How to Tip in American Restaurants

Don’t you dare go out to eat again until you’ve read this. I mean it!

I used to be a food server or waitress. I’ve worked in casual dining at chain a restaurant (Chevy’s Fresh Mex) and I’ve worked in fine dining in the Napa Valley at Villa Romano Restaurant and in uber fine dining at Julia’s Kitchen in Copia. I have first hand knowledge of American tipping practices and I am about to share them with you.

By and large people tip well, but there are those few that are still clueless. They don’t know what is appropriate, how much to tip, or they just aren’t sure how much it should be. There are the ones that don’t go out often, maybe only on holidays, or maybe are foraying into fine dining for the first time. They can also be from a foreign country with different tipping practices than we have. This guide is for all of you!

Casual dining:

Poor service: 10% or less
Good service: 15%
Great service: 20% or more

Fine dining:

Poor service: 15% or less
Good service: 20%
Great service: 25% or more

What defines good service? Good service includes a polite server who is efficient. The server tells you any specials and takes your order, returns with your drinks in a timely manner, makes sure your drinks are refilled or asks you if you would care for another. They make sure you have the correct silverware. They check to make sure your order arrives correctly and that it is to your liking. If there are any problems or special requests they do their best to take care of them as soon as possible. Coffee and dessert are offered at the end. The check is presented and payment is taken care of quickly.

In fine dining each coarse must be cleared and new silverware provided before or with the next course. Multiple courses are not served together unless the guest specifically requests it. Appetiser, soup, salad, entrée, dessert are the basics. Servers or wait staff may also “crumb” the table, either after each course or just before dessert, which consists of sweeping away any crumbs on the table with a small tool called a crumber.

Great service, well you will know great service without me telling you. Your server and wait staff are friendly and caring and attentive and makes you feel like a VIP. They make sure that your dining experience flows smoothly and that you don’t have to worry about a thing but enjoying yourself.

How do you calculate? Let me make it easy for you. A lot of people go with double the tax, if your tax in your area is around 7% this works IF you round it up, because obviously doubling 7% is only 14%, not 15%. That gives you 15%.  Taxes can vary from area to area so the best way is just to look at the check total and figure from there, people it isn’t that hard. Let’s take a $100 check. 10% means just drop a zero or $10. If you need 20% double that, you’ve got $20. If you need 15% take half of that or $5 and add it to the 10% and you’ve got your 15% or in this case $15. Let’s try it with a $50 check. 10% drop the last number so you have $5. Half of 5 is $2.50 so add that to the 5 and you have $7.50 for your 15%, and double the 10% or $5 and that gives you $10 for your 20%. I hope this helps.

My last word is on gratuity. Some places add the gratuity. They may do it with parties of 6 or more, or they may just add it to every tab. It never hurts to ask your server if you aren’t sure. If they do add gratuity, find out how much. If they are only adding 18% and your server deserves 20% or more, it’s always very appreciated when you add extra. You’re ALWAYS welcome to leave them more.

Do servers split their tips with the other wait staff? Yes, they do. At the last place I worked we tipped 5% to the hostess, 8% to the bartender, 10% to the food runner, and 15% to the bussers. That totals 38%. Some places tip out more, some places tip out less. So remember that, the tip you leave isn’t only going to your server, it’s going to be split up between all the people who helped to make your experience a pleasant one.

Servers work for minimum wage generally and so the majority of their pay, the way they support themselves, comes from your tips. Please be generous.

For more tips on eating out please see my other post: Ordering Wine in a Restaurant.

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Chez Panisse

Yesterday, my friend Angela invited me to come visit her. She lives in Albany, next to Berkeley. I drove over and we decided to go out to lunch to this place that I can’t remember the name of, but she said it was across the street from Chez Panisse. So, I said, “What about just going to Chez Panisse?”. Angela said, “Well, I checked on that online and it said that you need to make reservations about a month in advance”. Angela is getting a degree at UC Berkeley (that I don’t remember the name of but it has something to do with food and wine). Angela also just finished reading “Alice Waters and Chez Panisse” by Thomas McNamee. (I can’t figure out how to underline the title here in WordPress – forgive me, I do know better). In any case I knew Angela would love to eat there between her major and just finishing the book, so we drove downtown Berkeley and found a parking spot and put 10 quarters in the meter. Berkeley is so cool and quirky. There were people picnicking in the grass in the meridian of the street. Lots of them! With cars driving by on both sides of them, like they were in a park! Most of them were eating pizza from a nearby place. I was dying for Alexandra’s digital camera! I had asked Angela to bring hers, but the battery was dead, so no luck there either.

We decided to try Chez Panisse before going over to the other restaurant, and they took us right in! We went upstairs to the cafe, which I am told is a bit less formal and pricey than the restaurant.

We were seating in a very tight spot, very close to another table, but we didn’t mind, everyone was very friendly. They first ask if you would care for still or sparkling water and they bring it the table in a pretty etched glass decanter. It says Chez Panisse on one side, and Still on the other. There was a wonderful flavorful brown bread that was served with some very yellow butter. Angela said that the guy that started Acme Bakery nearby had worked at Chez Panisse and Alice Waters had helped him get started, so we imagined that the bread was probably from Acme Bakery. That was where our bread from Julia’s Kitchen had been from, too. The busser girl told us the butter was from grass fed cows and that it was yellower because it had more carotene. Wow. I guess I didn’t even know what color butter was supposed to be. I’ve grown up on the pale butter made from grain fed cows. It’s kind of a shame.

We ordered a bottle of rose wine that was rather inexpensive and Angela said she had read it was one of Alice Waters’ favorites. It was perfect! Our server was apparently in training because another server came over to open our wine while instructing her. Later I saw her trying to open the wine for another table. I wanted to help. (I could have taught her much better…)

We shared an appetiser. (I’m on a budget) It was a salad with fried goat cheese. Angela once again said that she had read that it was one of the classic dishes at the restaurant. Next we share an entree. There was a boneless chicken that they said was pressed as it was cooked to make it crispy on the outside and moist on the inside. It was wonderful! As were the herbed peas. I’ve never had better peas. Honestly. And then there were some homemade potato chips as well. So good! Lastly, dessert. I had a peach and raspberry tart with vanilla bean ice cream and Angela had the fresh fruit, queen anne cherries and a plumcot. We were both in heaven! Truly a meal to remember!

In between all of this, I forgot to mention that since I knew I was going to be near Chez Panisse I thought I would bring along a resume and drop it off, since I am on the market at the moment. After we were seated for a few minutes I handed our server my resume and asked her if she could please give it to her manager. A few minutes later she brought it back to me and said it would probably be better to wait until I was leaving and give it to a manager myself, that way they might have time to sit down with and talk with me. Then, once again, a few minutes later a woman comes up to our table and says, “Hi, I’m Renee, did you want me to look over your resume?” I gave it to her of course and we continued our lunch. When we finished I checked to see if she was available, but the said she was in a meeting and had my number and would call me. Honestly, that is probably for the best, I don’t know what kind of interview I would have given after drinking half a bottle of wine!

Angela and I stopped and she got a couple of cheeses and some bread and salami and a lovely cold bottle of prosecco and we went back to her place, where her son Elijah and boyfriend Jesse were, and watched a French foreign film I had rented from Netflix, called Avenue Montaigne. Not Amelie, but very cute. We had the best French themed day!

Chez Panisse didn’t call today. Maybe tomorrow.

P.S. I LOVE blog comments!

I said NO

So, I turned down the job offer for a couple of reasons. The money might have been comparable…but…she might have expected a lot of me for that. Also, I felt really proud to work at Julia’s Kitchen at Copia. I really wouldn’t feel proud to tell people where I worked if I worked there, not that it’s a bad place or anything. It just would feel like a step backwards to me. There’s a big difference between fine dining and sushi.

I had planned to go out job hunting in Napa again today, but I am really low on funds and can’t afford the gas money. Sad. It’s up to $4.19 at the Bonfare gas station on the corner. I should have my monthly fsusd auto deposit on this coming Saturday, May 31st. That is all supposed to go to bills that come out of the account automatically. I really am not sure exactly when I’ll get my first unemployment check. So, I must be careful, and as hard as it is I have to say no to going out to brunch, going out to dinner, and going wine tasting. It sucks! I love all of those things!

The Search Begins…

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Well, I must have gone to at least 10 places yesterday to apply/pick up applications.  I had a few good responses, a few mediocre and a few just not hiring right now.  I have an interview on Monday at 3pm at Zuzu's, wine bar and tapas.  There were three or four places that said they were hiring, but the owner was out of town until Wednesday, I guess enjoying a long Memorial Day weekend. 

Angela C. was bored, after finishing her finals at U.C. Berkeley on Thursday and said she wanted to come and hang out with me.  She also was bringing her son, Elijah.  I said, "Sure!".  I really wasn't sure how that was all going to work out?  But it did.  I sent them to the Oxbow to look around and I met them there for a few minutes in between, they loved it!  Angela fell in love with the coffee there.  Then they came downtown where I was and walked around and when I was finished I met them and we looked around a bit together.  Then Angela wanted to go and get dinner, but I had taken out some chicken breasts at home to thaw, and mainly I just can't spend any money that isn't absolutely necessary, like for gas, so I had to say no.  I felt bad though.  But they went back to the Oxbow to eat and seemed to have a really nice day enjoying each others' company.  It was nice to see. 

During the day I stopped in at Julia's Kitchen to pick up my check and $50 back tips that I was owed.  I walked up and saw Nick, Kris, and Joel at the bar.  Joel took me back to the office.  Nick was not friendly at all, wouldn't even really look at me.  I'm not sure what that was about.  So, Joel pulled $200 out of his pocket and gave it to me.  I think with my paycheck and back tips it would have been close to $100, so he gave me an extra $100 and said that was from him personally.  I need to write him a thank you note.  I was totally calm and matter of fact until he gave me the money.  Then I melted into a puddle.  I don't know what it is, but when people do or say things that are unexpectedly and extremely nice, even if it isn't toward me, I get very emotional.  I know Joel feels bad.  It must suck to be him and have to tell people they are fired.  We've known each other a long time between Villa Romano and now Julia's Kitchen. 

An odd random thing happened.  While I was downtown trying to find Angela and Elijah I saw someone and thought, that looks like Shannon (a co-worker at Julia's), then I realized, hey that IS Shannon, so I called to her and then I looked up and Jeannie (another co-worker) was practically right next to me!  I guess the two of them were going out to eat sushi between shifts.  We chatted for a minute about the situation and promised to keep in touch.  Then Angela and Elijah showed up and we all went our separate ways. 

Instead of cooking the chicken last night Lee Ann invited Alexandra and I to dinner.  We were planning to come down and visit with them anyways.  Lee Ann and Alicia are leave around 4Th of July to move to Missouri.  Lee Ann has been one of my closest friends for about 15 years now.  I'm really sad she's moving and want to spend as much time as possible with her before she goes.  She made pasta and a marinara meat sauce and garlic french bread and Caesar salad.  It was really good, but a bit garlicky for my stomach!  We also drank a bottle and a half of Riesling!  Alexandra had to drive home.  It was good to relax and visit with her.  I needed that. 

Unless Zuzu's hires me on Monday this may be a long process.  Hopefully they will hire me.  I just need to be really careful with every penny until at least the unemployment payments kick in. 

 

let go, fired, downsized, not needed

Hire me, please.  Yes, today I was let go, fired, downsized.  I was advised, “I’m sorry, but I’ve been told from the new president of
Copia, Garry McGuire Jr., to let all the part-time employees go.”  I am a part-time employee, so that meant me.  This actually happened when I called in to find out what time I worked tonight.  That may seem last minute, but actually I had called yesterday, as well.  And the schedule which starts on Sunday is rarely posted until Saturday afternoon.   

So, instead of working tonight and bringing home close to $200, here I sit, blogging. 

I don’t blame my manager Joel, he’s a sweet guy, and he’s just following orders, and truly seems to feel bad about it all.  He’s willing to give me a letter of recommendation and has given me a few leads of places that are hiring.  That’s all I can ask for at the moment.

It’s unfair though, because of all the food servers at Julia’s Kitchen, I actually have the most seniority.  Even though I work part-time, I have been there the longest, since October of 2006.  I have stayed when everyone else left, through five – count them – managers. Steve, Jane, Noel, Jane again, and Joel. Also, Rose, Jazmin and Eric who were acting managers for short periods of time. Also, I have regular customers who love me.  There are two couples that come in and ask for me every Friday night.  The Curley’s, John and Cathy, and the Poliak’s, Richard and Cathy. I had special plans for them to celebrate their 100th and 200th visit respectively.  The sad thing is, I won’t even be able explain and say goodbye to them or any of my friends/co-workers. 

Whose idea was brunch? Mine! (And it’s been very successful I must say!) Who always shows up for her shifts? Me! Who has come in many times on short notice to help out? ME!

I filed for unemployment.  That was a bit confusing.  Apparently both of my part-time jobs, including the one I’m not fired from – with the school district – will pay for the unemployment that I draw.  They seemed to want to know more information from the job I still work for than for the one I was fired from.  Why?

I have almost $300 in the bank and about $23 in cash.  To last until the end of the month. 

This sucks!

The plan is:  Apply for unemployment.  Check.  Update resume.  Make copies of letters of reference.  Start applying at every fine dining restaurant in Napa. 

Do I blame the economy?  Do I blame the new president of Copia, Garry McGuire Jr.?  I really don’t know who to blame.  All I know is that as difficult and unexpected as it is, I need to find a new job and fast.  Wish me luck!

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