Are You Tipping Your Server Enough?

Going out to eat is one of my favorite pastimes – as in on those date nights when the goal is dinner and a movie – I’ll skimp on the movie so I can spend more time in the restaurant. Part of the experience of dining out includes interacting with your server, which boils down to today’s query – tipping the proper amount. Like any hobby, I want to make sure I’m doing it right, hence my quest to discover how the process works.

It turns out, asking someone how much to tip is the same as asking for the general public’s favorite color. You get a myriad of answers that color the rainbow. Growing up, I was taught 10 percent for bad service, 15 percent for decent service and 20 percent for excellent service was the acceptable way to do things. My mother also taught me to ALWAYS leave a tip, short of my meal causing World War III.

Is this right?


Tripadvisor agrees with those figures more or less, “For waiters at sit-down restaurants … the tip should be calculated as a percentage of your total bill as follows: 10 percent usually means you aren’t totally happy, 15 percent usually means all was acceptable, 20 percent for excellent, over 20 percent for outstanding.”

One thing that I might not have been taught, however, is that those who are on tipping wages in Arkansas are making $2.63 an hour, with the expectation that they will make up minimum wage in their received tips. But what about those people who don’t tip? There is a caveat, according to the Arkansas Department of Labor … “If the tips do not bring them up to minimum wage, the employer must add enough to their pay to do so.”

Also, tip pooling/tipping out can come into the equation. In this case a server may have to pay 5 percent (a common number, but it can vary from place to place) of his or her total tips to the front of house workers – hosts, bussers, barbacks, etc.

This put tipping in a new light for me, and I began to wonder, am I really tipping the right amount? Does the general public in Rock City tip the right amount? Who better to ask than the servers that take care of us here? I chatted with a number of those fine individuals who work across the board – from local establishments to national chains – and this is what they had to say.

From a local fine dining restaurant server: “Really bad tips are rare – they do happen, but not often. When they do, the person getting the tip often wonders what happened. Many times though, you can attribute the bad tip to an individual’s personal tipping habits rather than the quality of the food or service. For these people, even if everything was perfect they’re not going above 10 percent. We consider these folks “inexperienced” diners. Perhaps they don’t realize that their server is getting paid less than 3 dollars an hour, probably doesn’t have health insurance, probably is paying for school on the side, and probably has to pay “tip-out” to bussers whether you tip them or not. The lowest time as a server is when you spend time and energy, bringing someone food and drink and checking on them only to find out later that you have to pay the restaurant fifty cents to wait on them. BUT, most of our guests are intelligent and well-rounded people and they understand that us making a living wage depends on them.”

From a national chain server: “It’s just most folks don’t understand that when they don’t tip me, I actually lose money on the deal. … Waiting tables is not an easy job like most think it is. If you are good at your job, you can make a livable wage, but you’ve got to put in a lot of hours. Even then, it’s definitely hard to “get ahead” money-wise.”

From a different national chain: “It’s almost universally true that the more difficult the customer is, the lower your tip will be.”

From a local eatery: “If a person has a tip-based, I always tip. I try to tip 20 percent because its pretty good and easy to calculate. I find people tip pretty inconsistently and it’s really hard to predict. … At every place I’ve worked, I’ve had grumpy people tip well and happy people tip like shit, so you can’t really profile people.”

From a local establishment: “The general public does tip pretty well, I would say. I definitely average 20 percent or a little higher at [my establishment]. Some people tip surprisingly poorly, and there aren’t really a lot of ways to predict it. I’ve noticed a lot of upper middle class people in their mid/late twenties who maybe haven’t ever worked in food service or had friends who have, are kind of the most consistently poor tippers out there. But I also know that there’s not really a way to influence how much people will tip. Of course you want to give great service, but there was a study once that showed that unless service was EXTREMELY good or EXTREMELY bad, people always tip the same percentage no matter what. So if you’re in that 98 percent middle of the bell curve, you can’t really do anything about it.”

Moral of the story, if you can’t afford to tip, don’t go out to eat. In the meantime, don’t forget to tip your server.

  • Jeremy

    You wanna know how to make a servers day? Tip 20% plus a buck or two. What’s one buck, but to them it shows you weren’t just mindlessly calculating a tip but that you actually appreciated their service.

  • Eric Stewart

    I’ll leave $2 for any bill up to $10, and about 20% if the tab is higher unless the service is bad, but I can’t remember ever not tipping at all except when I go to Larry’s Pizza.

  • Sara Hoffman

    The 5% Tip Out is a lot different than what you stated. Tipping out isn’t giving back 5% of the tips a server receives. It is 5% of net sales for that server. This means, if every patron tipped their server 15% of the subtotal on their receipt, then the server would would literally hand back 1/3 of their tips to the house. An excellent server may only lose 1/4 of their tip to the house.


Are You Tipping Your Server Enough?