Since tomorrow is National Waiter & Waitress Day, I’d like to take some time to talk about how you should treat your server when you go out to eat. Of course, there is no excuse for rude service and everything that follows is written under the assumption that your server is friendly and is trying her best.
When I was about 7 or 8 years old, my mom started teaching me how to tip when we went to restaurants. She would tell me how much the check was and then explain how to calculate a 20% tip. Growing up, I figured this was standard practice, so I was shocked after I started waitressing at the vast number of people who seemed clueless about how to tip.
I was also surprised to learn that a lot of people are not aware of what a server’s hourly wage is. They don’t make a normal minimum wage. In fact, there’s a completely separate minimum wage set for them and the last I checked, it was $2.13/hour. That’s just about enough to cover taxes – give or take a few bucks. (I do not miss my weekly voided checks). They make that little because it’s assumed they will make up for it in tips.
You may not feel it’s your job to pay a server’s wages, but just think how much your steak would cost if the restaurant owners were paying their wait staff a regular wage.
The question then becomes how much you should tip. As a waitress, I was generally happy with anything above 15%, but as a consumer, I refuse to tip less than 20% for decent service. My feeling is that an extra couple of bucks from my pocket after spending $50-100 on dinner is not going to break me, but it will mean a lot more to my server. And for over-the-top service, I’ve been known to tip much higher.
There are a few other things you consider when thinking about the level of your service. If the kitchen messed up your meal in any way, remember that your server didn’t cook it. If you have a meal taken off your bill because the kitchen messed something up, remember it’s not your server’s fault. Whether your bill is discounted because a meal was removed or because you had coupons or a discount, tip on what your bill would have been at full price.
Before you go out to eat, make sure you have enough money to tip. Don’t spend $100 on steak and lobster and then stiff your server because you forgot to factor his tip into your budget.
You should also be mindful of the day and time when you go out to eat. I purposefully avoid going out to restaurants on Friday and Saturday nights because I don’t like the crowds. All it takes is for one server to call out sick and it can throw off the entire rotation in a restaurant. It may take an extra couple of minutes for your extra ketchup or a refill on your iced tea because your server could be running extra tables.
If you or your kids make a complete mess, at least attempt to clean it up. If you absolutely can’t clean it up because you decided to take your six kids out to eat and weren’t thinking that they would create a disaster at your table, leave your server extra money. The longer it takes to get that table cleaned, the longer before that server starts making money again.
All of the regular manners you should have learned as a child – please and thank you, looking someone in the eyes when you talk to them, pleasantries, etc. – they apply when you go out to eat too. Don’t treat your servers like a second-class citizens, remember they’re human beings.
I could probably write a book on all of the different situations that could come up, but generally, just remember to tip well and to treat your server with respect.