As a former waitress and bartender (and cook), the way people tip (and act at a restaurant) can either make me very happy or upset.
I waited tables for four years in college and for a little while when I moved home before I found a job to use my degree in. Let me start out by saying that I think that everyone should have to wait tables at some point in their life (for a week at least) to truly understand my frustration. If I were the president, this is one of the first laws that I would make.
Serving has truly shown me the best and worst in people. I have seen immense generosity, courtesy and respect as well as intolerable levels of entitlement, disrespect and selfishness. Because of this, I even did my senior thesis in college on “Tipping in the Service Industry”. I did an econometric analysis on the attributes that account for higher or lower tips. If you’re lucky, maybe someday I will post it to bore you (SIDENOTE: I got an “A” on it).
***NOTE: the parts about tipping are specifically geared toward readers in the U.S. I understand that in other countries tips are not as typical/common***
My guide to restaurant etiquette, starts now:
1. Servers are “paid” $2.13 an hour. By “paid” I mean that we never actually see a real paycheck. I think the highest paycheck I ever got was maybe in the range of $20 (for two forty hour+ weeks of work). This clearly is not enough to live on. We work on tips. I’ve heard all the excuses in the book on why you shouldn’t have to tip but the fact of the matter is (here’s where my economist mind comes out) service would greatly decrease if wait staff were to be paid a flat hourly rate. Here’s why: If I got paid, say, $10 an hour there is very little incentive for me to give you anything but sub-par service. I can do the bare minimum to keep you happy and get you on your way. The fact that my pay is supposed to be based on the service I give you incentivizes me to work harder, better accommodate you and pay make sure you have a great experience. Afterall, I’m going to want you to come back!
2. You are not my only customer. While I would LOVE to have only had a table or two at a time to make sure everything is perfect for you, the fact of the matter is that more than likely I’m scrambling around trying to keep 20+ people happy at once. Do you realize how hard that is? Be PATIENT. Sometimes we forget things (we are, afterall, human), kindly remind us!
3. A ten percent tip just isn’t what it used to be. Cost of living has gone up. Not only for you, but for the server that is waiting on you. Lets say a server is working a very slow lunch shift. You (naturally) order the special that costs maybe $8. please, Please, PLEASE do not leave someone 80 cents. Well lets just go ahead and say don’t ever leave less than a dollar. It’s quite frankly, insulting to say the least. I don’t care if it was the worst service ever. Leave at least a dollar. PLEASE! A standard tip should be at least 18% for lets say, average service. They weren’t bad but it wasn’t the best service you have ever gotten. Really should be 20%, but I digress… If you have horrible service, you should still tip – I’m going to say, at least 15%. Try and talk to a manager or the server and see if you can get something taken off the bill or figure out what happened. A lot of the time slow food is NOT the servers fault and they should not be punished. If you have great service, go ahead and tip above 20%. The sky’s the limit 🙂
4. If you order something extra, expect to be charged for it. Restaurants have to pay for their food and you have to pay for what you order. Don’t act shocked when the chicken and avocado you added to your salad adds on a few bucks. Things come as is for the most part. If you want to substitute things and do not want to be charged, just ask! Chances are that you can’t sub black olives for steak but restaurants are usually pretty accommodating.
5. Splitting checks. Oh the joys of the split checks. This is not a problem – I didn’t even mind splitting checks 10+ ways. Let your server know in the beginning that you would like separate checks and realize this may add some time on at the end when everyone is paying. It is what it is. In order to speed things up, PAY WITH A CARD or EXACT CHANGE. Servers typically have their own “bank” of about $20 each shift. When a ton of split checks are paying in cash, we may not have the cash needed to give you change. This is also super time consuming. Swiping a card is really fast! Also, don’t get mad about getting gratuity added on to big parties. Even though you may tip great, Cheap Charles may not tip well on his $75 bill.
6. The price is on the menu. I guess this goes along with #4. Please don’t ask us “how much is…”, “how much will it be if I…”. Just look at your menu. I am already remembering so many things including your 2 extra sides of ranch and half coke half coke zero that I don’t really remember the prices.
7. Speak when spoken to. This is something that my mother and father taught me. It is extremely useful in restaurants as well as all aspects of life. If I ask you if you need anything or what you want to drink, your blank stare does not tell me anything. I was not majoring in mind-reading when I was at school at the University of Georgia serving tables. Use your words, I won’t bite. (SIDENOTE: Dear girls that whisper in your boyfriend’s ear what you want to eat when I ask you, please know that you can just tell me, I do not want to play telephone with him and get your order wrong!!!)
8. Allergies & Dietary restrictions. Please inform your waitstaff if you have allergies. We just met, so I have no clue that you are a vegan or that you are deathly allergic to corn. Tell me! I am here to make sure that you don’t die while eating our delicious food. I don’t have a spare Epipen and I probably cannot successfully resuscitate you using CPR. When your pizza comes out with cheese and you are a vegan, I really can’t help you (the ingredients are also on the menu and I am assuming you can read).
9. Specials. Specials are just that – special. Sometimes we have them, and sometimes we don’t. Please don’t be upset with me because we do not offer what you want on special at that particular time. It’s not up to me.
10. You are not “better than me”. One of the most terrible things I got while serving was people thinking you are their slave or servant. They were highly mistaken. I am here to provide a service to you, please respect that. You came to me – I did not ask for you. I’m trying to make money just like everyone else. Do not tell me that serving is not a “real job”. It is very real.
11. Servers do more than just deliver you food and take your order. A lot of people, surprisingly, do not realize that servers are responsible for much more. We roll silverware, clean your dirty plates, carry dishes, scrub floors, clean unspeakable things out of the bathroom, mop, dust, etc. You name it, we do it. There is no “cleaning crew” – that’s just another part of my job.
12. Bar Etiquette. As a bartender at one of the biggest SEC football schools in the country, I’ve seen it all. This may merge with a previous number, but don’t leave me less than a dollar on a drink. I understand that I “only” opened it. You’re forgetting that I am going to have to deal with you as you get more and more turnt-up. I think I deserve a few extra cents for that. A little tip – if you are ordering liquor and not tipping or not tipping well, please know that your next drink will likely have less alcohol in it. If you’re tipping good, you will probably get a heavier pour. I have friends that don’t tip until the end. DON’T DO THAT! Tip consistently (unless you have a tab)! Seriously.
13. We have bad days too. Somedays, I was just not “on”. Please be empathetic. You do not know what your server is dealing with or what is going on personally for them at that time. Although this should never constitute rudeness, just know it’s not always easy. I remember one shift while I was working, a dear friend of mine passed away. I got about five minutes to cry, compose myself, and put my happy face back on. Be kind, for everyone you know is fighting a tough battle.
I hope that you’ve enjoyed my guide to restaurants and can learn something from it. My experience has greatly shaped me as a person and I am so glad to have done it. I met some of my best friends and learned some valuable life lessons.
Never trust or date a bad tipper.
(photo courtesy of http://static.ddmcdn.com/gif/tipping-table-money.jpg)