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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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.