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Tips on tipping

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SEPTEMBER 28, 2023

I would live for a reality TV show about the inner workings of a restaurant and the personal lives of its employees. As anyone who has worked in the service industry knows, there is much to be said regarding customer service. Among these topics is the ever-changing and oh-so-confusing topic of tipping. 

Throughout my years in the service industry, I have realized that everyone around me seems to be collectively puzzled on the concept of tipping. How much is too much? How much is not enough? Why does something seemingly simple have to be so complicated?

As a teenage girl who has been a server for almost five years in restaurants ranging from the Olive Garden to P.F. Chang’s to Julia’s Restaurant in the Berkeley City Club, these are my top tips on tipping. 

First and foremost, I want to stress that if you do not believe you can afford a decent tip for your server, you should not be eating out. Tipping is a server’s main source of income aside from minimum wage — that is, if the restaurant they work at even grants them the opportunity to earn minimum wage. 

Before arriving, I would recommend looking at the restaurant’s menu to ensure you have the funds to tip appropriately. I can’t count the number of times I have had to hold my tongue while eating out with friends and family who claim they don’t tip because the server is already getting paid to do their job. Needless to say, I leave extra in place of my company’s ignorance.  

That being said, I do believe that tipping is relative and can vary based on your choice of eatery, the service you were provided and even how much food you ordered. The general rule of thumb when dining out is to tip 10-15% as a way of saying, “Thank you for your service!” If your server made your dining experience special, a 20% tip might be expected as a way of saying, “Fantastic service!” Other circumstances that generally call for a bigger tip are having a large and particularly needy party, ordering a large quantity of food or staying at the restaurant for a significant amount of time (especially near closing time — a server’s worst nightmare). 

Too often, my tables will profusely thank me for my service, yet leave no tip — this is called getting stiffed. While compliments, praise and Yelp reviews are always appreciated, they do not pay for my out-of-state tuition.

As a server, I have learned to never judge a book by its cover. At my first restaurant job back in Louisiana, a man once walked in clearly under the influence — so much so that he could barely form the words to order his po’ boy. After giving him his total, which was in the ballpark of 10 bucks, the drunk man handed me a $100 bill and told me to keep the change. He followed that with a wink, then stumbled back to the bench as he waited for his to-go order. I am not sure if generosity was typical of this man’s character, or if it was simply his intoxicated state. Either way, he taught me never to write off a drunk customer as bad news.

However, judging customers can go both ways. A couple nights ago, at my current job, a middle-aged lady and her twenty-something-year-old son came to dinner to celebrate the son’s birthday. As I refilled their waters and wine over the course of the evening, I recognized that all of their conversions revolved around money (and having lots of it). I’m all for eating the rich, but when affluent people come to eat at my job, you’d better believe I am going to put my best foot forward so I am rewarded with a decent tip. 

After two bottles of wine, two steak dinners and a free dessert, I thought I had this table wrapped around my finger. After I brought their check with a big smile and a “thank you,” the lady and her son thanked me back and proceeded to pay and leave. To my surprise, I got stiffed. Since then, I have learned to treat everybody with equal service — and shame on me for not doing so sooner.

Tipping can be complicated, and it certainly depends on a variety of factors. If this column taught you nothing else, please remember that people in the service industry are just that: people. While being a server may be somebody’s job, it isn’t necessarily their job of choice. Treat others with respect, and take it from me: Remember to tip your server!

Bella Hamilton writes the Thursday column on her personal experiences with finances as a low-income and first generation college student. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter

SEPTEMBER 28, 2023