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Tipping in restaurants [moved from Pennsylvania board]

I'm having a vacation in Philadelphia in March. Can you advise me about tipping in restaurants - what's normal, how much for exceptional service etc?

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  1. Why would you think Phila is different than any other big city? Unless you are from Europe, I'd just tip the way you normally do in the city. Personally, I tip around 20% for good service and adjust up or down from there.

    1 Reply
    1. re: dinwiddie

      Thanks for the advice ... yes I'm from Europe, Scotland where tipping isn't quite as formal as in the USA.

    2. I agree with Dinwiddie....20% is basic, unless the service is REALLY poor. One thing I use to judge my tips by is how often my soda is refilled. It's an inexpensive drink with free refills. If someone is paying attention to me, they're going to notice when it needs refreshing and that I like lemon in mine. Rarely do wait staff refill, so rarely do I give more than 20%. It's the little things that count with me. By the way, my hubby is a waiter and knows my standard, and he's aware that there are others who feel the same way.

      1. In big cities you will rarely find someone going around refilling sodas. I don't think I have ever seen it: not in NYC, not in Philadelphia, nor Boston, nor DC, nor Seattle, SF, LA, CHI. Maybe in diners?

        3 Replies
        1. re: chow_gal

          i agree. i've never worked in, and don't recall dining in, a place that gives free atomatic refills for soda. a second refill of coffee, yes. maybe some chains?

          1. re: hotoynoodle

            I think it's great to be so generous and wouldn't discourage you, but just wanted to add that a server at an inexpensive restaurant, which would have a smaller staff, has fewer people to share tips with...

            (this was meant as a reply to Kater but I put it in the wrong place!)

          2. re: chow_gal

            It honestly depends on which "big city" you are talking about. Phoenix restaurants from high end to mom and pop regularly give free refills on soda and iced tea. I can probably count on one hand the number of high end restaurants in Phoenix and Scottsdale that DON'T refill soda glasses (not to mention iced tea) as part of their normal service routine.

          3. As the other posters have explained, tipping in Philadelphia is very much like tipping in any large American city. The norm is 20% and people do tip more than that if the service is very good. There is, however, a range and some people tip as little as 15% -17% for good service, while others routinely tip 25% unless they are displeased.

            The tip will usually not be included on your bill unless you are dining with a large group of people, usually the number 8 is chosen to define a 'large party'. You can add the tip to your credit card or tip in cash. Do whatever is most convenient for you.

            If you are unhappy with the service you can reduce the tip, but it seems that people have trouble agreeing how low is too low. There are people who will leave $0 if they are deeply unhappy with the service and that is one of your options. I think that most diners tend to leave from 10%-15% when they are not happy, while some will even go down to 5%. You are not at all obligated to leave a good tip (20%) for an average to lousy server.

            Another thing to consider is the price range of the restaurant. When we go to a very reasonable ethnic restaurant or a rural spot where prices are very low, we always leave more than 20%. The disparity between food prices from upscale spots to inexpensive ones rarely would justify the tiny tips that servers at cheap restaurants would receive if you stuck to the 20% rule. So if they're good, they may get as much as 50% depending on the cost of the meal.

            I hope this is helpful.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Kater

              I heartily second your last point: at cheap places, 15-20% can be miniscule. I remember my dad emphasizing this particularly for breakfast, which is often inexpensive, but often involves many trips to refil coffee. His pet peeve is people who don't tip the breakfast waitresses enough.

            2. Really? Do they refill coffee? I admit to not eating in many fine dining places, but have eaten at the Broadmore in Colorado Springs and they did refill my soda. Normally, when traveling, my philosophy is to eat as inexpensively as possible and save the money for other things. Money only goes so far, and my tummy is the last place it needs to go.

              2 Replies
              1. re: PamperedPatty

                Refilling a soda would not be the norm, proactively offering another one would be the mark of a good server. Coffee is generally refilled at moderate restaurants and even at some high end restaurants but not the way it would be at a breakfast spot or in a casual dining atmosphere. The expectation would tend to be that you have a single cup of coffee with a dessert and perhaps a drink as well. Lingering while enjoying dessert and/or drinks is going to more acceptable in any large city than lingering over coffee refills because the restaurant would like to seat another party at the table once you're finished a leisurely meal. And remember you'll have lots of options of nice clubs, pubs and coffee houses to adjourn to after your meal.

                1. re: Kater

                  Ooops, Kater....et al, I miswrote myself when I said, "refill my soda." I did mean, "replace" it with a new one. No, I've not been anywhere (chain or fine dining) that took a glass and refilled it. Thanks for the correcting, Gang!