A reader wrote to me last month asking for advice on tipping at restaurants. It’s a great topic because there are so many different schools of thought on the subject. Fortunately or perhaps unfortunately, you will not have to hear them all. I remember going to Haitian restaurants in Brooklyn with my dad after he was done with work, and he would never leave a restaurant without tipping. Even if he ordered take out. And I would always ask him why he did that. He would look at me and say, “That lady has probably been standing there all day, and she’s probably only making $150 a week, working six days and 12-hour shifts.” I have always remembered that and later really understood that tipping is the life-blood of the server.

Tipping for a job done…Decent
I’ll occasionally hear someone say a customer should only tip for great service rendered. Well, that indeed is partially true. Think about it. When you think of the industries that we associate with tipping, are we necessarily tipping for GREAT service? Often it is simply for service rendered in the most basic manner. Think about this: When you tip a cab driver, are you really tipping the cab driver for his great speed? his great conversational skills? or his skillful way of avoiding killing you while in his cab? Probably not. You are most likely tipping him for a service rendered satisfactorily. And that is fine.

Tipping in the service industry- and this is especially true in the restaurant world-is essential to the livelihood of the person providing the service. The base pay for servers at most restaurants in New York City is approximately $2.60 per hour. So tipping is a way for service industry workers to meet a normal wage and at times, to simply meet the minimum wage. So while I understand the argument that, a server needs to provide exceptional service to get a tip, I argue we should not necessarily view it in such an extreme sense.

I feel as patrons we should be considerate to the fact that leaving a tip is the decent, one might even argue, humane thing to do, even to the not so bubbly server.

When all parts of the circle connect, this issue is simple. We go to a restaurant, the server has some level of training and customer service, they ooze kindness and sweetness and we leave feeling completely happy. Once this balance is achieved, then there really is no issue about tipping. Gratuity should be seen as a tax on your food. That is why some restaurants include it in your bill. It Is one of those things that you need to see as a requirement once you step into a place to dine unless the service was absolutely horrible. Your tip is necessary to ensure the server achieves the minimum wage, and hence should not be up to debate. Unless service was completely terrible, the only question that should be up to discretion is, how much tip should be left?

My rule of thumb for Tipping

Do not tip if the service is absolutely horrible. Meaning the server was rude, paid very little attention to you and completely has no kind of customer service skills. In such extreme case, I recommend you speak to the manager and explain your dissatisfaction.

Tip about 10% if the server was not the best, but was not horrible either. They simply perhaps did not get it, or was having an off day. Perhaps they are new on the job and don’t have the skills down yet. But there was no personal attack or no sense that bad service was being directed at you. The server will or should understand something was missing once you only tip 10%.

On average you should tip about 15% to 18% if the server did their job in a decent manner. Meaning there was not necessarily any real fanfare over you. However, you were approached cordially, the food you ordered arrived at a good pace, and when you were done, they cleaned up. They filled up your water glass when it went empty and they stopped by your table a couple of times to see how you were doing.

Do tip 20% or more if you were extremely happy with the service. You liked the way the server spoke to you. They were attentive. Your water glass never went below the half mark. They knew the menu well. They paid attention. If you leave feeling like you were pampered without being smothered, that was great service.

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