Empty Calories

You Should Tip Your Server. Seriously.

tipsFor awhile now, the debate about whether or not one should tip one’s server has caused pockets of embittered battles across the internet. Here’s the thing: this shouldn’t even be a debate. It shouldn’t be a debate because there’s one clear answer: you should tip your server.

I’m going to skip all of the “you should tip your server because they’re poor” stuff, because that line of reasoning has convinced exactly nobody who is anti-tipping. If you’re anti-tipping, your main point seems to be, “Why should I pay extra and subsidize this person’s existence when nobody does that for me?” and if you’re asking that question, your concern about the poor is probably slim to none. While this way of thinking probably isn’t winning you many friends, it could be a valid question . . . except that it makes assumptions that aren’t true in practice.

One major assumption is that gratuity is on top of the server’s salary. This isn’t true in most states. Gratuity usually is the server’s salary. This is a more important point than just “oh, take pity on servers because they are poor”; it has to do with the system of going out to eat and the compensation of labor. The system of going out to eat assumes that the server will be tipped at least 15% on average, and your meal is priced accordingly. If everyone stopped tipping, that cost would have to be rolled into the price of the food (that means prices go up, FYI) because servers have to get paid. Nobody’s going to come into a restaurant and take orders from you, and set plates of food in front of you while you sit on your ass, and run back to the kitchen because you prematurely ate all of your ranch dressing (and even though there are ten other people waiting, you really need that ranch dressing) without getting a paycheck.

Even if you don’t believe in doing good things to help people, you should be tipping if you want to continue going out to eat and being served by someone else. The expectation is that you’re going to pay the servers; the restaurant isn’t charging you enough to pay the servers out of the cost of your meal. I don’t particularly like this system, either, but that is the system. There’s no magical extra money coming to servers from anywhere else.

If you don’t leave a tip, you’re kinda-sorta also stealing someone’s labor. Pretty much every person who is of reasonable intelligence in America has at least a murky idea that this is how the system works. Because it is assumed at the beginning of the meal that you’ll pay for the labor used, and because bucking this assumption means unfairly wasting the time of a server who could have been serving customers who would tip (maybe customers should start bidding to be served–since the restaurant doesn’t pay the servers, who says you’re entitled to their service just by eating there, anyway? Servers are free agents, in a way), I consider stiffing them on the gratuity borderline theft, unless the circumstances are extreme enough to warrant having your dinner comped.

What about meh service? Yep, those servers deserve tips, too. Even if the server wasn’t particularly bubbly or did an over-the-top job, they deserve some compensation for carting your food out to you and refilling your cups. It’s like buying an off-brand instead of the pricey brand–it may not be as good, but it will suffice. It is, however, still not free.

So. Yeah. Tip your server. If the thought of being generous doesn’t polish your fork, do it because you want to be able to continue going out to eat. Don’t like the system? Fight to change the system at the top, rather than making people go without pay. Boycott the whole restaurant, not the individual who already held up their end of the deal.

(PS, and this is just for me: please stop leaving self-righteous notes about how much you hate tipping. Just, no. That’s like showing off a turd–it’s a damned strange thing to be proud of.)

 

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  • Michele G.

    The world would be a better place if these cheap bastards just stayed home. Along with the “I’m making assumptions about my server’s sexuality and don’t approve so I’m not going to tip AND I’m going to leave them a note telling them they’re going to hell” crowd. F those people.

  • raych

    I haven’t written on this because i don’t have articulate feelings, I have RAGE and rage doesn’t make for clever articles. And most of my rage is misplaced, because people DON’T KNOW THE SORDID TRUTH and are ACTING IN IGNORANCE and CAN I REALLY BLAME THEM (kind of, yes).

    Ok. It’s rare in Canada for servers not to be paid at all (except in small, privately-owned restaurants), and most are paid minimum wage. HOWEVER, that wage is essentially garnished by the ‘tipping out’ process, which is based on the assumption that people will tip the server.

    When I worked at Red Robin some 8 years ago, at the end of the night a server would tip the kitchen 2% of their final sales, 1% to the bar, and a dollar an hour to the expeditor and the table bussers.

    On an 8-hour shift, you’d frequently bill around $2000 (that is, all the food and drink you’d ‘sold’ to your tables would equal around $2000). So you’d owe the kitchen $40, the bartender $20, and $8 each to the expeditor and bussers. That’s $76.

    At that time, minimum wage was $8. If every guest in your section was a non-tipper who didn’t like to pay ‘extra’ for their meal (which would never happen, I know. But for the sake of argument), you would earn $64 in wages for your shift less taxes LESS THE $76 YOU WOULD STILL HAVE TO TIP YOUR FELLOW STAFF. You would be paying to work that shift, is what I’m saying.

    This system is based on a much older system where guests would tip their servers for excellent service, their chefs for excellent food, their bartenders for excellent drinks. It has been aggregated and sublimated so that the onus falls on the server to earn all the tips, to take the blame for cold food and badly-prepared drinks REGARDLESS OF WHOSE FAULT IT IS, and to still supplement their co-workers’ salaries.

    As a server, you have the opportunity to do good as it is done to you, but not to do stinginess. If your bartender has been killing it all shift, even running some of your drinks out to your tables when you were in the weeds, maybe you give her $30 instead of $20, because she’s been helping you earn better tips. But if the kitchen has been slowly and sloppily making your food, costing you your guests’ goodwill, you still have to (however grudgingly) fork over $40.

    It’s a broken system. It is unfair and unreasonable. But it is the system we have, and it is ridiculous to punish the hard-working, often-putting-themselves-through-school-with-this-job class of people instead of the restaurant-owning, not-actually-eating-at-Red-Robin class who allow it to happen.

    If you can’t afford to add a dollar to a $9 burger, you can’t afford a $9 burger.

    • Insatiable Booksluts

      *standing ovation*

  • balletbookworm

    When I was visiting Austria/Germany with my parents in 2007 I had to teach my dad HOW TO TIP WHILE IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY (because he had, of course, failed to read the book that I had told him to read). There, the gratuity is automatically calculated into the bill, no matter that it’s one person eating or twenty, and it is customary to tip your server 10% for their work directly (i.e. don’t leave the money on that table because that is about as rude as it gets and it’s generally frowned upon to add tip to the bottom of your credit card slip). So dad was having trouble calculating extra tip – not because he’s stingy but because that’s not really how the US operates – and he kept leaving the money on the table out of habit because, also surprise!, he hadn’t really learned any traveler’s German like I said to and didn’t know what to say when handing the tip to the server. It was embarrassing. When we were eating lunch at Melk Abbey (which is a beautiful working monastery overlooking the Danube valley about halfway between Vienna and Salzburg on the freeway, go see it if you’re in the area), I convinced him to give me the cash and let me settle the bill. And it was pretty simple – I had the server break the larger Euro bill and when she brought the change I held back 3 Euro and handed it to her saying “For you.” (I had done a bit of spying at a coffee house in Vienna while waiting for my parents to finish “an errand” – meaning mom had seen something in a shop that she wanted to surprise me with and I had got both parents back to the shop, via the metro, in one piece, translated the price tags, and was now banished to the coffee house to wait for them – and watched a few quaint, older customers settle their bills so was pretty sure I had it figured out right) Dad had an “aha” moment.

  • balletbookworm

    When I was visiting Austria/Germany with my parents in 2007 I had to teach my dad HOW TO TIP WHILE IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY (because he had, of course, failed to read the book that I had told him to read). There, the gratuity is automatically calculated into the bill, no matter that it’s one person eating or twenty, and it is customary to tip your server 10% for their work directly (i.e. don’t leave the money on that table because that is about as rude as it gets and it’s generally frowned upon to add tip to the bottom of your credit card slip). So dad was having trouble calculating extra tip – not because he’s stingy but because that’s not really how the US operates – and he kept leaving the money on the table out of habit because, also surprise!, he hadn’t really learned any traveler’s German like I said to and didn’t know what to say when handing the tip to the server. It was embarrassing. When we were eating lunch at Melk Abbey (which is a beautiful working monastery overlooking the Danube valley about halfway between Vienna and Salzburg on the freeway, go see it if you’re in the area), I convinced him to give me the cash and let me settle the bill. And it was pretty simple – I had the server break the larger Euro bill and when she brought the change I held back 3 Euro and handed it to her saying “For you.” (I had done a bit of spying at a coffee house in Vienna while waiting for my parents to finish “an errand” – meaning mom had seen something in a shop that she wanted to surprise me with and I had got both parents back to the shop, via the metro, in one piece, translated the price tags, and was now banished to the coffee house to wait for them – and watched a few quaint, older customers settle their bills so was pretty sure I had it figured out right) Dad had an “aha” moment.

  • http://www.twitter.com/V3RDICT Jeremiah N

    Well said.

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  • amandamay83

    Preface: I waited tables for 10 years. I made $2.15 an hour. I’m not some clueless, heartless wench.

    I am so sick of hearing that people just DON’T UNDERSTAND that servers only make $2.15 an hour. Considering that every time I turn around, I’m reading another article or rant on this very subject, I think it’s very clear to the entire world that servers are not making a mint in their hourly wages.

    But you know who else is aware of that? THE SERVERS. When they took that job, they were perfectly aware of the hourly wage. If you KNOW going in that your livelihood depends upon tips and thus the quality of service that you’re providing, then perhaps you should work harder to provide quality service.

    I don’t owe you a 20% tip just because you showed up for work that day. I work hard for my money and I expect my server to, as well. I’ve been there: I can see when a server is busy, I can tell when the kitchen fucked up. I would never dock a server’s tip in those circumstances. But if I’m getting flat out shitty service for no reason? I’m not giving you a 20% tip.

    As a former server, I can be your best friend or your worst enemy. By and large, I tip a minimum of 20% and it’s not uncommon for me to leave more. But I am NOT going to leave a craptastic server a 20% tip just because she showed up for work that day.

    • Bob Bires

      But if you’ve read all of the rants and articles, you know at least that 1) African-American waitstaff gets tipped less, 2) LBGT waitstaff sometimes don’t get tipped at all because of their orientations, and 3) great service doesn’t bring higher tips than poor service. These are but a few factors that take a waitperson’s earnings out of their control. It’s difficult to imagine many other occupations where one’s livelihood is so dependent on a customer’s arbitrary or imperfect or irrelevant judgement. I don’t think we can read enough pieces like this, which are essentially pleas for human decency.

      • amandamay83

        “Great service doesn’t bring higher tips than poor service”

        You can’t be serious. I can tell you I most certainly made better tips on the nights I gave better service.

        • Amanda Nelson

          I’ve also waited tables for $2 an hour for several years, and can say that on average, the difference between me phoning it in and providing “excellent” service meant literally nothing for my tip average. After all, “excellent” service is different for everyone- some people want you at their table every 30 seconds, offering this or that. Some people find that annoying and want to be left alone. Some people dock you for using a runner for the food, some people get tired of your face and wonder why you’re not a “team player.” Bob is right in that there are few other occupations where someone’s livelihood is left up to the arbitrary whims and unknowable standards of strangers. So yeah, someone showing up for work that day and doing their job? They deserve to get paid, by you, because that’s our current social contract. If that bothers someone, they should frequent Panera Bread where they can get their own straws and carry their own food with their own excellent service.

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  • nebabc

    Let me go through your arguments and see if I can debunk them a bit.
    1. “BLAH BLAH BLAH people who don’t tip make no friends HUR DER.”
    Let’s skip all the ad hominem and get on with your actual arguments.
    2. “Without tips, food prices would increase to cover labor costs!”
    Let them. Doesn’t a system where everything you’re paying is included in the bill make more sense than hidden fees?
    3. “Why should servers be inclined to help you if you won’t tip them?”
    Because that’s their job. They are garenteed a paycheck no matter what. No waiter should be so shortsighted and lacking in work ethic that they need an upfront payment to do their job. Can you imagine if we applied your logic to other jobs? Why should the grocery store clerk bag your groceries if you won’t tip him? BECAUSE THAT’S HIS JOB.
    4. “You’re stealing from poor service workers by not tipping”
    Nationwide, restaurants are required to pay at least minimum wage to their employees, no matter how little they make in tips. Doesn’t it make more sense that the EMPLOYER should be the one to pay its EMPLOYEES?