg October 1, 2014 at 6:00 pm

@Bob:

“waitress/waiter is about the same as working at Burger King”

How so, and why do you think so?

I’ve worked fast food, and I worked for years as a waiter. Waiting tables is orders of magnitude harder, more stressful, and more demanding.

Once when I was waiting tables, they hired a guy who was the son of a friend of the restaurant owner. He thought the job was going to be soooo easy, and made sure the rest of us waiters and waitresses there knew how easy he thought the job was. Long story short, he lasted less than a week. He was one of the worst, most incompetent waiters I ever saw. One of our regulars wrong a long, scathing letter about him. Last I heard he was studying for his MBA.

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D October 7, 2014 at 5:36 pm

I am empathetic to the below minimum wage salary. However, it is not a secret before accepting the position and that alone should motivate servers / wait staff to perform above mediocre since the incentive pay (TIPS) is reflexive of service rendered.
We all make conscious decisions of our career path and if its that terrible try working for minimum wage, without daily cash flow for two weeks, and see if you fare any better.
I respectfully disagree with the contributing author, DC & Northern Virginia have a 10% tax on food, so I only tip according to the food & Beverage cost NOT the exorbitant tax. A better suggestion is to have a baseline tip of 15%, increase it for outstanding service and decrease by 5% for subpar service.
Why suggest inviting additional discourse to the server or yourself by dialoguing about poor service. A prudent wait staff will get the hint that they performed below the expectation of the patron by the minimal tip. To suggest that people don’t eat out or ingest substandard food because of a tip is comical. Change career paths and see what repeated sub par performance gets you. HINT, it starts with an F and ends with D, no its does not have U as a vowel!! F I R E D
Just my unsolicited view. Hope it helps someone.

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Jack October 7, 2014 at 7:47 pm

I worked as a waiter through college to pay bills, I suspect many of the people who try to justify their not tipping or tipping inadequately never did, otherwise they’d know it is a difficult and many times thankless job. But the thing that a lot of you were correct on is hourly pay.

You’re right, you shouldn’t be concerned with hourly pay, just what you owe as a patron who received a service, and that includes tipping appropriately. These days 20% is the norm, if you can’t afford to tip the extra $5 on a $100 meal (like, you’re seriously going to go out and buy a 20 oz New York Strip like a “bigshot” and then cry poor when the check comes?), then stay home and make DiGiorno’s, or go somewhere you can actually afford.

It’s also just as easy to calculate 20% as it is 10% or 15%, whip out your phone and punch it in, or do some remedial math, or look at the receipt where many restaurants now do the calculation for you.

The way that I’ve always thought about it is I could give a 15% tip for what I perceive as “below exemplary” service, or I could tip 20% (an extra measly $2 on a $40 check) and give them the benefit of the doubt.

If everyone thought this way, on a 5 hour shift where a waiter averages about 5 tables per hour and $40 a table its the difference between $150 and $200 in tips. Average that over the course of a month and you’re looking at a big difference in take home pay (full time close to $1000 and part time at least a few hundred). That’s what is meant when people say that waiters rely on tips to live. Hopefully at least one or two people read this and it changes their perspective.

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Greg October 7, 2014 at 8:55 pm

@Jack:

” These days 20% is the norm”

Says who? When I was waiting tables decades ago, 15% was the norm. Then and now, that’s what the etiquette books decreed.

In the decades since then, restaurant prices have kept up with inflation, so a server getting a 15% tip on today’s menu prices is effectively making the same as I did back then, adjusted for inflation. So … what are today’s servers doing today that I wasn’t doing decades ago, to deserve a 33% raise on their tips (15% -> 20% is a 33% increase).

Are they spending a lot of time and effort manually writing up bills because computers no longer do that for them? No, I had to do that then, but today in most restaurants it’s worlds easier with specialized restaurant computers. What do they do with all the time that frees up? I know what I’d have wanted to do with all that time; I’d have asked to serve an additional table and so make more tips throughout the day.

So, what exactly are today’s servers doing to earn that 33% raise that we weren’t doing decades ago?

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Jack October 7, 2014 at 9:59 pm

Greg,

And I’m sure you walked up hill both ways to school. You made my point for me when you said “decades ago”, inflation is a nice buzzword but has nothing to do with what is acceptable today when it comes to tipping, heck the base wage for servers hasn’t changed (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-04-25/waitresses-stuck-at-2-13-hourly-minimum-for-22-years.html) since you were waiting tables so I’m sure that alone makes the inflation thing moot.

Furthermore, I’m no economist, but I would wager a significant bet that adjusted for inflation servers make much less than you did “decades ago”.

Your point about “free time” is pretty hilarious, specialized computers you say? Well what’s the point of having servers at all! Just have the computers do all the work. No matter how you chalk it up, it’s a difficult job with difficult customers who want more and more modifications, gluten and fill-in-the blank allergy free food things. If anything computers have made things more complicated because instead of simply writing it on a piece of paper you have to scroll through numerous screens, split checks for customers (something I doubt you had to do since credit cards certainly didn’t exist back then) and generally just deal with pickier and more difficult people.

And on top of all that servers have to deal with cheap jerks like yourself who don’t think they should be obligated to pay what is widely accepted as the standard going rate tip, because that’s not what it was “back in the day”. I think you need to get a newer edition of the “etiquette book” bud. Thanks for making my point for me.

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Greg October 8, 2014 at 8:55 pm

@Jack:

“the base wage for servers hasn’t changed since you were waiting tables so I’m sure that alone makes the inflation thing moot.”

The wage was not then and is not now a significant part of most servers’ earnings. For most servers, most of the income is tips.

“I would wager a significant bet that adjusted for inflation servers make much less than you did “decades ago”.”

You would lose that bet. Average tip percentage is significantly higher, on menu prices that have kept up with inflation and more.

“computers have made things more complicated”

Not according to servers I know who did it then without computers and do it now with computers. Though computers certainly have their issues, overall they make the work much easier and save a lot of time. I have not met the server who would want to go back to doing it manually; that would be strange.

Also, special requests are not a new thing. Though there are probably somewhat more special requests today, they are also easier to deal with; pressing a button is easier and faster than writing it out. And, entering it in a terminal near your station is faster than running it to the kitchen in a large restaurant.

Your idea that computers make the job harder is strange and not based on reality. Of course there are servers who never had to do it manually who get frustrated at computer glitches and limitations, but that does not mean they would really prefer doing it manually if they actually had to.

Of course I had to split checks. Splitting checks is worlds easier with today’s computers. Some early ones had no mechanism for splitting checks, which required deleting the orders and reordering them while communicating with the kitchen that those new orders were not to be made. My last wait job had a computer like that — in fact it was beta; the restaurant owners never paid for the final release version(!), so we lived with lots of bugs. Those days are gone (along with that restaurant); today’s computers are much better.

What do you mean “simply” writing it on a piece of paper?!? You did that for both the kitchen and the customer, and then for the customers again if they changed their minds about splitting checks. It was a LOT of writing, and you got to do the math too. Pressing buttons and navigating screens is much easier; even the buggy early beta one I used was still a big improvement. Plus the fact that the screen is often near your tables, reducing long trips to the kitchen.

“generally just deal with pickier and more difficult people”

Ha! You’re kidding right? Clearly you did not wait on people back then. The average customer today is much, much, much more reasonable and easier to work for. The most difficult customers today = the AVERAGE customers back then. Ask any old server who’s been doing it for several decades.

“And on top of all that servers have to deal with cheap jerks like yourself who don’t think they should be obligated to pay what is widely accepted as the standard going rate tip, because that’s not what it was back in the day”

Again, exactly what are they doing to earn that 33% raise?

“I think you need to get a newer edition of the “etiquette book” bud.”

I recently checked them all out from the library. I’m lucky to have one of the largest library systems where I live, and they had them all, in their latest editions. I know what I’m talking about.

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Jack October 13, 2014 at 10:14 pm

Greg,

If you are using inflation as your basis, inflation raises cost of living for everyone including servers.

The question is how has the wage actually increased, and reports overwhelmingly (http://www.epi.org/publication/waiting-for-change-tipped-minimum-wage/) say that for waiters the wage has not increased significantly enough to keep up with economic conditions.

That’s why 20% is now the norm and you can argue it all you want with your baseless statements about inflation but inflation doesn’t fully account for cost of living. When you say 33% raise, you say it like it happened overnight, it only changed when it became necessary to make up for inadequate pay.

The national average wage was about 24k in 1994, now it’s 44k, what did the average person do to earn almost 100% more? Nothing, it’s an adjustment based on the market, the service industry is the same, but as you said service industry and tipped workers make all of their wages from tips.

Lastly, I was half joking about computers making it more complicated, but I do think your take on this aspect is complete bullshit. Sure it’s easier to do the math now and I guess you have to write less if that’s really a big deal for you, but since when was math the difficult part of waiting tables? Oh and I’m sorry you had restaurant owners at your last job that bought a computer with software to make your “life easier” and all you can do is complain about it because it was in beta, HAHAHA. Seriously man, it’s really too easy, either you waited tables in the worst restaurants on earth or you just think everything was harder cuz you had to deal with it (leaning towards the latter).

The biggest reason why servers earn that extra 5% is having to deal with difficult customers, like yourself, who seem to think that everything is easier these days than when they were doing it and just want to justify not giving a proper tip. No, I did not wait on people back then, and you do not wait on people now but I know that you’d be a really difficult customer to wait on just based on your blanket statements and bullshit.

Your geriatric ass seems to have forgotten that those etiquette books you checked out are about 20 years overdue, GREG.

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Greg October 13, 2014 at 11:35 pm

Jack, it’s a good thing you have computers to do your math for you.

The hourly wage was never a significant part of most servers’ income, at least not for most servers young enough to be still living. But going from 15% to 20% tip is a huge raise. Even if the wage were eliminated entirely, it would still be a small loss compared to the windfall of going from 15% to 20% tip. Do you understand the difference between big and small? What would you say to someone who asked for a $50 bill to replace a lost dollar?

Your argument may make sense for the very lowest-earning servers; I’m thinking a cheap, slow dive of a diner, where customers are few and don’t spend much. At a place like that naturally the hourly wage is more important than at most restaurants, and a larger tip percentage could compensate for the stagnant wage. But I’m pretty sure the customers at dives like that aren’t hearing you, and would probably only scoff at your suggestion of 20% if they did.

“The biggest reason why servers earn that extra 5% is having to deal with difficult customers”

There have ALWAYS been difficult customers, and on average customers today are more reasonable than in past generations.

“those etiquette books you checked out are about 20 years overdue”

One of them was updated just a few years ago, in 2011. The bellyaching about wanting 20% had been going on for several years by then.

“all you can do is complain about it”

I have no idea how you got that idea. Actually, I made it better for all of us that worked there. I worked out a way to program the system to accept ad hoc, spelled-out special instructions, which the computer vendor had told us was impossible.

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Eric October 13, 2014 at 3:39 pm

I have three children that are servers. I know how hard they work and the stress of there jobs. I have witnessed some pretty rude people that they had to put up with. One group of people came in and let one of my kids know up front that they where very hard to please. The complaints went on and on throughout the meal about one thing or another. they where given free desserts and a portion of there meal was paid for, as it is the policy not to have a unhappy customer. Then they left without a tip laugh to one another about how they got there meal for next to nothing.
There are hard working people that take on this thankless job to put themselves thru college. I know that a server isn’t always to blame for bad serves. It can be the result of a slow kitchen, over crowding and other factors. By inlarge I think most servers try hard to please. My kids get a real kick out of getting a better than expected tip and even more when they are given a good report to the management. Yea things happen, but put yourself in there place for a minute, they want to feel like they have done a good job and got rewarded for it. They will never get rich from your 15 or 20% tip.

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