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The Tipping Scale: How to Tip Appropriately

If you have ever been a server at any type of restaurant, you know how important a tip can be. Servers are amongst those making some of the lowest wages in the country, and therefore rely on tips in order to make each week’s pay worth the hard work they put in. However, if you are more often in a restaurant to enjoy a meal and good service, you may conceive of the coveted tip in quite a different light.

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Conventional wisdom on tipping ranges from always tipping 15-20% to only tipping for exceptional service. What is the proper way to tip? What if you experienced terrible service? Should you tip at all? Different strokes for different folks, but following the guidelines below should give you a basis for how to handle confusing tip situations.

Fast food to fine dining

The Tipping Scale: How to Tip Appropriately

With most things, what constitutes as “appropriate” is dependent upon your environment; what is acceptable in a church is dramatically different than what is passable in a dive bar. The same is true of eating at restaurants and tipping. Fast food joints, particularly chain fast food spots, do not allow tipping; there are not tip jars on the counters. This is logical, since the person taking your order is doing little more than punching buttons on a screen. The other end of the spectrum is obviously the white tablecloth experience, throughout which your server is taking the utmost care with every tiny detail of your orders and desires. These servers, without a shadow of a doubt, deserve to be tipped a minimum of 15%, even if they refused to crack a smile at your joke. Servers at this level do all sorts of behind-the-scenes work to ensure you have a good time, and their hourly wage is low since diners are expected to tip. Without tips, some servers are being paid far, far less than minimum wage for difficult work.

Every other type of restaurant on the scale should be treated on an individual basis, but your tip should never be less than ten percent; unless your server cussed you out and dumped your food in your lap, you should always tip. Instead of slighting your server for unacceptable service, speak with the manager. Getting yelled at by the boss is far worse punishment than a crappy tip, will make it more likely that your server will alter their behavior, and won’t make you look like a cheap jerk. Plus, if you don’t tip, the next time you eat at that establishment your experience is unlikely to improve; servers remember bad tippers just as much as they remember excellent tippers. Be remembered on favorable terms. Tipping at least ten percent explains that you were unsatisfied, but also conveys that you are aware of how to tip for good service.

Do’s and don’ts

Do let the manager know when you have been at the receiving end of very poor service, but
Don’t be unreasonable with your expectations. Servers are people too. If it’s really busy, take that into consideration before you complain
Do reward excellent servers with at least 15% tip. Your server will remember, and you will continue to receive great service at that restaurant or bar.
Don’t write criticisms or angry remarks on the check. If you do, don’t eat there again. Your food will likely have some sort of “extra” ingredient you don’t want to ingest.

Just the tip?

It may seem like a small detail of your dining experience, but for servers and bartenders, tips are the most important part of each shift, the factor that determines their quality of life now and in the future. Those who have worked in any facet of the service industry know this to be true, and also know how difficult it can be to deal with the general public for hours on end, day in and day out. If you haven’t worked in the service industry, consider how frustrating you become in the supermarket or at the coffee shop when you encounter rude people; when you go out to eat, try not to be like one of those people. Tip appropriately. Good customers receive good service.

Kirsten Jadoo Kirsten Jadoo is a writer and voracious reader. She is an expert in home buying, credit and budgeting. Kristin's passions for food and travel leave her in constant search of creative ways to make and save more money.
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