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Yet another tip question: Servers? Do you have a minimum DOLLAR amount?

Fair warning - I may be a rube. I just want to know!

Back story: I cook at home, for many reasons, most significant of which is the budget (that thing we call fiscal responsibility). When we do eat out, it is almost exclusively while on the road for a family necessity ( elderly relatives who are far flung and need care or chores). These road-trip meals are always in various small-town diners, where we can get good food at a good price (remember: budget), and not have to spend our dining-out money on fast food. A nice lunch of soup and sandwich and splitting a piece of pie is, IMHO, better than a Big Mac any day.

Anyway, these lunches generally come to $20.00 or less - sometimes much less. My Hub and I then face the tipping issue. Now, I am not a stingy tipper (having had many friends in the business), usually going from 20 to 25 percent, which on a $20.00 meal is $4-5.00. The Hub insists that $10.00 should be the minimum tip, even though that can be over 50% of the tab. His reasoning is that it takes as many trips/steps for the server to bring our twenty dollar meal as it would a fifty dollar meal, and that that’s just what it costs. I am of the mind that a 25% tip is adequate, and we should leave it at that.

Mind you, these are not restaurants in which we are regulars or are courting special treatment/expectations or looking to reward long-term good service; we’re just passing through. Nor are we eating in establishments where an average meal costs X and we are eking by on 1/4X (like going to a steakhouse and ordering only the side salad and toast).

My question: is there a minimum amount I should be leaving for service in situations like this? (BTW, Hub has no problem with “only” 20% tips when it’s a meal that costs $80.00...but that's another issue <g>.) Any servers out there that want to weigh in, especially if you work in a place where one would expect a soup-n-sandwich lunch at these prices? Does my $20 dollar, 30-45 minute meal really need a $10.00 tip? Any diners with thoughts?

Like I said, I may indeed be a rube when it comes to this. I know, I know - I could be packing sandwiches in the car and sidestepping this, but hey, we all need to eat out once in a while. Likewise, I know it’s “only” five bucks (say) difference, and I might find this amount between searching my couch cushions and the pants’ pockets while doing laundry. It still bothers me a bit, since all those extra dollars can add up to a lot.

Please don’t flame me as “not being generous.” I just want to know if there really *is* a minimum tip that servers expect. And I want to have a peaceful lunch next time I have to road-trip to my dad’s or in-laws’ for some reason. And I’ll leave the 50% tip if I have to.


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  1. 50% is certainly not necessary. when the bill is small, i usually round up pretty generously, but i think you are spot-on with $5 for tip.

    when working in a a place like that, i'm sure the server would be plenty pleased with a 25% tip.

    1. wow. I would say that a minimum of ten is extremely generous. I'm not sure that I have a minimum per se, but I do tend to round up quite a bit or drop an extra buck or so for a very low bill. For example, if we hit the diner and our bill is $15 or $16, I'd probably leave four or five, the last dollar depending on having the change and if the service is good. If I'm on a separate check and my meal comes out to say $11 or $12, I'll probably leave a minimum of $3 if the service is good, maybe even a buck more if I know that the others at my table aren't tipping very well.

      However, if I were waiting tables and a table left me $3 on a $15 tab, I'd definitely consider that a good tip. If someone left me $10 on a $20, that would make my day.

      1 Reply
      1. re: nc213

        I agree 100% with nc213's excellent post.

      2. If that's rude you need to read more threads on this site, very well stated and with a good question. Maybe jfood can be the brunt of some heat, and not the first time.

        If Jfood eats a sandwich, fries and a drink and the tab is $10, not leaving $5, more likely $2-3. If it's two of us for lunch and it's $20, probably leave $4-5. Even further down the food chain, if playing golf in FL while visiting IL's and the two eggs over easy and a cup of coffee is $5 probably leave $1-2. All of this assumes that this is a resto in which my meal is not waaaaay under the norm.

        Many will not agree and am interested in why there should be a minimum. Likewise, I am interested if people who state there should be a minimum also believe there should be a maximum.

        3 Replies
        1. re: jfood

          jfood, you made me smile. I think you read "rude" (which I try not to be), where I wrote "rube" (as in "some sort of hick that doesn't know what's goin' on"). The smile? Knowing I'm not rude in my tipping. Thank you.

          1. re: cayjohan

            OMG need new glasses. :-))

            Too many people think everything they do not agree with on these threads is "rude". I read yours and could not understand why you threw yourself under the bus with such a nice thread.

            Thanks for pointingthis out. Seeing opthamologist on thursday. :-))

          2. 5 buck minimum for a meal, 1 buck minimum for a beer in a bottle or a simple draft pour, 2-3 buck minimum for a cocktail or more complex pour (Black & Tan, Belgian Sunrise, Snakebite, well poured Guiness).

            1 Reply
            1. re: jpschust

              That tracks pretty much with what I do as well. One of the problems with tipping a straight percentage is that it isn't a good system for breakfast and lunch. If I go to breakfast and order eggs, toast, grits and coffee...the server is bringing cream, butter, jam/jelly, refilling my coffee and water...in short, working very hard for the $6.25 tab. I'm not going to leave a buck and a quarter for that sort of service, I'm leaving $5. The same is often true at lunch with water/soda/tea refills, condiments etc.

            2. I've worked in places where tips were a big part of the compensation so I sorta wish that more people were like your hubby, but the reality is that at a roadside diner type place that will never happen.

              The number of trips /steps pretty much should not factor in to your gratuity calculation, unless you want to be seated at the far end of the dining room and have each piece of your meal brought out separately. It is true that you can/should increase the tip for service that is especially attentive. Frankly the physical effort of carrying out the "sunset specials" with soup,salad, meal,desert, bottomless coffee all for some low low price is what tends to drive wait staff out of diners. And believe me, this is no slam against the value minded senior crowd -- without them the little diners would all be gone in favor of fast food...

              The soup & sandwich/split a slice of pie type of place is hard to keep in business. In my experience the servers who demonstrate a bit more attentiveness in this sort of setting know that all things considered they are better off in such a place than dealing with some high-volume chain / sit down place that deliberately understaffs/does not allow enough hours to make a living.

              Keep doing what you can to patronize little guys, but there is no need to have $10 minimum tip.

              1. I think you pose an interesting question, and I think for me it would be kind of an organic thing dependent upon the situation. There is a place I go to on a very regular basis, where all of the best stuff on the menu is around $2-4, I always seem to end up with a bill under $10. And there is a limitless supply of the most delicious homemade chips and three kinds of homemade salsa and wonderful service, and I've been seeing the same wait staff at this place for 5+ years. There are times when my bill has only been $6, and I leave $10 on the table...actually that's most times.

                But in ordinary circumstances I would feel mighty comfortable leaving a $4-5 tip on a $20 bill. BUT I think it's very lovely that your husband is so generous. Not to say that you aren't, but it's so nice to hear that rather than, "My husband is sooo cheap!"

                1. I think you're just fine with your approach. One more difference to keep in mind between the casual "family restaurant" and the $80/person restaurant is the time you actually spend at the table. At the family restaurant/roadside diner, you are in and out in less than 45 minutes. At the fancier restaurants, chances are that you are spending 1.5 hours or more on your meal. The servers at the lower end restaurants are also generally handling more tables and have a much higher turnover than the servers at the higher end places. So the diner servers are counting on volume for their tips and the fine-dining servers are counting on big bills and generous patrons. :)

                  Don't get me wrong, I am NOT knocking the diner servers at all. Waitressing at IHOP and Baker's Square got me through school! But it's definitely a different set of circumstances and expectations. I would have been thrilled with a $5 tip on a $20 bill.

                  1. I worked the lunch shift in a soup/salad kind of place. A meal would usually cost someone around 5-6 bucks. So, 10-12 for a couple. I never expected more than 15% of a tip. To do so would be crazy. My tips usually were from 2-3 dollars for a two-top. Every once in a while, I'd get a customer who would leave 5 bucks on a 10 dollar lunch and I would think, "wow, what a great person.", but it certainly was not expected.

                    I may be wrong, but I knew I wasn't going to pay all the bills working the lunch shift in a soup/salad joint. I knew I could expect to bring home $40-$50 in tips on a good day. I doubt that any waiter/waitress working in that kind of place is expecting fine-food tips. And if they are, they really should be looking elsewhere for work.

                    As a diner, I leave 20-30% for tip, no matter where I'm eating, unless the service was absolutely horrid. If our lunch cost $20, we'd probably leave a $5 for tip.

                    1. Nothing personal, and this is jmo, but I would say that your husband is being either foolish or irresponsible.

                      I will almost always round up to the nearest dollar (only down if I'm tipping over 15% and the service didn't really warrant it).

                      1. My brother is a lot like your husband, and tips *extremely* generously. And you know what? He loves to do it and I wouldn't think to stop him from doing it.

                        As a former server, I think a lot of good advice has been given here, so the only thing I'd add is: If your husband is comfortable with this, then why not let him continue to be comfortable? Why rock the boat when he is expressing his generosity to others? Really, if you're not hurting for money (and it sounds like you're not from your post, otherwise you'd probably be brownbagging it), I say to give your husband a big hug and appreciate him for who he is and what he does!

                        1. I don't think there is any minimum amount that servers expect -- I certainly never heard anything along those lines in my years back of the house.

                          However.... I tip in a way very similiar to your husband -- I never leave less then a five dollar tip, no matter the size of the bill. I have determined that the basic luxury of having another person bring me my food and drinks has that minimum value, and if I am unable or unwilling to pay that much for it, I won't eat out. This is not to say that I think anyone else should share my opinion of the value of service - just that I have my personal standards, and am unwilling to compromise them.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: AnnaEA

                            Generosity should be applauded, not criticized. Even though we slightly disagree I applaud the way you feel and your attititude.

                          2. I think your husband' s generosity is great. If it makes him happy to do so, then by all means. As a server, I would be thrilled with that & have been on a few occasions. However, I feel that 20% is sufficient. I follow the $5 minimum as a rule personally.

                            I also have encountered the 10% tip at lunch time. I feel that some customers think that just because it's "lunch" it doesn't warrant the same 20% "dinner" tip...
                            just an observation.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: dbug31

                              I see the same, but I don't think the customers think its unwarranted, I think people are cheap at lunch.

                            2. I was a server for years and I'm still in the business. If i didn't get at least 15% i assumed I did something wrong (which always totally bummed me out). If I got 15-20% I was happy with that. If I worked a lunch I never considered a minimum, If the check was $20, I figured (had I done my job) I'd get about $4. This is the first time I've heard about the $5 minimum thing. If I was your waitress and you tipped me 50% for some reason I think I'd feel good but also a little sad. I don't know why that is. Maybe guilt? Because I know you gave me too much? I dunno. That's probably just me. I was a terrible waitress. : )

                              I agree with the other post that said "if it makes your husband happy. . ." And really, if you don't go out all that much then let it be. My dad always says that in the end-it's just pictures of dead presidents anyway.

                              1. DH is a fairly generous tipper, but we only eat at cheap restaurants... we ate out today and our total bill was only $22 and the service kind of sucked (our waiter got the orders mixed up and didn't seem to know the menu - instead of asking John if he wanted soup OR salad he thought he wanted both, and charged accordingly, and he forgot my order as soon as he left the table and came back to check it, and then STILL got it wrong) but John still left him a four dollar tip. Anyway, for small bills we usually leave about a five dollars - a ten dollar tip for that size bill sounds a bit over-the-top to me.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Kajikit

                                  If you're trying to stick to a budget and always eating at home to save money, I see no reason to leave 50% tips when it's obviously not the norm.

                                  1. re: Rick

                                    There's a time and a place for the 50% tip, just not here.

                                2. Never gave this a thought, but my minimum is $1. For example, I'm eating alone in a Chinese restaurant, and my bill is $4.50 after tax. I leave a $1... most other times, it's at the minimum 15% rate.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: boltnut55

                                    Funny, ate a lot in Richmond/Vancouver area this week. My friend is a 10% tipper at asian restros. One nite we had sushi/izakaya food and so when we were tipping, I insisted that they do at least a 15%, but then I said that they had to do more b/c we had a wonderful experience/service. She made a face, but the rest agreed. Heck, that wasn't much money for them, especially since I paid for the meal and just asked the others to do the tip.

                                    1. re: justagthing

                                      I'm Chinese and we rarely ate out when I was growing up (immigrant family story, etc.), but my mom was the one who felt that the expectation of Chinese restaurant servers were at the 10% level. 10% used to be the normal tipping amount (we're talking 25+ years ago, when I say, "when I was growing up"), so I'm sure it was difficult to accept that the tipping percentage increased... sort of like right now where I'm NOT embracing 20% as the norm yet. Most were the owners or owners' wives anyway, but I started tipping the 15% + when I started working professionally (vs. working in part-time minimum wage jobs). We hardly ate at non-Chinese restaurants, so I don't know what her thoughts were on tipping at other places.

                                  2. You know, it has never occured to me that there's a minimum dollar amount for a tip. Gosh, I feel a little stingy! I always tip 20% on the bill, excepting the service was outstanding or abysmal. At breakfast or other such inexpensive meals I might eat alone, I will leave 25-30% just because I feel weird leaving less than $2, I guess. I grew up with a dad who was very stingy on tips. His standard was 10%, and as a teen, my mom or I'd slip an extra dollar bill underneath when he wasn't looking. I felt that bad for our waitresses and waiters, pretty pitiful when your family sneaks in extra money, IMO. Cayjohan, your husband sorta blows my mind...