Some Tips on Tips

I think it’s time we talked about tips.

It’s you, not me. Trust me.

In the several years I’ve lived in Utah (from northern to central), I’ve heard the same thing — Utahns are horrible tippers. I’d like to give the majority of people the benefit of the doubt and assume it’s because they just haven’t ever been taught correctly rather than they’re tightwads or rude, so. A lesson in tipping.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

First of all, the Why

Tipping is merely a reward for excellent service. I know, I know, you served a mission in Europe and you never had to tip anyone and that’s how it should be in America, etc. etc. I get it — sometimes tipping is what pushes the final cost over the edge. But the bottom line is that tipping falls under proper etiquette, and if you’re not willing to follow through, better to stay at home and make your own meals. Remember that ofttimes, your tips are not merely for your server but also distributed amongst the hosts, busboys, and cooks. The more you stiff who you think is only your server, the more you stiff everyone who made your entire experience from start to finish a good one.

Let’s Talk Percentages

If you were to a server right now who really thought he/she was hot stuff, you’d probably hear something like 20% or 25% rolling around in the conversation. And there’s entirely the possibility that you will be provided with excellent enough service to warrant that, but the national average is somewhere between 15% and 18%. Typically, restaurants will automatically add an 18% gratuity to large groups, and that’s simply because a large group requires a lot more attention and can often take away from the server’s other tables, even inadvertently. Taking an order and making sure glasses are always full for two people doesn’t really take that much mindpower, but for nine? Plus four other tables? Now we’re talking real, hard work.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

I personally like to tip on something of a sliding scale. There has only been one instance during which I did not leave any tip at all, and I later called the manager to discuss the remarkably poor service I received. Most of the time, I’m a 15-percenter, but depending upon the quality of food, the niceness of the restaurant, or the amount I order, that number can easily fluctuate. If I go somewhere and only order a dessert, for example, that server might be looking at a very measly 50 cent tip off me, so I’ll usually do $1 or $2.  The largest tip I ever left was probably about 200%, but I ordered something really, really cheap and the other people with whom I was spending time at the restaurant ordered water.

[An aside: seriously don’t ever go somewhere and just order water. Don’t. Ever.]

If the service is impeccable — we’re talking our water glasses were never empty, but we didn’t feel bombarded by beverage (it’s like they’re encouraging you to use their toilets or something, right!?), the food came out in a timely manner (and I’m not just talking fast — that also refers to entrees that didn’t come out seconds after the appetizers so our table is littered with plates), it was fresh, hot, and the server was attentive to our needs, then I’m apt to tip 25% regardless of how much we spent. Good service deserves good reward.

Under very few circumstances is 10% an acceptable tip. We’ll get to that later.

Something to consider

At this point, you’re probably saying something about how the servers are paid normal wages and your tips aren’t really that necessary. In Oregon, that’s mostly true (although there’s something about re-distribution and taxes that I don’t fully comprehend), and I imagine it’s that way in other states across the nation. In Utah, however, that isn’t true at all. In fact, the average starting wage of a server in the state of Utah is $2.13. Yeah, you heard me. About $2/hour — probably less than your parents made when they started working (or very close to it). The rationale is that these servers will make enough in tips to bring them up to the minimum wage requirement during the workday, and if they don’t, then they will be paid minimum wage.

Therefore, if only a few of you tip, or all of you tip really poorly, this kid is either going to end up working 40 hours a week barely making minimum wage or making nothing more than minimum wage for a job that is actually really difficult. I’ve been in the restaurant industry — it’s fast-paced, exhausting, dirty, and really frustrating, and it’s about ten times more difficult than any other job I’ve ever had (barring the tax processing job I had during tax season one year — that was slightly more stressful, although cleaner). You have to make everyone happy — the hosts are breathing down your neck to move faster so they can seat more customers that have been waiting, you’ve got the customers that have been waiting and are about ready to eat each other and want their food instantaneously, there are the cooks that are working at whatever pace they’d like, regardless of all this, and chances are your manager is also keeping an eye on you. It’s micromanaging at its best (and most finite).

When you have a coupon

Just because you have a coupon that gets you a free drink or dessert or buy one entree, get one free, you shouldn’t discount the overall original price. For example: If your dinner should have cost $40, but you managed to get it for only $25, still tip for the $40. The work was put in, the food came out, it was simply free to you. Your tip won’t be that much higher in the end, and you already got a discount to begin with. I feel like I should repeat this part till it’s really ingrained in your mind: Just because you have a coupon that gets you free food, you shouldn’t discount the overall original price. Don’t do it. Don’t even think about doing it. If that’s how you’ve been living, paradigm shift and change.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

When you’re at a buffet

Although you’re getting all the food yourself, there’s still a nice person coming around making sure your table isn’t covered in a million plates by the end of the meal. Tip that person $1-$2 per customer.

Hey, that’s some nice ambiance

Is there live music being performed that’s really adding to the mood? Tip the musician! I usually just do $2 or $3, but I’ve seen anywhere from $5 bills in the bowl to $20 bills. Whatever you think is appropriate for the service rendered.

Some General Rules of Thumb

If you eat out at a sit-down restaurant, where a server takes your order, brings you food, ensures your water glasses are always full, and then is your cashier at the end of the meal, tip 15% at the least.

If you’re somewhere that has only counter service and a tip jar, TIP THAT PERSON. Since they’re doing “less work” (although I’ve done counter service before, and that’s pretty debatable), you can tip 10% since you’re most likely in charge of taking the food back to your table, filling your glasses, and bussing your tables. Counter service is probably the most under-tipped job, and that’s a travesty. After all, they’re still taking care of the hard parts for you.

If you order something to go that allows you to pull up, park in a convenient location, and grab your hot, packaged food, 15% is quite appropriate, but you can leave it at 10% since it’s akin to counter service.

If you have terrible service, speak to a manager before doing something rude and leaving a few pennies from your linty pocket in retaliation. Often, you can end up with an apology and free food.

In some instances (this is dependent upon the state), the server can hold onto a larger percentage of his/her cash tips than credit card.

Other instances where tips are necessary

Hair salon (10-15%)

Nail salon (10-15%)

Housekeeping at a hotel ($5/night — after all, they’re essentially cleaning a studio apt. every day)

Valet service ($3-$5 each time you collect your vehicle)

Luggage assistance ($3-$5/bag, so generally I cart my own luggage around hotels)


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