The New Rules for Tipping

Get insider advice on how much you should really leave, and why it matters.

By Kelly Dobkin from Reader's Digest | February 2012

While most of us agree that 20 percent (or close to it) is the standard amount to leave on a restaurant check, other tipping-related matters leave us scratching our heads. To settle these debates once and for all, Steve Dublanica, former server and author of the blog Waiter Rant and recent book Keep the Change: A Clueless Tipper’s Quest to Become the Guru of the Gratuity, weighs in on some hot-button issues.

1. SHOULD YOU TIP ON THE TAX?

On one hand: There’s no reason to tip on the tax. The restaurant doesn’t get to keep tax money. When gratuity is automatically included on a check for a large party, it’s added pretax.

On the other: When most servers total their sales at the end of the night, they include the tax in the amount. This “cash-out” amount determines how much they tip out to busboys, runners, and other staff members. By not tipping on tax, you’re stiffing them out of their fair share.

Steve’s verdict: “I like it when you do, but you don’t have to tip on the tax.”

2. WHAT IS THE CORRECT AMOUNT TO TIP ON DRINKS?

On one hand: Twenty percent is way too much — it’s just a drink! The standard in most bars is $1 for each beverage or 10 percent, which generally adds up to $1. Bartenders are tipped out by other members of the staff, so they are walking away with plenty of money.

On the other: Bartenders do more work than servers because they’re the ones actually making the drinks, not the server. They deserve the full 20 percent.

Steve’s verdict: “[At the bar] you should leave 15 to 20 percent of the total cost of that drink, which may seem kind of ridiculous. But think of it this way: At the table, you’re paying 15 to 20 percent. Why does the bartender not get that money, but the waiter — who doesn’t make those drinks — does?”

3. DO YOU ALWAYS TIP YOUR BARISTA?

On one hand: Yes. They’re skilled workers and deserve tips just as much as other food-service employees.

On the other: Baristas make a decent hourly wage, unlike servers, and they don’t work for tips. Besides, what’s the point of tipping them if they don’t see you put the money in the jar?

Steve’s verdict: “I learned when I worked as a barista that if you get a cup of coffee and give us the change from buying that cup, we’re really grateful. But I’ve seen people order one of these frothy iced milk latte-type chemistry experiments — which can be more complicated to prepare than a martini — and then not tip. For baristas who make you one of these, tip a dollar.”

See also: 13 Things Your Barista Won’t Tell You

4. WHEN, IF EVER, IS IT ACCEPTABLE TO LEAVE A BAD TIP?

On one hand: Never. Even if your server really, really screws up, the tip money is being distributed to multiple employees of the restaurant. If you’re unhappy with your server, it’s not fair to penalize the busboy, bartender, food runners, and other employees who depend on this money to make their living.

On the other: It’s OK to leave a bad tip if you receive bad service. It’s your right as a customer, and it will send a message of displeasure to the restaurant.

Steve’s verdict: “I don’t suggest stiffing servers on the tip, because you are punishing all the other people connected to that food chain. I tell people to talk to the manager and say, ‘I had very poor service, but I’m leaving a tip anyway.’”

See also: 20 Secrets Your Waiter Won’t Tell You

5. SHOULD A SERVER BE ABLE TO AUTOMATICALLY INCLUDE GRATUITY IF IT’S NOT A LARGE GROUP?

On one hand: Yes, in certain cases. Many tourists from other countries don’t understand the tipping protocol in the United States. Servers have a right to protect themselves.

On the other: It’s outrageous for a server to include the tip unless it’s a large group. Legally, servers don’t have the right to make the customer pay any gratuity.

Steve’s verdict: “If you were to include a service charge automatically, you would have to tell everyone who walks in that you’re adding a 20 percent service charge. I don’t support waiters deciding who they’re going to attach a tip to. That’s not their job — that’s management’s job — and they need to have a very well thought-out policy about why they’re doing that.”

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  • Your Comments

    • Amanda

      Wow! ALOT of very entitled guests! I’ve been in the service industry for 20 yrs, serving and bartending, and just a note from the incorrect article above, bartending isn’t harder, it’s actually much easier than serving, but bartenders profits are much higher. Wow, if all of you could work a day in our shoes and really hear yourselves. Some of you who have obviously never been in the customer service/service industry don’t know that’s it’s actually a REAL job. My co workers have families to support, mortgages, and bills like everyone else. We work incredibly hard to make the guest experience pleasant and memorable, and not just SERVE as is the job. Im sure I speak for lots of us when I say we go above and beyond only to be degraded and not tipped for our hard work. More times than I can count I’ve actually paid out of pocket to wait on tables. The tipout to the bartenders steep ( we tip on all sales food included, not just the drinks they make, as well as get their ice, run their food get glassware to them and anything else to help as its a huge team effort to give all diners a great experience) I don’t add gratuity if I don’t feel I’ve given my best service ever, and now with the new tax laws I won’t be adding it at all, as we are charged and receive only about a third of that gratuity again costing us money for the “pleasure” of dealing with self righteous, menu modifiers, order barkers, finger snappers, down right jerks who seem to forget that they are not our only table crisis or concern, all with a smile and efficient service. Remember we are SERVERS not SERVANTS or entertainers for that matter. Please if you’ve never worked in the industry don’t give your opinions on the matter. Guests seem to be increasingly more demanding and narcissistic remember we are people just like you, with financial needs to be met, most of us with college degrees, that didn’t help find that dream job or some of us just enjoy doing it for the truly kind guests that are out there, our regulars, our friends, the great people who keep our business afloat and for them we are truly grateful. As for the rest well I can only say I hope you do your research on behavior, and do some reading online there’s plenty out there on how to behave when dining, best for all parties involved. Despite what you may have heard the customer is most definitely not always right but we will continue to treat you as such, because that’s what we do. Please to all the kind guests keep up the good work or really just continue to be HUMAN! As for the rest. Learn restaurant etiquette and how to treat your equals. Thank you all for your time, again for the uneducated on the subject, there’s plenty out there now actually saying “bad guests create bad service” not to mention its just plain rude. Have some manners and tip appropriately, if not please enjoy all that fast food has to offer.

    • Focus503

      I don’t know that I’ve ever gotten a satisfactory explanation of why the gratuity % keeps increasing. The amount of the gratuity rises in absolute terms as the price of the meal rises, in addition to the fact that minimum wages keep going up.

      (I understand that the federal minimum wage for food service is something just over $2.00 an our which I find criminal btw and I wouldn’t live in a state like that)

    • mgio

      You should definitely leave a poor tip if you receive poor service. What is the point of tips then?? If everyone always had to tipped, it would be a hell of a lot easier just to get rid of the tip system and bump up the wages for servers and eliminate the whole system. The whole point of the tip system is that it gives the server an incentive to provide good service. But also note that in that countries like Japan, where tipping is unheard of, service is far far better than it is anywhere in the US.

    • leslie

      this is ridiculous the servers have to deal with customers clean up after customers and yes at the end of thr night the servsrs tip deveryone out so the tip should be 20% or more because they do deal with a lot of bs and hard work. ive done both serve and bartend and if the server makes more she or he will take care of the bartender with their wages

    • TexanPatriot2

      Don’t force patrons to handle your payroll costs.
      Ban tipping.
      Pay a proper wage and charge a proper price.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/6S24NQF72JG7XEGHDG7E2H5THQ Kiera Freeman

      You stay at home and eat, and free up space for a guest who respects my position, appreciates my service and tips appropriately.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/6S24NQF72JG7XEGHDG7E2H5THQ Kiera Freeman

      Please do not use anecdotal stories about foreign countries. In Europe, Japan, Australia and other modern societies, the servers are recognized as having a challenging job which requires a huge skill-set and paid accordingly ($20-$30/ hr.) Here, we are considered “trumped up servants”  who have to rely on the generosity of strangers to feed our family and pay our bills.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/6S24NQF72JG7XEGHDG7E2H5THQ Kiera Freeman

      Mr. Winslow, based on your comments, I pity your significant other. You are a greedy, selfish, bastard with no sense of community, compassion or justice.