It is no big secret that servers are there to make tips. It is also no big secret that servers depend on tip income far greater than they depend on their hourly wage. In most states, the wage for servers and bartenders is minimum wage or lower. Oh, you didn’t know that? Well, it makes sense when you realize how many students, moms, and others of the like that this line of work attracts – those who may benefit from the immediate cash and decent (sometimes formidable) pay with no secondary education required (though it does help). Not to mention the benefit of flexible schedules, but that is beside this point.
It’s true that your server / tender is counting on your monetary gratification, and I’ll not be one-sided and dare say it isn’t a two-way street. You deserve the exemplary service you expect when you decide to go out and spend your hard-earned money in any dining establishment. Likewise, your server deserves her / his hard-earned tip at the the culmination of your dining and / or drinking experience. So here it is – what are the tipping standards are and why you should tip. I’ll start low and work my way up.
Servers are taxed on 8% of their sales, whether you tip or not. So flat out, less that an 8% tip and you’re “stealing” from your server right there. 10% is a typical low-end base, and 15% is a generally accepted satisfactory tip. Fair enough; it’s better than a poke in the eye. But what is your server doing for you? Does he/she smile, make you feel welcome and generally care about your situation? Well, that’s minimum 10% there. Did your order get put in correctly? It most likely did if your server made the effort to repeat your order back to you after taking it down. Did your server check back on you and keep you stocked with beverages, napkins, and other such items? How many bottles of wine did your server / tender cork for you? Did half of the restaurant come to a halt while your server and several others sang a birthday song for you or someone in your group? Make sure you bump up that tip for all those items! Were your drinks made pretty and served quickly? What about special order items? Did your server get all your requests handled and then specifically check back with you to ensure the food or drinks were done right? Well, if your server is on his or her toes, we are well above the 15% mark now. My personal standard, the number I always strive for, is 20%. This requires constant service with a smile; learning the guests’ names and remembering their favorite drinks and how they like their steak cooked doesn’t hurt a bit, either. The strongest server will anticipate the guests wants and needs before the guest even realize that they wanted or needed anything else! To earn that 20% (or more) tip, the guest must feel that the server genuinely cares about their entire dining experience and is happy to take care of them.
Sometimes, no matter how hard your server or bartender tries, guest expectations just cannot be met. Sometimes an order ticket gets lost in the kitchen or bar. Sometimes food and drinks just flat out come out late. That IS NOT NECESSARILY YOUR SERVER’S FAULT. It is, however, your server’s responsibiltiy to be astute to your situation and let guests know that they haven’t been forgotten. Sometimes a server / bartender will have a guest that is an attention hog. Some guests want to talk and talk to their server with out consideration of other guests waiting for their server’s attention. Some guests like to ask for one thing at a time, tying up their server to chase down assorted items and also keeping them from efficiently moving thru other tables. Conversely, it is the good server’s role to anticipate guests needs the best they can to avoid inefficiency and impress guests with their forethought. Does your server send other servers, staff, or management to check on you and make sure you’re doing ok in their absence? How big is your server’s section? If it’s a bartender, is he or she making drinks for the entire restaurant (most likely) as well as taking care of guests at the bar and some tables? If your server is standing around, not doing much of anything and generally not giving a shit, then that’s not 20% service. Probably isn’t even worth 15%. If your server is hustling his or her buns, refilling drinks, taking orders, running food that may or may not be for his / her own tables, and SMILING while all this is happening – well, that’s a server / tender who deserves a good bump in their tip percentage.
This brings me to another point; servers and bartenders have to tip out too. You may notice that they get a little help from their friends. Bussers, barbacks and tenders, and expo line staff (people who make sure your food is pretty, hot, and arrives at your table in a timely manner) all get tipped (usually manditorialy by restaurant procedural standards) by servers and bartenders based on their individual sales. It may be a team effort, but everybody gots to get paid. So keep that in mind before you are tempted to stiff your server.
Another thing that shoud be mentioned is the time a guest spends at a table. If you’re in a party that is camping at a table and not spending money, that table cannot be turned around for use again, which is a whole new tip opportunity lost. Likewise, a party with multiple children / youths that don’t watch their kids is a ridiculous burden to your server. When unattended, often (no joke, OFTEN) they are known to spread out to tables all thru a servers section, muss up the tables (I’ve had a party of one mom and 6 teen girls dump all my salt and pepper on the table and make a ridiculous mess and diss me with a less-than-10% tip), dump drinks on the ground, open sugar packets and make designs on the table top…oh the list goes on and on…AND WE SERVERS ARE NOT YOUR CHILDREN’S BABYSITTERS! Bump up that tip if your kids need sitting…SIGNIFICANTLY.
A $5 tip is not a suitable tip for an $80 tag. No way. And tipping twice the tax is not always appropriate either, as in some bars the tax amount is already added into the price of a glass of wine or your beer. At the bartop, it’s a dollar a drink, plus 20% for food service. Bartop tipping should always be higher…those seats are prime real estate.
Oh, and one final pet peeve…don’t joke to your server about the tip by saying something like, “Your tip depends on it”. (It can be so many different things, from extra ranch to a stronger cocktail) Condescending statements like that are not favored and will certainly not get you any special treatment. Remember to talk to and treat your server like the human being he or she is, for cryin’ out loud! We really do want to make you happy! Don’t make it difficult by assuming a server’s only position in life is to wait on people. We are so much more…I like to think of it as entertainment. If you saw me work, you’d probably agree.
How do I tip? I am a very tough customer. Because I do this for a living, I have high expectations for how I want to be cared for in a restaurant. I want to be served like I serve. In my mind, the server starts off with a 20% tip, and I will go up or down from there accordingly based on the standards that I have mentioned above. I hope this can help servers and guests alike see each other’s side better. As always, all comments are appreciated and welcome! And thank you for listening to my rant – I hope you’ve enjoyed it, or at least been entertained!