Rethinking How I Tip Restaurant Servers

A while back I read an article about how some restaurants are paying their hostess help less per hour and making up for it by forcing servers to share their tips with the hostess help.

NOTE: I can’t for the life of me remember where I read the article. I thought it was the Wall Street Journal but when I tried to search for it, I came up blank. If you have access to the article, please send me a link.

If this is true, then I see justification for leaving a larger tip percentage to the server. I don’t like it because I think the hostess should be paid hourly by the restaurant. I understand why restaurant management would want to change the pay structure as it is a way to save money.

I have always considered myself a fair tipper when I feel like I have received good service. I have never not left a tip but have left smaller tips for those servers who did a poor job. When the service was exceptional I have left tips in excess of 20%.

Anyway, I wonder how many restaurants are going this route and I wonder if their customers are aware of the change?

32 thoughts on “Rethinking How I Tip Restaurant Servers”

  1. this has been the practice of many restaurants for many years (quite a few of my friends are waiters). Don’t think it’s a new practice. I don’t think restaurants are required to abide by min. wage laws, but that could be wrong. That’s the whole reason for tipping in restaurants (cf. Europe)

  2. Another practice is for servers to share tips with bartenders, if they have to go get alcoholic beverages, and some require servers to share with expediters (people who bring the food out for servers in some busy restaurants).

    As a waitress in college, there were some nights where half my tips actually went to others. This didn’t bother my so much when others helped me do a better job, but I was annoyed to be forced to use an expediter if the evening was slow enough for me to take care of everything, or to tip the host/ess.

  3. Saul,

    What I read about was a new practice and one that I was not familiar with. Like I said in the post, I can’t find the article to which I’m referring to so I can’t point you to my source. All I know is that I was surprised when I read it.

  4. Eh, it doesn’t matter to me how they have to share tips or not. I’ll still tip whatever I feel was appropriate based on the service I was provided. If the employees don’t like their tip structure or level of compensation, they can wait tables at a restaurant that doesn’t split tips, or stock shelves, or anything else that they think is better.

  5. splitting the tips w/ the host/hostess is not all that uncommon. At the big chains, the host/hostess generally gets paid an hourly wage, thereby taking out the unintended consequence of having servers fight for tables. Everyone gets seated eventually in the order that the manager perceives is fair. splitting tips w/ the bartender, though is common and as far as I know is pretty standard. I generally try to tip 20%. Only when I get really crappy service do I tip less than 15%. I’ve only worked as a host at a restaurant and definitely feel a certain affinity to their position because they really should be getting paid a fair wage instead of having to jump hoops to get paid because there’s always that party that comes along that is completely satisfied with the service but stiffs you on the tip.

  6. Typically the hostess gets paid by the hour, no tip sharing. Waiters and bartenders both tip out busers (people that bus the table, walk stuff from the kitchen). Waitpeople also often have to tip out the bartender if they are getting their drinks through the bar, since making those drinks takes as much time as if the customer was sitting at the bar. A place may change the rules, but imo it doesn’t make sense for a hostess to share in tips.

  7. The weirdest is where you get the “tip” (usually 15-20%) automatically added in the bill, then you have a place in the credit card slip to add the “tip”.

    I never use my credit card (well, almost never).

    I pay cash. If I don’t have the cash, I don’t buy.

    Bad service = no tip. I’ve left a penny just for laughs. Bad servers really ought to go back to basics. Smile, be friendly, give suggestions about the menu, fill the water glasses, stuff like that.


  8. I worked in a chain restaurant where we had to tip out up to 4 different groups of people: bussers, barstaff (even if you never had any drinks come from the bar), expediters, and sometimes runners. Expediters where I worked only pulled food out of the window and set it up on a tray. All servers were responsible for running everyone’s food. Sometimes we also had food runners, which were servers who didn’t have a section for the night, whose only job it was to run food. The food runners were still only paid their server wage (around $3.50) and had to rely on being tipped out by the other servers to make up the rest. This can lead to a lot of tension among servers as well, especially if a server had a bad night and doesn’t want to tip out what they should.

    For some reason, at that particular restaurant, tipping in general was always less than stellar. 15% was standard, even for good service, and it was often less than that for no obvious reason. And the way tipping out worked was that you tipped out 1% of your sales to each of these groups of people, not a percentage of your tips. So even if I had a really bad night tip-wise, I was still tipping out 4% of my sales. So if my tip percentage for the whole night averaged out to be 15%, then I’m automatically down to 11% after tipping out.

    Hah, goodness. I didn’t realize how bitter I was about that whole situation. But I do know that I often left with only 10% in my pocket. For a busy night, about $500 in sales was good, so instead of $75 (or 100$), I’d be leaving with $50. Over the nights, it really adds up to a lot of money you’re missing. People who don’t interact with customers shouldn’t be paid based off the tips those customers give. (I’d like to see the whole tipping custom banished altogether with servers paid a real wage, but unless a lot of restaurants start acting altruistically, I don’t see it happening any time soon).

    I recently heard that another restaurant I used to work at is now taking credit card fees out of server tips. You know the economy’s bad when employers start nickel and diming their employees. (Despite this, this is a great restaurant to work and eat at, the food is fantastic. I recommend it if you’re in Cleveland, just please tip in cash.)

  9. Many chain restaurants are going this way. In the area I now live, and where I lived when I went to college, The major chain restaurants required that a server tip 3% of the total night sales to the house. It was automatically calculated in the computer systems as a factor of what was owed to the house each night. This money then went to host staff, food runner, and bar staff, even if you sold no alcohol, ran all of your own food, and sat your own tables. While busy nights did happen that I had to depend on these other areas, it was frustrating on a slow night when I knew this support staff did nothing to help me. The worst was the jerk that stiffed you for no reason, because you were forced to actually pay the restaurant for the table on which you waited to pay the support staff.

    Our hourly pay was only $2.73/hour, (server minimum wage.) However, most nights, I made so much in tips that I never truly felt the impact of that 3% or the low hourly wage-which was almost always used up for taxes (I remember collecting pay checks of 3 dollars per two full time weeks just to I had an amount that justified a trip to the bank). The system isn’t fair, but to make the kind of money you can make in these types of restaurants, it is the price you must pay. All we servers can ask is PLEASE, just tip fairly every time, and if you cannot afford to, go to McD’s.

  10. I used to have to “tip out” the bartender, the hostess, the salad bar guy, the busser, and sometimes the food runners. It would take fully half of my tips some nights.

    I always, ALWAYS tip 20%. If the service is poor, I’ll say something encouraging to the server simply because I know it’s a difficult job but I still leave a decent tip. I never know when someone is having a bad night, their wife is in the hospital, their son is having school difficulties, they just got left by their husband or whatever and a few dollars can make their night.

  11. I waited tables in college (7 yrs ago) and we tip shared…but the rules were 20% to the bartender and at least a dollar to the host. On nights when I hosted, I’d be lucky to get $8 from the servers. This was especially frustrating when I effectively waited on tables for busy servers and they got the tip and I got minimum wage. If you want the host to see part of the tip, give it directly to him or her, don’t giver the server more than they have earned!

  12. Ron at 4:11.

    OK, let me get this straight. You always tip 20%, even if the service is crappy? You’d leave them 20%, then comment that, well, maybe, the service was sub-par?

    Think Darwinian. If a server is totally lame, he or she will get zip, nada, nothing in tips. The tip-out will be equally zip, nada, nothing. After a few days, the staff will gang up on management and get the lame server fired. Survival of the fittest and all that. Leave 20% for a lame server and you get what you deserve. A lame server.


  13. I have to agree with Bozo #13. If you tip regardless of the quality of service, you’re basically contributing to moral hazard. If a server is rewarded for doing a piss poor job, there is no incentive to change. Sure, they might read a note and try to improve, but most won’t even care. If you could do 50% less work and get paid 100%, wouldn’t you? If you could buy a $500,000 home when you can really only truly afford a $300,000 home, but know the government will help you out when you get pinched, wouldn’t you buy it anyway?

    This is the type of behavior that feeds mediocrity. If you reward excellence and punish poor performance, you’ll weed out those who can’t cut it, and inspire those who want to do better to do so. But to reward everyone the same regardless of performance is only a great way to ensure mediocre service.

  14. yeah, I have to side with Bozo on this one.

    I understand what Ron is saying but I think a 20% tip no matter what the service is unnecessary.

  15. I don’t mind 20% for exceptional service. I don’t even mind 10% to 15% for service with some snags. But, I really rebel against ANY RESTAURANT that adds an 18% gratuity automatically because I have 6 people at a table. Tips should NOT be extracted.

  16. I wouldn’t get too bogged down thinking about whether a restaurant is or isn’t having their servers share tips, etc. I always tip – and I always tip 20%, unless there has been poor service, because I do realize that this is how servers make their money.

  17. I completely agree with Ron. When I was a waiter, I had to share my tips with practically everybody.

    There’s nothing Darwinistic about leaving a small tip. In my experience, most bad service is either temporary (a bad day) or justified (non-waiter problems, like slow kitchen), in which case your bad tip is insignificant because most of the time they get good tips.

    In the rare case where a person is really a bad waiter, they either don’t have much of a choice in being a waiter, or they’re doing it for a specific reason. For instance, I’ve seen people who are waiters because it’s an easy job with potentially short hours, but it helps them meet a residency requirement, a probation/parole requirement, or even just because they have lonely lives and they like seeing people. They’re not going to quit just because they’re getting small tips. They’ll quit/be fired if people start complaining about them, but the tips are not the goal for these people.

    Anyway, my point is calling it Darwinistic reveals a misunderstanding of either Darwinism or the situation at hand. If you want to leave small tips for bad service, fine, but do it with the understanding that you’re not a cog in a machine, or a part of the natural order, it’s just you leaving a small tip.

  18. First off I used to wait tables while in college so am biased but, I don’t think leaving ‘a penny just for laughs’ is funny. It is called being a jerk. What is even more amazing is you think that stiffing a waiter is an act to brag about.

    Also, Tip Outs are not determined by tips but by sales. So when you stiff a waiter that waiter loses money serving you. Ex. On a $100 bill the waiter owes the restaurant $3-$4 whether you leave a tip or not.

    So not only did you personally insult the waiter with the ‘funny penny’ you then made the server pay for part of your meal. Congrats.

    The only instance when no tip should be left is when the waiter personally insults you. In any other instance you are just being cheap and petty.

  19. I have worked in many different restaurants, and they all have different versions of this, but some are more exploitive than others. I have run across other methods for getting the servers to pay for credit card fees, and managers comps, and all sorts of unethical acts. The bottom line is that the owners and managers know that restaurant workers are typically unorganized, young, or do not really care a whole lot about their job, certainly not enough to rock the boat, so they get taken advantage of.

    In NC where I live and a few other states, the servers make slightly more than $2 an hour, and then are still expected to pay out their tips to the bussers, bartenders, and hostesses. I even worked in a restaurant that split tips with the kitchen as well.

    The restaurant industry is always fighting high employee turnover and employee theft….hmmmm wonder why?

  20. As customers, we need to say “enough”. I tip no more than 15%. If we don’t put our foot down, we’ll be paying a mandatory 35% tip with 10% given to the busboys and the bartenders and 10% into the owner’s pocket. And if you don’t pay over 35% the server will think you’re cheap and complain about his low wage!

    The “tip” has become a hidden FEE.

  21. Chris, and others complaining about tipping in full service sit down restaurants. It’s not a conspiracy, just how it’s done here. If you have a problem with it don’t go to those restaurants or move to Europe where a tip is not customary.

  22. OK, so it’s not a conspiracy. Agreed. Here’s the thing, though. Why 20%? It was 15% for a long, long time. Then it became “15 – 20%”. Now I’m told 20%. Why?

    Food prices increase. As they do, tabs go up. Dinner out becomes more and more expensive (just basic economics, I know, but just to make a point…) When the bill is higher, the server’s tip goes up. There is no need to increase the percentage. I don’t see why I should be expected to pay 15% tips when there is no clear reason for the standard to have changed.

  23. I personally don’t understand why they won’t pay wait staff the same minimum wage that everyone else gets. A tip should be just that. It should represent good service and not be something extra that I am paying in order for the person waiting on me to make a living. When I worked in grocery stores as a kid I certainly did not expect that everyone would give me a tip for just pushing out their buggy. I had provided little service to them if I was not the one that bagged everything to their expectations. Why should I have to make up the differnce between minimum wage and what the waitstaff makes hourly? If they don’t give good to excellent service then I don’t leave much if anything. Like I said this should be something above and beyond for that person’s hard work and attentiveness not something that they expect just because they brought me my food and then I didn’t see them again until they brought me my bill.

  24. Not tipping is horrible, no matter what goes on. As a former waitress and restaurant manager, I have worked in establishments where you tip out hosts, dishwashers, foodrunners, cooks, etc. I think this is a case of someone at the Wall Street Journal (or wherever) discovering something and calling it a “new trend” so they have an excuse to make their 4 dollars per word. And for those of you who don’t tip, you are helping the crappy waitstaff cycle, not hurting it. If people don’t tip, then why try anyway. It starts with someone mistaking a slow kitchen for a bad waitress, something which is completely unfair. Or maybe some jerk sends back food they ordered saying they didn’t order it to get a free meal and then not tipping to save more money, etc. Why try right? It is much more effective to say something while giving that person less than the recommended 20%. If you see them sitting down or talking to their friends and you’ve needed something for a while, or it’s not too busy and they never appear, then give them 10%, put it in their hand, and tell them why you were unsatisfied. It is a shame that we live in one of the only places where a large group of the labor force is legally allowed to be payed less than minimum wage. However, if you aren’t going to be gracious and provide a tip for service, did it occur to you that you can eat at home and not have to tip anyone? You will have no one to blame for bad or slow food but yourself, and I believe that any waitress or waiter would be more than happy to lose your business.

    18% on a table of six or more is mandatory, by the way, often in places where teenagers and college students frequent. It is a way to protect the waitstaff from kids who order a million things and don’t tip. Have you ever waited on six peoples every need for two hours? It’s no fun. You should be tipping anyway with that kind of demand, who cares if it’s on your bill or not?

  25. As a current server here are my opinions:
    General tipping- 15-20%(good service)
    10-15%(mediocre service)
    5-10%(bad service)
    Note: I have made it a personal practice to never tip less than a gallon of gas worth, no matter how small the bill is. If I can’t afford to tip, I obviously can’t afford to eat out that night.

    Yes, where I work currently calculates 3% of my sales and I am required to tip that out every shift I work. Although I think that other staff should receive their fair share, this allows for a very unsavory thing to occur. On more than one occasion in just the past year, I have seen a server go home with less than they came in with. Yes, servers are also protected by minimum wage laws, but when someone is counting on what most would consider pocket change to feed their family for one or to more nights, this can be extremely disheartening.

    I personally treat every guest of mine with the exact same courtesy and attention(as confirmed by my coworkers and management staff). Yet my tips vary greatly. At least in my case, I tend to therefor believe that tipping is largely due to the guests’ moods or preconceived notions about what is proper in this setting. That is why the debate is mostly about the standards of tipping and not “how bad service in restaurants is lately”. I’ll let that last comment sink in.

  26. I have worked in restaurants for over 6 years, since I was 15 I think; through college and high school. I have hosted, washed dishes, bussed, run food, cocktailed and currently, I serve. For the past year and a half I have worked for the same company in two completely different areas of New York. One location was right out side NYC, and the other in upstate NY. One thing I have noticed is LOCATION. (I also waited tables in times square for a few months) In NYC, 20% was average, anything above that was stellar service, anything below that, chances are, you weren’t from the area. At the end of the night, I always look at my avg. tip % for the night, and there, it was a bad night anything less than 20%.
    I moved home, where prices are the same, but a smaller area, obviously less income per capita, and if I average 18% its a great night.
    I have come to the conclusion that its just economy… if I were to go to some diner in the middle of nowhere alabama and tip 20% I bet that would be the highest tip they have gotten all month. Its just ecomomics, I get it.

    I didn’t expect to average 20% when I moved home. My style of service didn’t change, I didn’t become a worse server, if anything I am better because I have not jumped through the restaurant revolving door. Sure I was spoiled, but things also cost less here at home than they did in nyc, I dont spent $5.50 on a gallon of orange juice anymore, ya know?

    Oh, and to the guy that had a problem with auto-grat on large parties, next time you take your 5 buddies out to eat, do the math on 18% percent of your bill BEFORE tax… that is how much you are giving your server… which actually works out to be right around 15%. So drop your fit about automatically having to give your server 18% if you don’t think they deserve it.

    And one more thing, next time you go out to eat, take a look around and especially on a busy night, notice that you are not the only table in your servers section, chances are they are waiting on at least 3 other tables. And try to further notice the progress of the tables around you, if there is a table on either side of you with only menus on the table, chances are the server just got sat, twice, maybe even three times all at once, and imagine having to go get drinks for 12 people all at once, and lemme tell you those trays are not light… your soda glass without anything in it is a lb.

  27. On the subject of tipping: what about all the restaraunts with “curbside” carry-out service? I always give the “server” some kind of tip, but I’m never sure what the appropriate % is. There is also the difference between places where they bring the order out to your car vs those where you go in to pick it up.

    I generally tip more if I never have to leave my car – especially when the weather is bad (I live in MI), however going in to pick up the food myself always leaves me unsure.

    I once worked Friday and Saturday nights at a restaraunt packaging all the carry-out orders, where I was paid a whopping $2/hr (it was quite a while ago). In addition to answering phones, taking orders, packaging them and getting them to the cashier before the customer arrived, I had to make up all the different sizes of sauce cups, noodles, cookies etc., that would be needed to carry the restaraunt through to my next Friday shift. Oh – I also had to help the waitstaff get their sides plated if they were really busy, and if the hostess / cahsier was busy I had to fill in seating people. This restaraunt did not pratice tip-outs to my knowledge, so in my two years if there were ever any tips left I never saw a dime of them. It would have made my day if someone had given me one – no matter how small – and that’s the main reason I tip for in-store carry-out service. But I’ll never know who actually deserves or gets that money!

  28. I just don’t get it. Are there websites where people complain about how much a lawyer/docter gets paid? I am a professional server. I don’t do this job for min. wage, I work for tips. If I dont give good service don’t tip me 15% but the idea that servers should not be tipped at all is ridiculous.

    Also, with 20 years experience in the business the standard tip out practise is 10% of my tips to the bar, 10% to the busboys and 5% to the maitre d. Since when did we start having to tip out the dishwashwers or prep cooks? I dont feel that I am better than anyone but I have a set of skills that a dishwashwer does not. In many restuarants that is where you start and work your way up to server. Today, everything has to be “fair” If the dishwasher or prep cook could do my job they would. A journeymen carpenter gets paid more than an apprentice.

    My advice to waiters dealing with this weird trend of tipping out to every employee of the restuarant, quit. There are plenty of good establishments who appreciate the rare breed of qualified servers and dont engage in that sort of nonsense.

  29. Ok – tell me this you all – what do you think of splitting tips with cooks even if they are paid minimum wage? Keep in mind – I am not being paid minimum wage.

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