Top 5 Things to Consider When Leaving a Tip

Tags: Guides

I love this topic. Probably due to the fact that I’ve worked in nearly a dozen different restaurants waiting tables for the past 7 or 8 years, until last fall when I became a full time speech-language pathologist. Waiting tables was the GREATEST job I could have ever had during those 7 years of school. It was fast cash, fun (most of the time), chaotic, and a job that I could somehow always manage to mold to my schedule.

Don’t get me wrong- when you wait on tables, you earn every penny. There’s never a shortage of high maintenence customers, kids running around like it’s a zoo, or the occasional ticked off person who walks in with a mission none other than ruining your day. All aside, I’ve got plenty to say when it comes to the restaurant scene and tipping is one of the hottest topics (and arguments) out there. This post is dedicated to the top 5 things to consider when leaving a tip- five points that, I el, are important enough to consider when determining the salvation salary of your server.

5- Minimum Wage & The Evolution of Tipping

Tipping: a gesture that initially began as a true “tip” or bonus, so to speak. Although true tipping is still optional and usually rendered following exceptional service in many industries, it’s my opinion that tipping is not an option when dining out. Why? The average annual salary for a server is currently $20,370 and in my home state alone (Utah), servers make a *minimum wage* of a whopping 2 dollars and 13 cents. Yes, $2.13. Although some states are better than others (I worked in Montana for several summers and earned a minimum wage of $8.05), it’s important to realize that the system is set up in such a way that assumes each paying customer will tip. It’s important to understand that your server’s tip is often not a true “tip”.

4- The Type of Service

Your type of service or environment will be the first step in recognizing what an appropriate tip is. Are you ordering takeout? Dining in a fast-casual joint? Wining and dining over a candle light dinner? Each of these are distinct separate entities and should be treated very differently. For takeout I usually tip a mere $1 and if it’s a ridiculously customized, time consuming, enormous order, I’ll tip anywhere from 5-10%. It’s important consider the host/hostess and the effort and time she (or he) is taking away from her main responsibilities when she’s boxing your order, running your card, and telling half a dozen people to wait while she takes care of you. That single dollar may seem small, but at the end of the day $20 extra makes a big difference for an employee who’s making only $8 an hour.

I’m less particular when it comes to fast casual, meaning places like Chipotle, Cafe Rio, Cubby’s, etc. Sometimes I throw them a buck or two, sometimes I don’t- mostly because I’m not paying for extra service like we are with a sit down experience or even the takeout order from the host that I referenced.  And obviously when you’re sitting down for a meal with full service, you’ll tip a much larger amount/percentage. Keep reading for my thoughts on that topic.

3- Percentage & Cost

How much does your meal cost? Before we even consider the quality of service you’ve received, let’s discuss raw cost and what that tip should look like. But first off, tipping 15% is simply not enough. If you don’t have enough money to eat out and tip well, you don’t have enough money to eat out. Period. When you consider the amount servers are making and the cost of living, 15% is simply not enough. My parents taught me from a young age to *always* tip 20%, even for standard service. When we experienced absolutely horrible service, my parents then tipped 10-15%, considering that even if it wasn’t our best service, the server still deserved the benefit of the doubt- all things considered. Never justify a poor tip by verbally complimenting your server. Never justify a poor tip by pointing fingers to the small mistakes your server may have unintentionally made. And never ever justify a poor tip for the back of house responsibilities or things that are simply beyond your server’s control, including the preparation and quality of your food.

2- For a Potential Tip Increase/Decrease: Promptness

This point is simple, but it’s something to consider when determining your tip. A few basic questions you can ask yourself: Did my server greet me in a timely  manner (timely = within 5 minutes, not within 10 seconds)? Did my food come within a reasonable amount of time and if not did they offer explanation? Were my drinks, condiments, and any additional requests delivered within a reasonable amount of time? The most important thing with this factor, I feel, is to evaluate yourself- not the server. I’ve learned over the years that people are usually one of two extremes. Extreme 1 being patient, thoughtful customers who are not in a rush. They are there to enjoy their dining experience and can keep composure even amidst late refills, food that takes longer than usual, or an extra five minute wait to be seated. Extreme 2 is the customer that is quite literally a ticking time bomb. They insist on being seated then and there, they must be seen within the first minute once they’re seated, the food can never come fast enough, and despite the fact that they’re on their 5th diet coke refill, they’re bothered that the server hasn’t brought another within a 60-second time frame. Please be realistic when evaluating promptness. Put yourself in the server’s shoes. Generally speaking, 9 times out of 10, service is prompt and wait times are reasonable. So, 9 times out of 10, this does not affect my tip. It usually only lowers my tip slightly if, in the rare event, I’m being downright ignored.

1- For a Potential Tip Increase: Going The Extra Mile

For the rare occasion when I do tip above 20%, this is when it happens. I have had a lot of average or mediocre severs. They are pleasant, prompt, and informative. My above-and-beyond servers are ladies that I’d set my brother up with, or men who my husband wants to invite over for Superbowl Sunday. These are the people who sit and talk about the menu in depth and answer every last question. These are the people who are thoughtful to your kids or best friend who is gluten free/vegan/extra vegetarian. These are the people who go above and beyond to make certain our food is 110% what we ordered and is nothing but absolutely satisfying. These are the people whom we can genuinely sense will go to any extent and assure that our dining experience is one that’s memorable and truly one of a kind. Service like this (for me) usually merits a 5-15% increase in tip.

Did you enjoy my list of tipping criteria? Are there other things you consider when leaving a tip? Leave a comment! I’d love to hear from you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. Great post! I’ve often wondered about tipping etiquette.
    Question: what about take out orders? For work, I’m frequently picking up take out orders to bring to my clients offices for lunch. How much should I tip?
    Thank you in advance for your reply!

    1. Hi Meesha! Thanks so much for your kind words! I talk a little bit about that in #4 and the importance of considering the fact that you aren’t getting sit-down service but your host/hostess is taking time to prepare your order. I will usually tip $1 or $2 for a takeout order, and closer to 5-10% if it’s something that takes the restaurant staff extra time/effort to prepare (extra large order, specially customized, etc.). I used to work at a pizzeria that had regular customers who ordered very large take out orders and often left 15% tips- we were elated and appreciated it so much! Hope that helps. 🙂

  2. Love these suggestions, but what is the best etiquette when your service was truly terrible? I just had a bad experience this weekend while eating out with all my sisters-in-law. Our server had a bad attitude with us from the very beginning from throwing straws down on the table (and not enough of them) when politely asked for some after our drinks came, never refilling our drinks, and messed up half of our party’s orders. What do you do then???

    1. Hey Jen! So sorry to hear that you had such a bad experience. In this case, I usually tip 10-15%. It’s very rare I think for most of us to have a terrible server, but when the service is truly horrible (like the one you described), I try to still give them the benefit of the doubt and give a small tip. Hope that helps!

    1. Hi Sam! I would probably treat this similarly to a host/hostess. They aren’t providing tableside service but they’re going out of their way to customize orders and often times juggle between people at the counter and a list of tickets. In short, I usually tip $1 for a barista.