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Apr 16, 2007 11:30 AM

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 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.