Have you ever wondered what etiquette calls for when it comes to tipping? There are so many types of services that require a tip, but today's focus is on dining out.
For many that have been servers at a previous time in life or even still are today, your opinion is probably pretty cut and dry on this matter. Several years ago I worked at an upscale steakhouse part time for a few months and got to learn the ropes of the restaurant business and also see how servers view restaurant diners'. I also got to see how servers were often treated by customers as well.
After that experience I have a whole new appreciation for servers and what their job entails. I was also on the receiving end of poor tipping even when I had gone above and beyond to provide the best possible service. This is a result of those that do not understand tipping etiquette. On the flip side, I can recall some pretty amazing tips too, but those were few and far between. Because of my experiences I personally err on the side of over-tipping vs. under-tipping. Having said that, if someone has done a very poor job and has been rude and unhelpful in solving a dining dilemma, that is also reflected in their tip.
Here are some helpful guidelines to follow so that you won't insult your server- or worse- embarrass a group of friends you may be dining with while splitting the bill.
Tipping Etiquette for Dining Out
1. Tipping is NOT optional. It is expected at restaurants as servers, chefs, bus boys, hostesses, etc., will all be receiving a small share of the server's tip. Servers earn most of their money via tips, not in wages. The hourly rate for servers is very low and is usually under minimum wage. This is a server's incentive to provide the best service possible. The bottom line here is, if you cannot afford to pay the tip after your meal, you should not be dining at that restaurant in the first place. Select a suitable establishment that is more in line with your budget. Many restaurants post their menus online, so it's easy to choose one that will be perfect for you.
2. Be Gracious with Gratuities-In North America, the tipping standard for a good restaurant is between 15-20% with 20% or more showing your gratitude for outstanding service and an overall wonderful dining experience. This amount is based on your meal's total before tax and any coupons or discounts are taken off. Other countries operate very differently and some view tipping as an insult. Before traveling abroad it is important to understand International Etiquette with a special focus on tipping practices.
3. Automatic Gratuities- If you are dining with a party of more than 8 people, you will probably be subject to an automatic gratuity of about 18%. Large parties require more assistance and typically dine longer in a restaurant. These gratuities are added to make the server's and restaurant's life much easier. Be sure not to tip on top of the automatic gratuity, which is easy to do if you are caught up in laughter, great conversation or have had a couple glasses of wine. High end restaurants often use the automatic gratuity method for all tables, so again be sure to check for that so you don't overtip. You will always be welcome to tip on top of the automatic gratuity should you so choose.
4. Handling Poor Service- If your server has been rude, unattentive or has made several errors with your order, you'll want to bring those matters to the attention of the restaurant manager. Many times they will be able to assist you or compensate you in ways that your server may not. If it is something like an undercooked steak, your server should be able to take care of this. This doesn't necessarily warrant a lesser tip. After all, the server cannot control how the chef has created your meal. Perhaps they are unattentive because the restaurant is unusually busy. Try to see it from their point of view. If there is no apology or attempt to make your dining experience enjoyable, you may then want to reflect that in the tip you leave.
If a manager has taken care of an issue with your meal and deducted it from your bill, be sure to tip on the total amount of what your meal was worth and not the lesser amount. Remember you are tipping on the service and experience and not the discounted total. The same goes for birthday cake that was provided 'on the house', etc.
5. From Lounge to Table- Perhaps you've started at the restaurant's lounge or bar area before heading to your table, be sure to leave the bartender a tip before leaving for your table. Many people want to have it added to their dining bill, but this gets sticky as the bartender usually gets left without their tip. A server may forget later to give the bartender a kickback and may not know how much to give them as this is your job as the dining patron.
If you're dining with a group and you don't want to be responsible for anyone underpaying or under-tipping, simply ask for a separate bill. Often times if a large group orders family style or shares appetizers you may wind up forking over a lot of money for a dish that you had a small taste of while others finished the whole plate.
A girlfriend of mine just recounted the most awkward scenario involving a group of close friends at a restaurant. It resulted in her spending a lot more money than she had intended all while she was trying to adhere to her tight budget.
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Have you been a server before? What are your tipping experiences or opinions?