For some service-industry jobs, tips mean the difference between keeping the bills paid and living on cold ramen. Minimum wage for tipped employees can be as low as $2.13 per hour in some states, and a few tipped jobs (like the burgeoning third-party-restaurant-delivery industry) may not even have hourly rates at all, depending instead on various service or delivery charges. On the other hand, if your server treats you like crap, brings you your food late, gets everything wrong, and breaks a bottle of wine over your head, you’re certainly within your rights to register your disapproval.
Unfortunately, tipping is one of those “unwritten rules” situations where nearly everyone has a different opinion (for example, if any of you have dated a waitress, you’ll know that you should probably still tip at least 10 percent if you get hit by a bottle of wine). How to figure out these unwritten rules? Easy: write ‘em down, like we did here.
10 PERCENT, 15 PERCENT, 20 PERCENTThose are the standard restaurant-industry tips for bad (but still acceptable) service, decent service, and good service, respectively. In higher-end restaurants, use 10 percent, 18 percent, and 25 percent. For exceptional servers, feel free to tip more, but remember that if you don’t have any complaints about your meal but still tip less than 15 percent, you’re being a schmuck. Your server has a budget based around the idea that most customers are going to leave a certain amount of money per meal, and simply rounding up the bill to the next multiple of ten isn’t going to be enough to keep the lights on and the phone company happy. For forgetful or inattentive servers, it’s still good karma to tip 10 percent, and also a subtle way of informing the manager that he or she might have a bad apple on the staff. All those 10-percent tips will send a message soon enough.
YOUR TWO CENTSOf course, if your server is just plain awful, you might be tempted to stiff him or her entirely, but that could be a bad idea if you plan to visit the restaurant again. Waitstaff tend to stick together and cover the backs of even the worst coworkers. Your server might not even realize you deliberately failed to tip, as there’s always a few people so dumb they don’t even remember to tip.
Instead of signing your name all angry and storming out, leave two pennies on the credit slip as a sign that you know you’re supposed to tip, but you’re so pissed off that you refuse to do so. After that, try and get the manager and explain your problems. The pennies will send a clear message, but sometimes a talk to the boss is necessary to sort out bad service.
SLOPPING THE TROUGH: TIPPING AT BUFFETSIt seems counterintuitive, but servers at buffet restaurants may often be working harder than those at traditional sit-down places, as they are constantly busing tables, cleaning sneezeguards, keeping the gravy fountain running, pulling children and stray animals out of the pudding vat, etc. The minimum tip should be at least a dollar per person in your party, and if you’re attending in a large group (as is common in buffet restaurants) there might have been a gratuity automatically added onto your tab.
If not, tip based on how busy the restaurant is that night. If your server has had to work five different tables while trying to prevent an obese manchild from spooning ranch dressing into his mouth with his bare hands, consider a 20-percent or higher tip (or if there was an automatic gratuity, you can tip on top of that) as a way of telling your server “Thanks for your hard work.”
AUTO-TIPPING AND HOW (AND WHY) TO CIRCUMVENT ITLately, a number of New York City restaurants have begun quietly adding a 15-percent or 18-percent gratuity to all bills, regardless of how many people are in a given party. Given NYC’s vast restaurant industry and stupendously high costs of living, it makes a certain amount of sense, since for servers there, a night of bad or nonexistent tips can mean the difference between wrangling another month’s rent of a closet-sized apartment vs. fighting off homeless people for the best food in the Dumpster.
There are times, however, when the service is so bad that something has to be done. It may be tough being a waiter in one of the most expensive cities on Earth, but if someone’s really truly bad at service, they need to stop working as a server and you need to make that happen. If you’ve been well and truly screwed over, ask to see a manager before paying your bill. You have a much better chance at getting your money’s worth and a much better chance at getting an incompetent server removed from the restaurant.
“TIP JAR? WHAT TIP JAR?”In some “self-service” cafes or fast-food joints, you will occasionally see a jar next to the register, waiting to accept your hard-earned ducats. In almost every situation, it is acceptable to ignore the hell out of this jar, wander back to your plastic table, and wait for your food, but when paying in cash it’s the done thing to pour the coins from your change back into the jar, if only because carrying around coinage of more than a dollar soon becomes incredibly annoying.
Basically, if you ordered your food by waiting in line at a cash register and then sitting at a table near a ball pit, you can assume that the employees are receiving the local minimum hourly wage and you only need to tip if you want to get rid of some change, or if you were particularly impressed with how your Big Mac was prepared.
GIMME THE REGULARBartenders are a special case in a lot of ways—they have way more authority than your average server, they have a certain amount of specialist training in how to do their jobs, and they can absolutely kick your deadbeat ass to the curb if you piss them off. The flip side of this issue is that if you befriend a bartender (through tips, conversation, or just being a decent human being) you can get away with a certain amount of free drinks or delayed tabs. If you’re paying cash at the end of a long shift, then it’s perfectly acceptable and often welcome to simply kick out an extra dollar in tips for each beer/shot/cocktail.
For a big party or a long night of drinking or any other sort of lengthy, expensive, bar-based adventure being paid by your credit card, tip at least 18 percent on the final bill, and it’s advised to pay more. There’s nothing more annoying than a crowd of party drunks who yell their way through the room, monopolize the bar, commandeer the pool table and leave with a paltry 10-percent tip. Should you do that and try to lead a similar bar raid, there’s a very good chance that the bartender will tell you (justifiably) that you’re a cheap piece of crap and that you’re not welcome there anymore.
If you skimmed this slide to the last and what you assumed was the most important line: Tip your bartenders. Tip them well. If you do good by them, they will do good by you.
THE DELIVERY GUYIn most cases, restaurant delivery drivers make minimum wage or better, as they spend their non-delivery time helping out in the back of the restaurant and are generally treated as hourly employees. They also usually receive additional fees for doing deliveries. Most delivery drivers are not compensated for gas costs, however, so if you live on the edge of the restaurant’s delivery radius, be sure to throw a few bucks their way. Ditto if it’s been raining, or if traffic has been a mess, but they still managed to get you your food on time.
If you’re dealing with third-party food delivery, though (meaning an independent company that delivers for restaurants that normally don’t deliver), you can’t really make any assumptions about how they’re paid. Some of these companies actually have their delivery drivers work on a contract basis, earning no hourly wages and no compensation beyond tips and delivery fees, while some are almost the exact opposite, paying hourly and discouraging tips. Read the company’s menu or website carefully to determine which is which, and if it encourages you to tip, tip well, because you’re paying for a fairly special service, and the drivers need to keep gas in their tanks.
HIGH ROLLERSCasino workers are a pretty special case when it comes to tipping. In Las Vegas and other Nevada gambling centers, they’re often unionized employees making fairly high hourly wages, but in smaller casinos, they can be just as dependent on tips as any other hospitality worker. It’s customary to tip the dealer of a table game 5 percent at the end of your game, but you can also place bets specifically for the dealer’s benefit as a way of tipping during the game.
Either bet an amount for the dealer separately, or tell the dealer that a certain amount of your hand is going to end up going to them (if you’re worried that your dealer bet won’t be counted when they’re giving out comped drinks and whatnot). Speaking of comped drinks, it’s customary to pass the drink server a buck or two per drink, although some experienced gamblers give a large tip for the first drink to ensure that their server comes back early and often.
Next: 20 Everyday Money Saving Tips
MISCELLANEOUSIf your barber is giving you a simple trim or clipper cut, just tack a dollar or two onto the bill, but for more complex and expensive styling/coloring/etc. tip in the 10- to 20-percent range. Taxi drivers deserve up to 15 percent tips if they aren’t trying to screw you over or drive into oncoming traffic.
Housekeeping service in hotels deserve around three bucks per night (more if there’s a lot of people in one room), but make sure you leave the cash in the room when you leave and not when you check out, as multiple maids might be cleaning up. A five-dollar tip slipped to your hotel’s shuttle driver can often result in a different kind of tip: insider information on the best local restaurants, bars, clubs, etc. that you won’t find in official guidebooks.
Lastly, a masseuse/masseur usually gets a 10- to 20-percent tip, especially if they pretended to find your awkward “happy ending” joke funny (because in reality they absolutely hate that type of joke).With these guidelines, you’ll know how much and in what way to reward the next restaurant or hospitality worker who stands around awkwardly after you pay your bill.