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Reason #87 Why Working in Food Service Ruins You: Tipping

I worked in restaurants all through college, and I was a waitress for about a year of that. It changed me in a lot of ways. It helped me learn patience, for one, as well as professionalism. I learned the value of hard work, how to think on my feet, how to spend 10 hours on my feet, how to live on scraps of meals, that kind of thing. Survival skills, really.

Of course, I also became completely disillusioned with humanity; but I still believe that everyone should work at least a few months in food service, because nowhere is the golden rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you) more clearly forgotten than in the food service industry.

Tipping is a hotly debated issue among wait staff, their customers, their parents, and the government. Everyone’s seen the tipping scene from Reservoir Dogs, right?

Mr. Pink has clearly never worked as a waiter.

But a lot of ex-servers are as cynical as him when it comes to tipping. Being a server ruins you as a tipper in one of two ways: either you are too harsh and tip too little, or you’re too generous and tip too much. Some of my old restaurant friends will critique their server the entire time we’re out and deduct five percent for every inattention. That’s three strikes and you’re out.

I’m on the other side of the fence. I have completely lost sight of what an appropriate tip is. In America, 15% is generally accepted to be the base rate of your tip. That’s how they calculate servers’ paychecks. Minimum wage for a server is $2.83/hour plus tips, and the government figures that if she makes 15% tips at all her tables, that will equal out to the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour.

Since working in restaurants I’ve defaulted to 20%, mostly because I’m bad at math and 20% is easier to figure out on the fly. But over the past year, since I left the restaurant business and started working at a higher paying job, I’ve noticed that my tips creep up and up and up. And I tip everywhere, not just for sit-down meals. I tip carryout too, which people very rarely do. I don’t go out or order food if I don’t have enough to leave a 25% tip.

It all came to a head for me Thursday night. A bunch of my friends and I were out at one of our favorite haunts, an Irish-themed restaurant and bar called Maeywn’s. We had a very handsome, very pleasant young man for our server and he was fantastic. The service was great, and he rolled with all of our completely inappropriate zaniness with a smile on his face. So when it came time to give him a tip on my $13.03 bill, I put down $6.87 and then had a moment of panic. Was that enough? Was he going to think I was cheap? Would he think that I didn’t appreciate him?

And then I realized that I’d tipped him just over 50%.

So, in a lot of ways, my years in food service have skewed my perception of what is due to the staff. I have no regrets, though. After all, servers DO in fact live on their tips (I did), and I like to think that I’m hopefully making up for the Mr. Pinks my server might have had that night.

16 thoughts on “Reason #87 Why Working in Food Service Ruins You: Tipping

  1. Reservoir Dogs, not Pulp Fiction

    1. Ah yes, thank you. Fixed now. πŸ™‚

  2. I sympathise completely. When I was living in the US I was so paranoid about people assuming I wouldn’t tip because I was British that I always over-tipped. I used to get really stressed out about what was the right amount, especially when I’d had bad service and I wanted to not tip but felt awful denying someone what they needed to live.

    1. Yeah, I understand that tipping works differently in the UK. A lot of my friends have studied abroad and I have an Internet friend from Chester who indicated that 15% is like a really good tip in other parts of the world, haha. Blows my mind.

      And I also never know what to do when I get bad service. I remember how pissed I always used to get when I was tipped like 10% for perfectly adequate service, if a little unenthusiastic, so I hate to do that to someone else who’s probably just having a bad day. It’s all about perception, I guess!

      1. Completely.

        Standard tipping in the UK is about 10-15%, but servers are always earning at least minimum wage, so your tip is an extra something rather than something they need to live. That at least means you can tip for the service you received without too much guilt. I don’t really understand why they don’t just add 20% onto the bill if it’s part of someone’s basic wages.

        1. Yeah. I really have no idea why tipping is the way it is over here. It means more tips, obviously, because people know it’s expected of them; but if servers made the regular hourly minimum, it wouldn’t be needed. Of course, some servers can make good money above that wage because of the tips people know they’re expected to give. I know I was averaging $10-$11 an hour most nights. So I can’t really say whether it’s better one way or another until I’ve lived on a UK server’s wages as well, haha.

          1. Yeah, there’s definitely the potential to make way more over there. I think, to me, it just ruins the whole point of tipping. I grew up assuming it was a way to say an extra thank you to the person who’d served you, but because it’s expected and needed you have to tip some ludicrous percent to do that in the US – which it sounds like you do because you’ve been on the other side of it πŸ™‚

          2. Yup. When you freak out because your tip was ONLY 50% of your bill, you know that something’s either wrong with the system or you had a very, very special server. πŸ˜‰

  3. Haven’t quite bumped up to 25%. Been at 20% for years. As the author of a weekly column in the town where I live, entitled “The Unemployment Line,” I’m accutely aware of the suffering going on in my area, in spite of the announcements of improved unemployment numbers. My town ranks 8th in the nation re high unemployment.

    So I’ve begun plopping coin and cash into the “Tips Welcome” jars where I go for takeout.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m no saint. I just want to give the 99% a chance to earn some bucks without paying taxes, too!

    1. That’s great that you’re doing what you can, especially since tip jars usually mean the staff doesn’t get tipped traditionally!

      1. Okay, I made my first 25% tip tonight at Texas Roadhouse on a dinner date with my youngest daughter.

  4. Acutely. I meant acutely.

  5. You must be across the big pond, ’cause my time stamp for the last comment is 4:43 pm, and it’s only 12:44 pm now.

    1. Haha no, I’m East Coast US. I just haven’t bothered to change my time zone settings!

  6. When I was in Peru, I asked about appropriate tipping when we had meals. There, tipping is optional and a flat amount of about one sol, which corresponds to about $0.33, which is somewhere between 4-8% depending on what you have.

    1. Interesting. I wonder what the hourly wage for servers there is. If tipping is optional I assume it’s decent. (I was going to say livable, but then again, $7.25/hour isn’t really a livable wage in the U.S.)

      Honestly, I’d like to see tipping be optional here, because I think people would tip better and it would be really deserved.

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