So I was watching TV the other day, and I came across a program called, “Oprah’s All Stars.” (Don’t judge me; I was just flipping through the channels.) Anyway, the show features advice on various topics from Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz and Suze Orman. What made me pause on this station wasn’t the majesty of Dr. Phil’s rockin’ ‘stache, but rather the topic: Tipping in restaurants.
There was a guest on the show that asked: “I hate the idea of tipping – why should I tip?” He seriously didn’t know why a customer was expected to tip, explaining that servers are just doing their job and they should not receive extra awards for it. The guy had never worked in a restaurant, and apparently no one had ever clued him in. But then I thought – *gasp!* – he isn’t the only one. There a lot of people who have never worked in a restaurant and might not understand why tipping even exists. Or there are even people who have worked in restaurants and somehow the facts have eluded them. Well, never fear, for I am here to inform y’all.
If you have ever worked for tips, whether you were a valet, a server, a bartender, a doorman, a delivery driver, etc., the thought of someone saying that they shouldn’t have to tip you for you doing your job makes you cringe. I spent many years waiting tables and bartending – this particular guest had me yelling at the TV! (Don’t worry, Suze later set him straight by making him work in a restaurant for a day. He learned his lesson.) So I decided then and there that this week I would sit down and clear it all up for everyone.
Here’s the deal: The reason tipping is in place is because the employee is providing a service to you. However, they can do an exceptional job, or really leave you steaming. The tipping system allows you, as the consumer, to decide if the job was done right. Have you ever gotten angry at a customer service representative over the phone for being rude? Or at a fast food worker for keeping you waiting too long? Well those workers aren’t working for tips and get paid no matter what. And although tipping doesn’t eliminate the occasional bad dining-in experience, it helps to provide an incentive for the person serving you to do well.
With the hope of a tip, you are getting seated faster, get your drinks faster, your order more accurate, refills when needed, and hopefully a better experience overall. While it might look like an easy job to wait tables, it really isn’t. It entails hours of standing on your feet, dealing with very difficult people, accuracy, efficiency and a whole lot of organization. And it all has to be done as quickly as possible with a smile on your face no matter what your mood.
Tipped employees know that if they aren’t going above and beyond, they are paid less. And if they are making very low tips, that can be bad news. Do you know how much tipped employees are generally paid an hour? The guest on Oprah’s show assumed that servers were paid the same amount as every other minimum wage non-tipped employee, but that isn’t true most of the time. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Not exactly enough to earn a living on, but tipped employees get way less than that. The federal minimum wage for tipped employees is a mere $2.13 an hour. I’m not kidding! A waitress could work a 10-hour shift and only have about $22 to show for it on her paycheck. And that, my friends, is why tipping is vital. If you stiff someone on their tip or you tip below the expected percentage, not only are you telling them that they did a terrible job, but you also basically had them work for you for next to nothing.
A tip is a chance for you to rate the service you received. But it also has to be relative to your experience. If you come to a restaurant with a party of 20 people and you all want different meals and people change their minds about their order and then everyone wants the check divided 20 ways, that is adding a lot of extra work for the server. That extra work is causing them to take time away from their other tables and responsibilities. Reflect that you acknowledge their extra effort in your tip.
Here’s a quick list of some other tipping situations to keep in mind:
- More work: Let’s say you check into a hotel with 9 heavy suitcases because you just had to have a complete wardrobe for your trip to L.A. If the bellhop takes all of them upstairs for you, don’t give the same tip as you would if you only had 2 bags.
- Coupons: Always tip based on the amount of the total before any discounts. Your meal might be free, but the server still had to place the order and deliver it to you. Their tip shouldn’t suffer.
- Bad weather: There’s a blizzard one night and you’re hungry so you order a pizza because you can’t stand the thought of going outside. Well guess who did have to brave the cold? Your delivery guy. Show you’re grateful for his efforts and adjust the tip accordingly.
- Messy kids: If you take your child out to eat and they make a mess of the table, either with their food, their drink or an accident, do your best to clean it up, but realize that the server has to finish the job. You should tip higher in these situations. Always.
- Difficult orders: If you want your steak cooked just so and you send it back several times and then change your mind and order pasta, you just ran your server crazy. More tip!
- Low budget: Wanna go out to eat, but you only have $20? Don’t order an $18 meal. If you don’t have enough for the meal and a decent tip, you don’t have enough to go out to eat.
So after all of this, how much should you tip anyway? Check out the freakishly long chart below for the numbers.
She's also a great Tipper.
This should be easy to remember: 15-20% minimum unless the service was below reasonable expectations. And you can never tip too much – there’s no such thing. If the service was the best you’ve ever experienced, tipping 25%, 30%, or even higher is a good way to ensure that you receive that same exemplary service next time. You’ll be remembered as a great tipper.
If you can’t do the math in your head, guess, but round up just in case. Make sure the amount seems appropriate. And, it’s never alright to tip less than $2 on a restaurant or delivery bill no matter how cheap the total is. Anything that low isn’t worth your server or driver’s time. (Side note: A delivery charge doesn’t actually go to the driver, so don’t consider that part of your tip!) Most cell phones come with a tip calculator, or they can be downloaded. There are some really great apps that even split up checks for you and help you calculate how much each person in a party should pitch in for the bill and for the tip.
I hope this has opened some eyes out there! Next time you are dining out, pay extra attention to appreciate the service you receive. And make sure you tip in a way that shows that appreciation, or Suze Orman will find you.
For those of you who work for tips, please tell us your stories below – I know you’ve got ‘em! And if there are any other points that I’ve missed about why tipping is important, share them. I know this subject sparks discussion so let us hear what you have to say.
And I definitely don’t want anyone to think that being a tipped employee is a bad thing. I was one for many years because I loved it, and most of the time people know how to tip and they do it right. In fact, you can make pretty good money working for tips. So if taking cash home from work every night seems appealing to you, check out WyckWyre.com to find a place where you can become a tipped employee, too.