The Dirt on Tipping


(grəˈtu ɪ ti, -ˈtyu-)

n., pl. -ties.

1. a gift of money above payment due for service; tip.
2. something given without claim or demand.
[1515–25; < Middle French gratuite < Latin grātuī(tus) gratuitous]

I probably shouldn’t write this. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time and I know my son won’t like it. It’s unprofessional. I know it is, but I want to put it out there for all the servers in North America who rely on tips for nearly half of their take home pay.

Servers on this continent are paid the very most bare minimum of wages for their time and effort. We rely on the generosity of our guests for literally half (or more) of our take home wages. Most servers don’t take this lightly. We do our best to accommodate the needs and whims of our guests and the egos and oddities of our kitchens. Some days go well. Some days do not.

We (servers) are prone to all the same ups and downs as our guests. We understand that when you come into our rooms, you have been dealing with the same difficult realities of every day life as we do.

We bite our lips when you rearrange the furniture and try to swallow our pride when you ignore our questions or ignore us altogether as we go about our work.  We are often busy and have other guests glaring at us as we await your attention.

It’s not always easy. The kitchen has bad days too. Things don’t always go as well as planned and sometimes frying pans fly.

Nonetheless we persevere! With any luck, you have a lovely time and you enjoy a connection with the person bringing you your orders. My wish for every one of my guests is that they leave the bar feeling at least a little bit better than they did when they arrived. Sometimes I achieve my goal. Sometimes I fail even with my most long-term guests.

I have overheard many conversations about tipping. These days most people tip a consistent 20%. Quite often, these people have worked in the industry and understand that, servers have to tip out both the kitchen and other support staff. Some people only tip 10%. 😦  Then there are the 10% plus one dollar(?) tippers, the stuck in the nineteen seventies 15% tippers and of course there are the (very rare) big tippers, 30% 50%,100%. Most servers have seen it all and believe me, we appreciate it all. In the end, any gratuity is better than no gratuity.

I was recently privy to a conversation about how one customer tried to avoid an 18% automatic gratuity by bringing in two tables of eight to an establishment that charged an auto grat on more than ten guests. She then refused to pay the gratuity because it had been “assumed”. Most restaurants have an auto grat on tables of more than seven guests because of our experience with large parties that don’t tip well or sometimes even at all.

Quite often it goes like this… The bill arrives. It’s $400 for round figuring. Guest 1 pays $110 . Guest 2 pays $110. Guest three pays $120  Guest 4 “pays the rest” which is $60 and then tips 15% on the $60. So after two or three hours of work, our server walks with $9. This happens so often when splitting bills that most of us would prefer to prepare separate bills for each guest. This, of course, needs to be clarified at the start, when guests first sit down.

The other nefarious tip robbing goes like this. Everyone puts in their share of cash including generous tips and one guest grabs all the cash and says,”I’ll just put this on my card.” and proceeds to add a 10% tip while walking away with the all the money their friends had intended for the server.

There are the guests that mistakenly think TIPS stands for To Insure Proper Service… (I got this from …it’s great.)

“I stand by the fact that “tips” has no hidden meaning, since people frequently confuse “insure” and “ensure”.

1. to guarantee against loss or harm.
2. to secure indemnity to or on, in case of loss, damage, or death.
3. to issue or procure an insurance policy on or for.

1. to secure or guarantee
2. to make sure or certain

To Ensure Proper Service would make sense, but doesn’t work with the word “tips”. People always claim, “TIPS means such and such” (for example, the sixth response in this post: ), but I don’t think that’s the case. TIPS means nothing at all, besides whatever the word’s actual etymology.”

…besides you can’t ensure good service after the fact. That’s just silly. One way of ensuring good service is to be kind and genuine and by treating your service professional just the way you like to be treated.

Everyone has a different idea about what tipping is all about. My sister thinks that people shouldn’t even be allowed to eat in restaurants unless they’ve been employed in one for at least a year! That way they would understand how many other people servers are required to tip out (including kitchen, bartender, hosts and server assistants) and also the added weight of having to save a percentage of those tips to pay out in taxes at the end of the year.

Whatever your take on tipping, the fact is that servers are working for you. For a very brief moment in time, they are your employees. In their private lives, they are running households and trying to support families. They pay for their children’s educations and extra-curricular activities and quite often struggle to do that.

If you sit at a restaurant table for two or three hours, you might consider what your tip means in per hour wages. You might consider your server in the same light as you would a trusted employee. Many servers have years of experience and are virtual experts in their field.

In terms of time, we need to talk about campers. These are the guests that come in, eat, drink and then linger drinking water or coffee for ages after the meal is finished. Larger restaurants are equipped for this, but a small space can lose out on a lot of business when guests linger long after they’ve paid their bill and the establishment has to turn away table after table while the campers fill up on water or free coffee refills. If you are having a great time and are reluctant to leave it would be wildly appreciated if that extra time was reflected in extra gratuity.

Finally, it’s important to note that we don’t only work for tips. There’s nothing better than establishing a rapport with a table and having fun with them, anticipating their needs and making their day just that much brighter. I rarely check my tips unless I notice, at the end of the night, that I haven’t made my normal percentage. I enjoy my guests and I understand that many clients are on a strict budget themselves.

I do think though, that clients of bars and restaurants should be informed and aware of the importance of gratuities to their favorite waiters and waitresses. So, if your server approaches you after you’ve paid and asks, “Was everything alright today?” It really means, “I got a terrible tip and just want to know why…”

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