Tipping Your Waiter or Waitress: Servers Are Working for Your Tips
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Tipping Your Waiter or Waitress: Servers Are Working for Your Tips

A guide for tipping in the United States, learn key areas of concern and why the server deserves a 20% tip. Topics include: keeping a tip in mind based on the intended experience, holiday dining concerns, food issues and waiter issues. Issues to keep in mind, because they are out of the waitress or waiter's hands.

Dining out at a restaurant assumes a few things of patrons in the USA.  For instance the vast majority of the waitress’ and waiters are under paid assuming they earn tips.  In the two states I have served in it is customary for servers to make $2.13/h or over $5 under the minimum wage.  This means that your server is working primarily for you.  The underlying social contract is that a manager pays a wait staff to do side work, while the server waits for the customers, who pay the bills, to arrive.  Servers work for them in order to have the opportunity to work for you.  They sell you their experience with the restaurant and its food preparation staff.

Everyone who chooses to dine out should plan to tip a set amount prior to the excursion out to eat in other words understand that the tip is part of the dining experience.  It is customary to start at 20% of the bill for an evening meal.  If everything is as to be expected this 20% is the wage that goes to pay the server, as well as, the additional funds they will use to tip out their busser, food runners, bartenders all who earn a percentage of each servers total sales.  Sometimes a smaller staff at lunch or during slower seasons puts less of a burden on tip-outs and 15% is more appropriate.  At other times a bill is smaller in which case it becomes less important to tip a percentage and somewhat more appropriate to leave a set dollar amount. 

I suggest a base tip percentage and suggest most meals should fall within that range.  The more you ask of your server the higher the percentage.  It should be suggested that the things that do go wrong should perhaps not be taken against the server who will tip the total sales regardless.  Do not reduce the tip without contemplating where the fault lies. 

Servers more or less act as a conductor of your food.  Aside from being the face that serves you we, the server, are charged with orchestrating the final products arrival at your table.  In reality the server is trying to take care of their tables present concerns.  This means that they must control all the actions surrounding their tables.  Wait staff hardly ever prepares your appetizer, main dish, side choice or even deserts but they do try and plan when that concerned preparer receives the order. Consideration should always come before detracting from the servers tip.

In my own serving experience it is the mistakes at the table in which the waiter deserves to be penalize as far as tips are concerned.  When the waiter spills a sauce on you, or spills your beverage, obviously non-intentional mistakes.  But, if you don't tip me, then I know why because they were my mistakes.  But, as so often is the case, a steak is not cooked to your specification a poor tip penalizes me, the $2.13 worker, not the cook in the back making hourly. 

When you dine out try to keep in mind that managers not servers decide how busy the restaurant can get.  Assume longer dining times for busier nights and holidays.  It is not the wait staff choice when the restaurant goes on a wait.  At times this means that meals tickets stack up as the kitchen gets behind.  Sometimes this means a server is waiting to get your appetizer out to send your meals to make sure that appetizers are prepared before a meal.  Other situations, like having a table sat afterward receive their food prior to a table already seated.  This can occur for any number of reasons most often because one meal is just prepared that much faster than another.  A well-done steak adds a lot of ‘ticket time’.

Servers ask their customers to appreciate the 'game' we play.  It is our goal to satisfy the customer and in return we expect to make 20% or more of our sales, remember we work for you.  The truly skilled server makes sure that they time your dining experience with the kitchen staff that they have grown to know while juggling the time we spend at the table.   It is a game of appeasing the owners who need high sales and the customers ideal dining experience. 

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Comments (2)

you make some great points

I am personally disgusted that the industry in the states allows employers to get away with paying their staff so poorly - this is not allowed in Canada, in my area they make $9.40, the same as minimum wage.  You can bet that the restaurant owner is paying himself more than $2 or $3 an hour.  They are taking advantage of these people and forcing the customer to make up for the difference.