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

by Jamie Simmerman · 1,652 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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{ 1652 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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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