If you are confused about restaurant tipping, you are not alone. At fine dining establishments across the United States, tipping is not only expected, but it may be required. Indeed, some restaurants automatically add a flat rate, say 18 percent to your bill, to cover tips. Others aren’t so apparent, but if you serve up a credit card and fail to add a tip, you may have to explain to the cashier that you left cash on the table.
Tips are important for wait staff as the monies they receive from customers comprises the bulk of their take home pay. The Fair Labors Standards Act requires a minimum $2.13 cash wage for tipped employees, an amount that is usually eaten up by taxes, health care costs and retirement plans. Thus, if you forego a tip, you may deny that person the ability to make a living, even if the service was less than stellar.
Tipping practices vary around the world, but if you leave a tip in Japan, that practice is considered rude. In Singapore tipping is restricted and in some other countries a service charge is added and no tip must be left. Since most of us do the bulk of our dining in the United States, the following tips about tipping can clear up the mystery on how much to leave and when.
You aren’t required to leave a tip at all when eating at a fast food restaurant or in an eatery where you order your food up front and a server brings your meal to you. However, once your food is served up by an individual other than the person that took your order, a token tip is advised. Leave a dollar or two if this person brought your main course to you. Up that amount if she refills your drinks or brings you your dessert to as much as 10 percent of your pre-tax bill.
How do you define fine dining? Typically, that includes a restaurant with a greeter, wait staff and sometimes a maitre d’. Across the board, your tip should be between 15 and 20 percent of the pre-tax bill. For instance, if your total bill is $98, but it came in at $89 before taxes, you would use the latter number to determine the tip.
There are other reasons for tipping and different people you should consider when leaving a gratuity. For example, if you waited at a bar before being seated, then a tip commensurate to 15 to 20 percent of your bar bill should be left with the bartender. The same arrangement should be offered to a helpful sommelier, but the operative word here is “helpful” explains the Etiquette Scholar.
By all means leave a few extra dollars if your waitperson went beyond the call of duty. Moreover, if you linger at the table after desserts have been finished and the last cup of coffee poured, then leave a large tip too. Leave a little extra money if you ate a lighter meal or used a coupon — you don’t want to penalize the staff especially on a slow night.
You can feel like a money machine at some restaurants. Washroom attendants should get one dollar if a towel is handed to you and up to three dollars if the attendant brushes off your coat. Busboys are not tipped unless you spill something and he cleans it up. Give a dollar or two to the busboy as you leave and give him the same amount if he carries your tray to the table.
Musicians playing in restaurants are enjoyed by diners with piano players sometimes having a tip jar in plain sight. Tipping here is optional, but if you requested a song you should place a dollar in the receptacle. Strolling musicians should be tipped especially if they stop at your table and play a song while you’re eating. Give a $1 tip for each musician or no more than $5 per group.
Valet service can be extremely convenient especially at restaurants where parking is in short supply or the weather conditions are terrible. Always tip when you pick up your car, giving the attendant up to $2 for his service.
If your dining service fell below expectations, then you may rethink the gratuity amount. However, if problem was corrected, then leave the regular amount. The Etiquette Scholar advises dropping your tip rate to 10 percent for a problem that wasn’t satisfied even if the waiter is not completely to be blamed. Never omit a tip, however, as the IRS assumes that each meal brings in at least an 8 percent tip. A rude waiter may be a boor, but leaving that 8 percent sends a strong message of dissatisfaction with his service.
About.com: Tipping Etiquette and Guidelines for Restaurants Around the World — http://culinarytravel.about.com/od/planningculinarytravel/a/Tipping_Guide_Worldwide.htm
United States Department of Labor: Wage and Hour Division (WHD) — http://www.dol.gov/whd/state/tipped.htm
Etiquette Scholar: Tipping Etiquette – Restaurants — http://www.etiquettescholar.com/dining_etiquette/tipping_etiquette.html#tipping_maitre_d
Kelly Watson is a professional blogger that writes on a variety of topics including Denver restaurants. She writes for Restaurants.com, a leading source of restaurant discounts for fine dining establishments.