Back in the 80s, my friends and I had a favorite waitress named Hilda. She had high hair like Tammy Wynette and wore a button that said “Leave a big tip!” Hilda would bring me and my friends big plates of food and long-neck Buds.
We’d have a good time.
And we’d leave a big tip.
It was decades ago, but I never forgot Hilda and her “Leave a big tip!” button, especially once I got some experience walking in Hilda’s unattractive yet practical shoes.
So what with America just crawling with restaurants these days—way more than in the 80s, I’ve got some info to share. And you, in turn, you must share this information far and wide—this is good for the world.
I’m talking about tips.
Tips are vital to your server, and it’s not because they want to know what you think of the service they gave you.
It’s because servers make $2.13 an hour.
This is the federal minimum wage for servers, and it hasn’t changed in over twenty years—not even by a penny.
The National Restaurant Association (another NRA, yay), just keeps lobbying to keep it that way so that you and I can subsidize our server’s wages when we go out to eat.
Some people don’t yet know about the $2.13/hour thing. And some people don’t believe it, choosing instead to say things like, “You get paid to do a job—get over it,” which is very unkind.
All over the U.S. servers make $2.13 an hour. The official logic is that what a server makes in tips is supposed to bump them up to the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour for non-servers, which works better in some cases and on some days than others.
And if that doesn’t happen during a shift, the restaurant is supposed to make up the difference, but most servers either don’t know this, or worse, are afraid to say anything for fear of losing shifts when the bossman goes to make the schedule.
You try working like this.
Leave a big tip.
At least 20%.
And if your bill is kinda’ low because you didn’t order much or you’re having a cheap breakfast at the Pancake Palace, I suggest you leave a minimum of $2. I mean, if you’re gonna leave a dollar, is it gonna kill you to leave another one?
And never, for the love of the Baby Jesus, leave less than a dollar.
This is not 1950.
In fact, my policy—and I will admit that my policy is a direct result of having waited tables (in other words, I know it’s hellish hard work)—is to leave 20%, or the above-mentioned $2 minimum, even if my server is having an off day or forgets something or takes too long bringing my lemon meringue pie.
Better yet, I just fork over a decent-sized bill, such as $10 or $20 on cheap meal once in a while.
Because I’ve been there.
I know that my server may have to pay the light bill that day, or may have been laid off from their “real job,” or may have just had an argument with the kitchen over a lost order, or may not actually be cut out for waiting tables but has to do something to pay the bills, or may be stressed out because they have this nagging lump in their left shoulder and no insurance, or has had to go to the bathroom for the last two hours but has been too busy to take a break.
Not that I don’t groove on great service—that’s when I’ll leave a stellar tip.
You can make your server’s day!
Every server waits for the day that someone comes along and leaves a crazy large tip—I can’t tell you how this random act of kindness makes your server feel.
Not only does it put a spring in their step, but it means they will forevermore think nice thoughts about you, which is good for your soul and your karma and world peace, too.
It doesn’t get any more win/win that this.
For example, once on a Christmas Eve, and someone left me a $20 tip on their $14 check.
I was just hoping for maybe $5, since it was Christmas Eve and all, but with that fabulous tip, I thought, I’m gonna pass that along one day and do the same thing for someone else.
To this day, I think nice thoughts about the girl at table two with her veggie omelet—hold the mushrooms—and her $20 tip.
Not that doing something like this occurred to a large group I waited on once—they were having a meeting of some kind, and only half of them ordered food.
The other half ordered sodas and tea, which I dutifully refilled again and again.
Only one of these drinkers left a tip, and the eaters were el cheapos with their tip. Plus, they stayed there well past closing—we were cleaning up around them.
Hours of work for $12 in tips from sixteen people.
Not good for their karma or world peace. Obviously.
Another time I waited on a table of five, and they each wanted separate checks. Their tips varied, but the woman who ordered the chicken salad on rye with lettuce but no tomato and had two refills of water with extra lemon rounded her total up to the next dollar, left me—get this—74 cents.
I ask you, would it have killed her to leave another dollar? My guess is no.
I showed this to another server, and we agreed that this woman should never again go out to eat.
What an amazing life we live!
Why begrudge that working guy or gal a good tip?
I remember working Mother’s Day once, and there I was, a mom waiting on people taking their mom out for Mother’s Day, and these loving husbands and adult children couldn’t see fit to leave me better than a 15% tip.
This is so, so not good for the world.
So if you’re sitting there looking at your bill, and you pull out your phone to open your tip app, which suggests you leave $3.35, please don’t nickel and dime your server—either dispense with the small change and leave $3.50, or hell, go wild and shell out an even $4 (even if it is technically over 20%.)
Or here’s the method I taught my kids: look at the bill (after taxes, don’t be a cheap s.o.b., okay, and double it, then take away two decimal points.
Supposedly, the idea behind tipping is that you tip based on the service you get, but I can assure you that by and large, your server is trying their hardest.
It’s a hellishly demanding job unless you’re in a high-end restaurant where churning customers in and out quickly isn’t the goal (and obviously that’s no guarantee of good tips and nice customers), and it’s all the job that many people have.
So unless a server is just plain mean or thoughtless, I’m leaving a good tip.
(And hey, by high-end restaurant, I’m not talking about Red Lobster and Olive Garden.)
And then there are the customers who whittle away at your tip for every little thing—
- The kitchen got backed up; down goes your tip.
- You had to brew a new pot of coffee, which takes a couple of minutes; down goes your tip.
- You were slammed with a full section all at once; down goes your tip.
- The first-job teenaged hostess seats a screaming, cheerio-throwing child next to them; down goes your tip.
Sometimes a customer will even let you know exactly what you did to lose the tip they were “going to” give you.
Customers like this act as though purchasing a meal that comes to $30 for two people makes them royalty all of a sudden.
But it doesn’t—they’re still supposed to subsidize the server’s very measly, hard-earned hourly wage. If you’re not going to do that then get to work to change the damned law. Or stay home.
In conclusion, I’ve created a handy little list that’ll help you translate what your server is actually saying to you when they say, “Buh-bye, have a great day!”
- If you’re a terrific tipper, your server is saying, “Buh-bye, you’re awesome, and I hope you win the lottery tonight!”
- If you’re a good tipper and weren’t a pain in the ass, your server is, in fact, saying, “Buh-bye, have a nice day!
- “If you’re a bad tipper but otherwise pretty nice, you server is saying, “Buh-bye, lovely people, I hope you don’t get in my section again before someone tells you about the 20% thing!”
- If you were a pain in the ass plus didn’t leave a bigger-than-okay tip to make up for your PIA-ness, your server is saying, “Buh-bye, you have no home training, you are a highly inconsiderate person, and I hope gas goes up a dollar before you make it to the gas station.”
- And finally, if you’re a terrible tipper and a pain in the ass, too, your server is actually saying to you, “Buh-bye, I am now going to haunt you in your dreams.”
So. Leave a big tip.
It’s good for your soul. And your karma.
It’s good for the world.
And it’s what good humans do.