This morning I stumbled across this news item about a waitress who was fired from Applebee’s because she posted to Reddit a photo of a customer’s receipt. On the receipt the customer, who is a pastor, had snidely refused to tip her. (Let me just note that I find this particular pastor’s credentials suspect, but that’s what she calls herself, so we’ll just go with it.) This story caused me to reminisce on my own bygone days as a waiter. I’m especially sensitive regarding this business of tipping, and perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the first table I waited on stiffed me. (I should have known that it was coming because she never once looked me in the eye.)
Let’s begin with the basics. You have to tip. Period. It’s not optional. If you don’t want to tip, then don’t go to any restaurant with a wait staff. If an extra 15% is too much for you, then carry your own lousy food at McBurgers.
Now that you realize you must tip, you might ask how much? Well, how much you got? Here’s the deal: anything less than 15% is absolutely unacceptable. Don’t give me any of that tommyrot about only tipping 15% for good service. When you sit down at the table, you have entered into an understood contract with your server to pay them at least 15% for their labor. If you don’t like that contract, then see my above comment about going to McBurgers.
If the service is merely acceptable, then 15–18% is an appropriate tip. I suggest 20–25% when the service is good. If your bill is frightfully small, then you should consider leaving at least $2 per person. (If you’re using a credit card, consider leaving a bit more because your server has to cover the credit card fees on your tip.)
But what if the service is bad? You have many options.
1. You can remember that your own job performance is occasionally less than stellar. Does your boss dock your pay every time you make a mistake? Probably not. Have a little grace on your server. He or she has a tough job, and there’s no need for you to make it worse. Tip at least 15%.
2. When service is bad, tell your server. If the service isn’t what you expect, let your server know what your expectations are. Most of the time, he or she will start meeting those expectations immediately. Believe it or not, most servers aren’t mind readers. Tip at least 15%.
3. If service is particularly bad, mention it to the manager. The manager wants to know. The manager might even discount your bill a bit. (But make sure that you’re not making a mountain out of a molehill. You don’t want to look like a whiner.) Tip at least 15%.
4. If you experience the worst service ever, steal your server’s pen. As a former waiter, I can assure you that there is no greater calamity that can befall a server than running out of pens. By stealing your server’s pen you will cause him great emotional pain and suffering, which will make you feel better about the pain and suffering that you endured at his hands. Tip at least 15%.
Please don’t try to justify, rationalize, or in any way defend leaving less than 15%. Let me put it plainly. When you leave less than 15%, you’re stealing your server’s labor. For all you “pastors” out there who are thinking about stiffing your waiter, there’s no commandment that says, “Thou shalt not be a lousy waiter,” but there is one that says, “Thou shalt not steal.”
What do you consider proper tipping etiquette? Let me know in the comments.