While most of us agree that 20 percent (or close to it) is the standard amount to leave on a restaurant check, other tipping-related matters leave us scratching our heads. To settle these debates once and for all, Steve Dublanica, former server and author of the blog Waiter Rant and recent book Keep the Change: A Clueless Tipper's Quest to Become the Guru of the Gratuity, weighs in on some hot-button issues.
1. SHOULD YOU TIP ON THE TAX?
On one hand: There's no reason to tip on the tax. The restaurant doesn't get to keep tax money. When gratuity is automatically included on a check for a large party, it's added pretax.
On the other: When most servers total their sales at the end of the night, they include the tax in the amount. This "cash-out" amount determines how much they tip out to busboys, runners, and other staff members. By not tipping on tax, you're stiffing them out of their fair share.
Steve's verdict: "I like it when you do, but you don't have to tip on the tax."
2. WHAT IS THE CORRECT AMOUNT TO TIP ON DRINKS?
On one hand: Twenty percent is way too much - it's just a drink! The standard in most bars is $1 for each beverage or 10 percent, which generally adds up to $1. Bartenders are tipped out by other members of the staff, so they are walking away with plenty of money.
On the other: Bartenders do more work than servers because they're the ones actually making the drinks, not the server. They deserve the full 20 percent.
Steve's verdict: "[At the bar] you should leave 15 to 20 percent of the total cost of that drink, which may seem kind of ridiculous. But think of it this way: At the table, you're paying 15 to 20 percent. Why does the bartender not get that money, but the waiter - who doesn't make those drinks - does?"
3. DO YOU ALWAYS TIP YOUR BARISTA?
On one hand: Yes. They're skilled workers and deserve tips just as much as other food-service employees.
On the other: Baristas make a decent hourly wage, unlike servers, and they don't work for tips. Besides, what's the point of tipping them if they don't see you put the money in the jar?
Steve's verdict: "I learned when I worked as a barista that if you get a cup of coffee and give us the change from buying that cup, we're really grateful. But I've seen people order one of these frothy iced milk latte-type chemistry experiments - which can be more complicated to prepare than a martini - and then not tip. For baristas who make you one of these, tip a dollar."
See also: 13 Things Your Barista Won't Tell You
4. WHEN, IF EVER, IS IT ACCEPTABLE TO LEAVE A BAD TIP?
On one hand: Never. Even if your server really, really screws up, the tip money is being distributed to multiple employees of the restaurant. If you're unhappy with your server, it's not fair to penalize the busboy, bartender, food runners, and other employees who depend on this money to make their living.
On the other: It's OK to leave a bad tip if you receive bad service. It's your right as a customer, and it will send a message of displeasure to the restaurant.
Steve's verdict: "I don't suggest stiffing servers on the tip, because you are punishing all the other people connected to that food chain. I tell people to talk to the manager and say, 'I had very poor service, but I'm leaving a tip anyway.'"
See also: 20 Secrets Your Waiter Won't Tell You
5. SHOULD A SERVER BE ABLE TO AUTOMATICALLY INCLUDE GRATUITY IF IT'S NOT A LARGE GROUP?
On one hand: Yes, in certain cases. Many tourists from other countries don't understand the tipping protocol in the United States. Servers have a right to protect themselves.
On the other: It's outrageous for a server to include the tip unless it's a large group. Legally, servers don't have the right to make the customer pay any gratuity.
Steve's verdict: "If you were to include a service charge automatically, you would have to tell everyone who walks in that you're adding a 20 percent service charge. I don't support waiters deciding who they're going to attach a tip to. That's not their job - that's management's job - and they need to have a very well thought-out policy about why they're doing that."
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