This is just my opinion, but I think restaurant tipping is kind of a crappy set up. A restaurant relies on tips to pay the staff a decent wage, so the waiter/waitress is caught in the middle, working for a business that won’t pay them fully for what they do, but never certain the customer will either.
That’s why I don’t have a problem tipping, even though there should be a better way. But the reality is that there isn’t, so we work with what we have. It’s worth remembering too that if restaurants paid their staff living wages the menu prices would be substantially higher, so the upshot is that we have some flexibility on the price if we don’t like the service.
Everyone has their own ideas when it comes to tipping, and here are mine.
Automatic Tipping vs. the Sliding Scale
Some people are automatic tippers. They’ll put down the standard 15% at any sitting almost as if they’re paying a tax. The quality of the service and food are nearly irrelevant.
Others tip on a sliding scale. The customary 15% is only a starting point; poor service will be deducted—all the way down to zero if necessary—while top quality service can be substantially higher.
Personally, I’m a sliding scale tipper. I believe good service should be rewarded, and poor service should be punished. When I was in the mortgage business, I knew that if I was to get anyone’s business, I’d have to earn it. I actually think it should be that way with all businesses we transact with.
When it comes to restaurants, we have two ways to express our level of satisfaction with the establishment: to “vote with our feet” by coming back again (or not) and in the generosity of the tip we leave. Few other businesses present us with such rich opportunities to so directly evaluate their product or service.
I’ve mentioned automatic and sliding scale tippers, but turning the tables, there’s also a third category—non-tippers.
Do you know anyone like this? I do. They go to restaurants, and not infrequently, trying every tactic known to humanity to do so on the absolute cheap. The tip is a no-brainer for these types, they don’t pay it.
Non-tippers use the following tactics to avoid paying tips:
- They underpay, i.e., $2 on a $30 meal.
- When the bill comes they suddenly find fault with a perfectly good dining experience as a pretext for cutting or eliminating the tip.
- They often dine out in groups, forcing others to cover their portion of the tip.
- They rationalize that it’s the establishment’s responsibility to compensate its staff, and they flat out don’t pay.
If going to a restaurant isn’t in your budget, don’t go. If you’re in a group and your budget is limited, ask for separate checks. Don’t try to get others to pay your way.
Tipping at buffets
Tipping at buffet-type restaurants is always an open question. Many people don’t tip based on the thinking that the server doesn’t actually bring your food, in fact you even have to get it yourself! This is a point well taken, but I don’t agree completely.
When ever we go to buffets, we leave a tip. It’s usually less than 15% (after all, we DID have to get our own food!), but we try to balance it between the quality of the food and the attentiveness of the server. They do typically refill drinks, supply sundries and clear the table when we’re done and collectively that adds up to more work than taking our order and serving the food as in full service places.
This is just me, but I’ll typically leave something on the order of 10% at buffets, and again, higher or lower based on the service.
Restaurant tipping for poor service
The 15% tip has become something of a cultural standard, and I know many people who believe that it should be given regardless of service. As a rule, I give the benefit of the doubt to the server; if the food is less than satisfactory, but the service was good, he or she will get at least 15%. But there are times when the entire dining experience fails to justify a tip at all.
A few years ago my wife and I were at a chain buffet, where both the food and the service were awful, and we didn’t leave a tip. We didn’t bother complaining to the manager because the whole operation was so terrible that lousy looked like the way they did business.
But as we left, the server followed us out the door and angrily insisted on wanting to know why we didn’t leave a tip. I didn’t want to make a scene, so I told her we weren’t impressed with the facility. She began raising her voice, and I had to go farther and tell her that both her service and attitude were terrible as well, that she hardly came to our table and that we can’t reward that kind of service.
She kept coming at us, but for the most part I kept my cool, because I assumed that if she was ready to go to battle over a few dollars (that she didn’t earn!) she must have other problems. You never know, maybe her car died and she didn’t have money to fix it, or maybe her husband lost his job. Like I said, I always try to give people the benefit of the doubt, but there wasn’t much room on this one, and her tirade only sealed our decision.
One thing that infuriates me is mandatory tipping. We see this with valet parking and with the inflated tips added to party tabs, often for groups as small as six patrons, and usually at a flat rate of at least 18%.
A mandatory tip isn’t a tip at all, but an additional charge on your bill. I fully understand the need for the house to make money, that large groups may require a higher level of service than smaller ones, and of the need to cover for the non-tippers who tend to hide in groups. But I don’t appreciate being denied my opportunity to register my “vote” on the establishment and it’s service with a required add on to the bill. In some restaurants, the language advising patrons of the add-on is so small that the group even might add a tip on top of the already gratuity inflated bill.
I avoid places like that like the plague, and as well those that require valet parking. If I have to pay someone to do something as ordinary as parking my car, I’m patronizing a place I don’t need to be in. The valet parking “tip” is usually just the beginning of a cavalcade of extraneous charges.
At the extreme we have a Couple Busted for Refusing to Pay a Tip in Pennsylvania a few years ago. The restaurant added an automatic 18% tip to the bill that the couple refused to pay due to poor service, and the restaurant called the police and pressed charges against them for theft!
Fortunately, the case drew unwelcome national attention for both the restaurant and the local police department, and the charges were dropped. But if there’s even a threat of being arrested for refusing to pay for poor service, that alone is a compelling reason why I shouldn’t be there in the first place.
How do you tip? Are you an automatic tipper, or like me, do you prefer the sliding scale? Do you tip at buffets or for poor service? What are your thoughts on mandatory tipping?