Tipping Do’s and Don’ts from an Ex-Waitress

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This article by Jamie Simmerman originally appeared on MoneyNing.

When we go to a restaurant, my husband always asks, “How much tip?” It seems 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 admit that dealing with the hungry public can be challenging and exhausting, and servers deserve far more than the reduced minimum wage plus tips the government says they are worth. With more and more people seeking second jobs or temp work to boost income, 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…

  1. The general rule of thumb (for me) is to round the bill up to the nearest $10, and leave 20 percent. This is easy to calculate, and rewards servers for good service. I know many people claim 15 percent is adequate, but keep in mind your server is making just over $2 an hour without tips. Go ahead and splurge for the 20 percent, and you’ll get great service the next time you return to the restaurant.
  2. If you receive truly awful (or rude) 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. However, before you leave a lower tip, try to take into consideration the staffing and patron level in the restaurant, and keep in mind 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.
  3. 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, I ask for a dustpan or a wet cloth. You never know if your server will turn out to be your 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.
  4. If you receive truly crappy 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.
  5. Don’t skimp on tips to save money. If you can’t afford to tip adequately, choose someplace less expensive or opt for a serve-yourself type of establishment.
  6. If your server only brings your drinks, or the food is served buffet style, it is appropriate to leave a lesser tip, but 10 to 15 percent still applies.
  7. If your chosen establishment includes a bartender, hostess, bus boy, or other additional serving staff, keep in mind your server will probably have to share tips with these complementary wait staff as well. Don’t tip solely on the performance of one staff member in such a case.

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

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