Do you ever struggle with that question – at least a little bit? Tipping is not a requirement, but a common practice, so we’re largely on our own as to how to handle it. How should we handle it? How do you handle it?
Since there’s nothing scientific about the practice of tipping, this article is mostly my opinion about tipping. Feel free to disagree, or to express your own opinions on tipping in the comments section below!
Tipping for the Usual Service
Tipping practices vary from one country to another, but in the United States it’s customary to leave a tip equal to 15% of the final bill. We can take issue with that specific amount – after all, it’s not set in stone so we do and should have some latitude. However 15% is the general expectation that a waiter or waitress has, so we should at least use it as a guideline.
My own feeling is that if the service is average to good, the food is acceptable, the facility is reasonably clean, and we don’t have to wait too long for our meal to be served, 15% will be the default tip that I’ll leave.
I know people who leave less – and some who leave more – but when it comes to standard service, I’m comfortable defaulting to the customary guideline. I will however adjust the tip for the level of service, either higher or lower.
Tipping for Outstanding Service
Since 15% is the guideline, there is plenty of room on the upside to reward outstanding service. If everything about a restaurant is excellent – the food, the facility, the service, the attitude, the wait and the overall “dining experience,” I’ll go well above 15%. In some situations that were exceptional I’ll go a high as 25%. In lower-priced restaurants with exceptional service I’ve even gone over 30%.
If you really like a certain restaurant, it may even be in your best interest to leave higher tips. A higher tip is a financial way of giving a thumbs up to the restaurant and its staff for a job well done. By properly rewarding their effort, you are creating an incentive for them to keep up the good work.
This can be especially beneficial when you get the same waiter or waitress as you had last time. Since the person will know that you will leave a larger tip for better service, you‘ll probably get the VIP treatment.
We are all quick to complain when we get bad service, but tipping is one area where we have an opportunity to reward outstanding service. That’s worth taking advantage of.
Tipping for Poor Service
I know a few people will leave a 15% tip even if the service is poor. I don’t agree. Though tips are part of a waiter or waitress’s compensation, I firmly believe that it is a part of their compensation that they need to earn. To leave a 15% tip for poor service is to approve of the bad job. I’ll adjust my tip downward if I feel that the service is in any way substandard.
Now I’ll admit that there is a flaw in my thinking. Sometimes the reason the service is poor has nothing to do with the waiter or waitress. Sometimes it’s due to the kitchen, understaffing, or lousy food. If I get a sense that a waiter or waitress is dealing with any of these issues, I may tip him or her in cash directly, but leave nothing on the bill.
I’ll write zero on the tip line of the bill, and hand the cash to the waiter or waitress. Generally, I’ll even explain to the waiter or waitress why am doing it that way – that I liked his or her service, but I am not satisfied with the restaurant overall.
There is one aspect of tipping that I really disagree with completely, and that’s required tipping. This is very frequent if you arrive at a restaurant with a large group, which can be as few as six people. A restaurant will not only add the tip to your bill automatically, but they will usually assess it to be something more than 15%. 18% to 22% is not at all uncommon.
While I recognize that this is done because groups can be more work than smaller parties (and often hide non-tippers as well), there are two reasons why I disagree with this practice:
- Being forced to tip for bad service. If a restaurant assesses a tip on the bill before you even order, then they are removing your ability to reduce the tip for poor service. No matter what happens, you will be leaving a tip – and a premium one at that – even if the service is downright lousy.
- The assessment of the tip is often in “fine print.” Most often when the tip is added to a bill automatically, notice of this policy appears in fine print in some obscure place on the menu, or on some remote wall in the restaurant. If you’re not paying careful attention when the bill comes, you can end up double tipping – leaving a tip over and above the one the house has already charged.
I want to take number two step further. Let’s say that you and a group of friends go to a restaurant and get poor service. Unaware that the restaurant is assessing an automatic 18% tip as a result of the large group you’re in, you leave a 5% tip as an expression of your dissatisfaction. Since the combined tip will be 23%, the restaurant staff will get the entirely opposite message – they’ll think they did a great job!
It’s an extreme situation, but potentially a real one.
Refusing to Tip – No Matter What
I know some people – and you probably do too – who don’t tip no matter what. Now I realize that tipping is not mandatory. But waiters and waitresses have very low base pay rates. It is precisely because of tips that restaurants don’t pay their staff base rates that are any higher. Since tips make up the primary source of their income, I think we do need to tip.
Refusing to tip – it my humble opinion – is an attempt to take advantage of a compensation system that is heavily slanted against the employees. I can’t be a part of that.
And yet there are people don’t. I’ve heard different explanations on this, and I disagree with them all:
- It’s the restaurant’s job to pay their people a fair wage, not mine.
- Why should I have to pay more than the published price for a meal?
- Tipping is an option, not a requirement, and I choose not to.
- If the waiter or waitress doesn’t like what the restaurant is paying them, they should get a job doing something else.
Personally, I think that if you either can’t afford to tip, or refuse to do so, you don’t need to be frequenting restaurants.
But that’s just my opinion about tipping – what’s yours? Leave a comment!