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Charlyn Keating

How Much Should You Tip?

By December 10, 2008

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Heather, whose been in the restaurant industry a long time, takes issue with something I said in the Tipping Guide:
You were correct about it being customary to tip 15-20%, however, you cannot exclude tax and an expensive bottle of wine. Why would you not tip on something that your server has to tip others out on? Servers have to tip out bartenders, busboys, etc. based on their sales not what the check was PRIOR to taxes and a bottle of wine. So, essentially, you are recommending that the consumer cheat their server out of money they have earned. How did the bottle of wine get to the table? Did it open itself? Did the guests pour their own glasses of wine? Dining guests are tipping for a service that is based on the total check. There are no exclusions. Hourly wages for waitstaff is $3.77! Gratuities are how we make a living. I feel that amending your report or printing a revised version is necessary. Given these difficult economic times, false information such as yours makes it very difficult for servers to support themselves on $3.77 an hour. We need all the help we can get to spread accurate information.
Personally, I eat out a lot, and always tip generously (20-22%) but always on the pre-tax check amount. If I've ordered a $40-50 bottle of wine, I include that amount when I'm calculating a tip. If it was a very expensive bottle ($100+), I would adjust accordingly. What do you think? Do you tip on the after-tax or before-tax amount? Do you tip a full 20%, even on a very expensive bottle of wine?

Update: Wow, plenty of opinions on this one! If you want to weigh in on the issue please comment here instead.

December 11, 2008 at 3:27 pm
(1) April says:

If you are purchasing $100 bottles of wine, you should tip the full amount, or order a cheaper bottle! Servers are very hard working people, and depend on tips to pay the bills. In this economy, maybe we should be ordering cheaper and tipping more.

December 11, 2008 at 10:04 pm
(2) WineGuy says:

I’m not a waiter nor have I ever been so this is an “outsider’s” opinion. If the service is good, just look at the total and tip based on that regardless of the tax or the value of any bottles of wine you ordered. Good grief, if you’re that cheap, just save your money and the server’s time by staying home — they’ll get another customer who’ll tip better. Remember, the more alcohol you order, the longer you’ll tie up the server’s table and you may end up reducing their tips (from additional customers who could be using your table had you already left). So forget how much the bottles cost when calculating your tip. If you can’t afford to eat out, including paying a proper tip, then just don’t.

December 12, 2008 at 9:01 am
(3) Andy of HoboTraveler.com says:

I have traveled perpetually for over 10 years and 79 countries as of December 2008…

Tipping is not normal for the planet, only for the USA and “Tourist Destinations.” Then you have to be take care as they will include it in the bill.

Tipping always seems a preoccupation with Americans. I am from Indiana, and now realize from a global perspective it is something Hotels and Restaurantes propogate.Andy HoboTraveler.com Travel Blog

December 12, 2008 at 10:30 am
(4) Meghan says:

I also work in the industry. In N.J. we make 2.13/hr, if you can afford to go out to eat you should be able to afford to tip. We tip the bartenders and the busboys a set percentage of our sales. So if you think that 20% of your total bill is too much money for one person, divide it by three underpaid, hard woking adults.

December 13, 2008 at 11:18 pm
(5) Charlie says:

THANK YOU, WineGuy!!! You hit the nail on the head. People should just calculate 20% of the total bill and pay it. I agree…if you can afford to buy a $100 bottle of wine, you can afford to throw in $20 more for tip. And remember, if the service was not excellent, it might not have been the server’s fault. Sometimes they’re understaffed and overly busy. Sometimes the cooks are giving them a hard time. And sometimes (GASP) they are HUMAN BEINGS and are simply having a bad day. Pretty hard to smile and be cheery with your customers when your grandma died last week (or something similar).

December 30, 2008 at 7:24 pm
(6) Carol says:

It is not customary to tip on alcohol, especially if it is the $100 bottle vs. the $20 bottle. It does not take any more effort to carry or pour one bottle vs. the other. It is your job to give good service no matter what mood you are in. It’s called a job-any other profession still has to perform but if serving food is so difficult maybe you should get a different job. If the service is good you get a good tip that is how it works that includes if the food is good.

December 31, 2008 at 9:50 am
(7) Domenick says:

It looks like the possitive responses are from people in the business. Personaly I feel the “tipping” is just what it means. It something that is earned. It’s not my problem if you had a bad day or there is some type of probem in the family. I am spending my hard earned money also. If you want a good tip, earn it.

January 9, 2009 at 11:14 am
(8) karen says:

so now servers want to be tipped on the tax as well? That is ridiculoous. We ordered a $200.00 bottle of wine last night. We tipped about 20% on the food (about $120 worth) and gave a total tip of $50 on a $330 bill? Was that cheap? I know servers make very little per hour from the restuarant, I know they share their tips, I know there are slow hours, but, how much per hour do they think is reasonable? $30 an hour? $40? We pay our house keeper $25 an hour and our house painter $40. Should servers average more than that? Should they earn more than teachers? As much as nurses? We’d all like to earn more, so what is appropriate. (I read somewhere that valets claim that we should tip them $5.00 per car (on top of the $9.00 fee). How much per hour is a reasonable amount for valets

January 11, 2009 at 12:37 pm
(9) tom says:

It seems like most of the people on this blog are MORONS! It would be ridiculous to tip $40 on a $200 bottle of wine. Heather: the wine got to the table being carried 30 ft by a server, and he/she used a corkscrew to open it! Oh my god, the arduous torture he/she must endure!! Maybe you are right, instead of dining out and tipping on expensive wine, people should stay home, putting all you morons out of a job.

January 18, 2009 at 11:53 pm
(10) JIM says:


January 24, 2009 at 6:34 am
(11) Dora says:

I don’t believe we should be tipping 20%.
The concept of tipping is to reward good service. The server is getting paid to provide the service, I would expect this to be the basis of their pay.
I remember when 10% was considered a very generous tip. Since then, the price charged for a meal has increased – thus increasing the amount paid based on the percentage.
If you want a 20%, I want exceptionally good service. If I don’t get satisfactory service, you don’t get a tip. I’m not that difficult to please, so I’ve always left tips.
You should not have to tip someone for doing their job.
Do you tip the cashier at the store? They are usually paid minimum wage.

January 24, 2009 at 6:38 am
(12) Baconheart says:

I really don’t appreciate the entitlement mentality of some of the wait staff who have commented here. If you really think that you deserve a tip just because you believe it is cutomary, then you are missing the whole point. I personally “tip on the curve” — sort of like how a teacher used to grade a class. With the best students getting the few A’s and the lesser grades for all the rest. I might tip a server 30% or more if the really try hard to make my evening enjoyable. And for those who believe that just showing up to work and schlepping food to my tabel earns them an automatic 20%; well, they may be lucky to get 5%. Bottom line: good servers get more; bad servers get less; averager servers get average; and it all ends up costing me about the same.

BTW, Once I left a .25 cent tip because the server was just that lousy. And the only reason I left a quarter was because I didn’t have a dime. Plus I didn’t want her to think I just forgot to leave a tip.

January 24, 2009 at 10:09 am
(13) Marie says:

I am 64 years old and work as a hostess in a nice but not a 4 star restaurant. The servers earn about $2.25 per hour in wages. They are required to tip out 2 percent of their sales not 2 percent of their tips but of their sales. I see many people that do not tip the servers. Party of two with a check of $45 left no tip and this actually cost the server 90 cents to wait that table as the server had to tip out 2 percent of the $45. You may not agree with the tipping/wage system of the USA but it is what it is. Servers have to work within this system to earn a living. I am sure they would love to earn a decent wage and not have to depend upon tips. However, until the system changes, You should tip, stay home or go to a fast food restaurant.

January 24, 2009 at 10:18 am
(14) mellen says:

I’ve worked in fine dining restaurants for 32 years. Just last night, we were discussing the awkwardness of the tipping system when it comes to premium wines (we carry some that are over 500 dollars a bottle). In point of fact, to the less experienced servers commenting here so far, if a guest chooses not to tip baseline percentage on the retail price of a fine wine, inform management, so that a pro rata tip out to the bar and SA can be made on what the guest did tip for it. In other words, look at the food total and see what additional (over 15 or 20%) appeared to have been left for wine service by the guest. Guests, please note that simply not tipping anything on wine service is just wrong; it is the single most frequent point of service during your meal. Waiters constantly monitor and pour wine for you, so that you can enjoy dinner without having to pause and pour from a wine bottle or decanter while seated, which is difficult to do. We are NOT trying to “gouge” and “force” more wine sales on you by doing these top-off pourings, rather, we are doing our duty under the traditional service ettiquette guidelines that most restaurants operate under. Also, tip percentage in based on the PRE-TAX subtotal – that is the IRS and most states’ law, my friends. Also, be thankful you have any diners in your place at all lately. I have taken home weekly paychecks of just over $200.00 for several weeks lately, but then a gent spent $857.00 on 2 bottles of wine (both of which I decanted in Austrian crystal decanters, to aerate and open up the flavors of these old wines, and to prevent sediments from entering the huge wine glasses as I skillfully poured from these big decanters at table…so it IS in fact more work and skill involved at this level) plus a couple hundred more for dinner – and he tipped 20% on the total bill, thank god for you sir! Now I can pay my over-due electric bill.

January 24, 2009 at 11:57 am
(15) Alex says:

I see most of the wages here are naturally from the US where minimum wages laws, if any, often set the rate way to low. Knowing this tipping at 20% assuming good service is platable to help the server out. However here in Canada minimum wages laws set livable rates (granted its may be sustenance living for some) from $5 up to 8$ USD depending what province you are in. These people are not quite as hard off and I canít see paying more than 15%.

What I donít understand is how it seem 10 or more years ago the rate seemed to be discussed at 10 or 15% and is now 20 or more percent. Rasing the percent of tipping based on what year it is makes no logical economic sense beyond the fact it is likely driven buy service industry staff. I mean most people get raises each year and the price of services go up as well. So 10% tip in 2008, generally for ease of example, will be in the ballpark of the same as the 10% tip in 1998. That is it will help the service person out just the same.

Others on here mention tipping is a North American thing, and itís true to an extent. Tipping in South America is added to the bills so many donít notice it. Just for reference its on average 10 Ė 15% of the bill or youíre eating in a tourist trap. In Europe some place tip some donít. However here service staff is much better paid than in North America and in places like Germany it can be a livable career where you will nearly never find teenagers serving you. This has a bit to do with labour laws.

15% no matter what the level of service? Iím sorry, get real! Where is the incentive for the truly poor staff to improve if they get rewarded for being useless and rude? Yes it gets busy and yes it can be stressful at times but ďmostĒ customers can realize this and take that into account when tipping. I even found, when I served tables in the past, some people even will tip more out of pity for your plight, assuming you are decent to them during it. That also includes understanding poorly made food is often not the servers fault, so why should they be punished. Taking into account the workload of my servers this is how (very basically) I calculate my tipping:

Average (service and cleanliness) Ė 5%
Better than average (either an enjoyable server and average cleanliness) Ė 10%
If better then average service and cleanliness Ė 12%
Excellent Service (Very friendly, helpful and knows the menu plus place is very clean) Ė 15%

January 24, 2009 at 12:20 pm
(16) Ex-server says:

The tip should be calculated pre-tax. Alcohol should be included in the tipped amount, but only if the server brought it to the table. Any drinks purchased at the bar are separate, and the bartender should be tipped separately–about a buck per poured drink is fine. If you buy a bottle of wine from the bartender directly, you should leave 10-15% tip at the bar for him. That’s more than the cut he’d get if your waiter brought it to you and he’ll be delighted. If you carry the wine to your table when it is time to be seated, you do not have to tip again for it.

Waiting tables is hard work but not always highly skilled work. In restaurants where the wait staff is well trained and professional, they deserve to be rewarded for their service–15-20%. Waitstaff that do not check on you regularly, do not keep your water glass full or if they seem to just disappear for 30 minutes when you are waiting for your check are not worthy of 15-20% tips. If you have to beg for a glass of water and your waiter has ignored you, leave 10%.

Many restaurants allow you to bring in your own bottles of wine and only charge about a $10 per bottle corking fee. If you are having a big party with many bottles of really expensive wine, this will save you a bundle both in the cost of the wine and the associated tips without offending the waitstaff. If you do this, do not expect the waiters to pour it for you though–just uncork it. If you want them to continually refill glasses, make arrangements with them ahead and plan on paying them extra to say thanks.
And don’t be rude to your servers, even if they are not top performers. They are working people who pay taxes and deserve some respect.

January 24, 2009 at 3:01 pm
(17) Random thought says:

The whole concept of waiting on someone is hard work no doubt – you spend all your time standing and taking orders, and it isn’t really the most engaging career of all.. But I strongly agree that in order to deserve a tip, you need to be a good waiter / waitress.
I constantly come across a server who expects a good tip even though they did an awful job! Don’t expect to be getting a good tip just because you brought me my food! If you are in the service sector, it is mandatory that you provide the customer with exceptional service by being both pleasant and diligent.
To put things in perspective, there are poor people in other countries around the world that do the same job you do and don’t get a decent tip from most people, let alone expect one!
The point is to reward exceptional service with a good tip – not to celebrate mediocrity!

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