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Apr 16, 2007 02:08 PM

Should the amount of tip always depend on the total bill?

This semi-related post on minimum tips got me thinking.

The standard, default rule is 20% (or maybe 15%) of your total bill is how much one should tip.

But what if you are dining solo, order only one item that is very expensive. Say, for example, a rib eye that is $50. And that's your entire meal. No apps, no drinks, nothing. All the server does for your entire dining experience is bring you your steak. Is that still worthy of a $10 tip?

Conversely, what if 3 people went to the same restaurant, each only ordered appetizers, e.g. fries, and iced teas (that came with free refills). Each of the diners requested multiple refills of the iced teas, and several refills of the ketchup jar and their total bill came out to only $15. Is it right (or fair) that they only tip $3?

Shouldn't this threesome tip more than the standard 15%-20%, esp. when compared to the solo steak-eating diner?

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  1. The high-end is not really an issue, is it? I mean even if you order a $70 serving of cavier, down a glass of ice water and then head for the door, the $14 is not going to make the waiter feel like you were his best tip ever...

    Low end in definitely the area that you have to round up, sometimes WAY up. I'd sorta expect that the party of 3 with the $15 charge for fries and teas would leave at least $2-3 a piece....

    1. ipsedixit, I am the OP on the thread you referenced. You bring up a very good issue and one that I think servers could address.

      As the mother of a teenage girl, I know that these kids can fill a booth for two hours or more with nothing more than 3 milkshakes between them. Should they tip only for the milkshakes, or should they tip also for the time that they spent taking up the booth and minimizing the server's possible turnover rate? In this case, I am very much on the generous side regarding tipping ( as I generally am) and feel that if the venue is busy, it would be nice to tip extra. Much like your fries-and-iced-tea scenario. (jfood, if you're out there, I'd very much like to hear your take on this!)

      As for the steak, I think you should tip the percentage you normally tip. 15%? 20%?

      This issue gets into the realm of the political "each-to-his/her-ability." Is it about the percentage of the dollar amount of what you consumed, or is it about one's taking up seats in a resto, like renting real estate, or is it something else (like, the nature of the venue)? I have no answer for those questions, but I'm so glad you posed this related question.

      Can't wait to hear what others have to say about this.


      9 Replies
      1. re: cayjohan

        How about if you throw in a 75 dollar bottle of wine? I've heard servers complain about people not tipping on the wine, but what's the convention?

        1. re: DropD

          In my experience, restaurants that serve expensive wine hire select servers who have extensive training and knowledge about wine and food. I worked at one fine dining restaurant where we had weekly quizzes on food, beverage, and service knowledge, as well as monthly training / review sessions. We were not paid for this training. In many, many restaurants (especially high-end) your server is not merely walking a steak and a glass of wine to your table. Your server knows everything about those items in order to properly serve and inform you. It is part of the magic of good service - the custo doesn't know everything that is going on behind the scenes to provide a dining experience. That said, TIP ON THE WINE.

        2. re: cayjohan

          Jfood reporting for duty. /:-)). that's me saluting and smiling, cute little guy.

          - I am that ribeye. I have sat at the bar ordered that $50 steak and some onion rings. The bill comes to $60. The runner brought the steak to the service bar and the bartender basically walked ten feet to place in front of me. Jfood leave regular 15-20%. I sat at the bar (or table) and had a good meal, the tip is deserved.
          - Ordering 2 apps for dinner - Sometimes m&m jfood only want two apps instead of an app and an entree, i.e an onion soup and a tomato and goat cheese tart (and yes this has happened). bill comes to $60. the two of us where there for 1+ hours. tip goes 30'ish %.
          - the 3 milkshake example - there is a carve-out to tipping when it comes to teenagers "hangin'" i am not advocating it but it has been around since richie, potsy and fonzy watched waitresses skate their order to the t-bird. The table is basically a toss-away for the server. If you show up, then slip the waitress a few bucks for teen-babysitting.
          - to the OP example of the "loiterers" - it is wrong to leave a small tip if the resto is busy. If it's after school and its an "adder" table to the tip pool then you get what you get (not right but heh can;t win them all). If it is taking up a table while others are waiting then the custo should leave an appropriate amount for the time they spent at the table. It's a resto not a coffee bar at borders.

          So the answer is do the right thing when you have control. and try to do the right thing if its your kids.

          1. re: cayjohan

            For full service dining, at least 15-20% on the pretax total of the bill, including wine. The server will have withholdings done for the IRS based on that, regardless of how many courses you have.

            When I am a solo dinner, I normally raise the base by 5% (let me note that there's *no* standard for this, but I know of other frequent solo diners who do something in the same spirit) as there is a base amount of work for each table, and the server to some extent is getting stiffed when a two-top only has one order. Ditto ordering only one course, especially if I take my time (which I may well do if I am reading and eating leisurely; it's a treat of mine) and do not free up the table for two.

            I realize this may shock some folks on these boards who may perceive me as a hard-ass on tipping standards. But a lot of my focus is on clarifying what is standard and what is not, so that customers can be more confident and servers don't waste unnecessary energy on feeling aggrieved.

            1. re: Karl S

              The IRS is a good thing to remember when thinking about tips. Now that allmost all restaurants have computer systems for ordering etc. a server is held accountable for (taxed) a percentage of their total sales. At some restaurants, particularly those that fear an audit (chains etc.), this can be as high as 18%, thus "the system" assumes that you make at least 18% in tips. For a career server these taxes can make or break you.

              Also, in a resto that serves a $50 steak, the level of skil regarding service is usually much higher....i.e. more is expected of that server and he/she should be compensated based on that level of skill. This isn't to say that a diner server deserves a lower percentage but just that more knowledge (food, wine, menu, service standards) is a part of the job of a high end server.

              Finally, as most former/current servers can attest, a typical 5 hour dinner shift is ass-kicking work. Thus the server usually deserves compensation. I always tip AT LEAST 20%.

              1. re: ashes


                No one is "required" to report income on a 1040 that was not earned and received. And unfortunately as the custo, I am relaxing and enjoying a meal, not worrying about the tax position of my server. So i am sorry that i can not buy into this consideration.

                I agree that the skill involved in higher end restos is different from mid level and is different from a diner and the prices are different. Therefore the percentage multiplied by these different prices lead to different tips. Let's assume 20%, then the server at a $10 diner receives $2, at a $25 mid-level the server receives $5 and the $50 steak server $10. So my point is that the steak server is already benefitting from the higher prices in the absolute dollar of tip, 5 times the diner for delivering the entree. so your "compensated" comment is already embedded in the cost of the food.

                And I would bet that many server would chime in that the same 5-hour shift at a diner is also as you described.

                1. re: jfood

                  I never meant to imply that 5 hours was different at any particular type of restaurant (I've worked mid level chains, hole in the wall tex mex, and high end sushi).

                  Also, increasingly, at least in my "chain' experiences, I had little control over my tax claims because of the automated computer systems. I'm not speaking here as an outsider.

                  But, yes, everyone makes their choice when choosing the price point of the resto that they serve at. And, price point does determine tip if you stick to a 20% across the board rule. Personally, I almost never tip less than 5 dollars unless it was counter service for one.

                  1. re: ashes


                    As you noticed I carefully chase different versus difficult and as you know from experience both are difficult, but for different reasons.

                    My point was that embedded in the $50 steak is a lot more for the server than the $6 burrito, as you know, so the compensation is different as well. I just get a little antsy when I read on these thread about the tax position of servers. We ALL hate paying taxes. To that there is no difference for the pain on April 15th. :-((

                  2. re: jfood

                    I have worked in numerous restaurants, all with varied policies on tip claiming.

                    One such restaurant had strict procedures on the claiming tips of servers. The closing manager would actually adjust a servers tips through the computer at the end of the night if they didn't claim a certain percentage. This resulted in many of the employees recieving a check of $0, after all the taxes had been taken out. What didn't make sense is that none of the other employees (kitchen staff, bussers, dishwashers) that were tipped out never had to claim a dime.

                    I am not saying that a customer must keep a servers tax info in mind when tipping, just be aware that there is also more going on then we all realize.

                    That being said, tips are not just going to the server. When you put down that gratuity it is being dispersed in many different areas. From Sommeliers to dishwashers-they all get a percentage (depending on the restaurant). Usually a server will only walk with over 10-15% of that tip (considering what the original tip was), and some of the time the percentage that they tip out is based on their sales, not on the overall total tips.

            2. I figure that if I tip 15-25% the vast majority of time (and that everybody else does as well) it will all even out in the wash. I'm not going to waste time and energy feeling guilty or trying to intuit how hard somebody works or imagining what kind of lifestyle they lead every time I go out for dinner.

              OTOH if for some reason I cause the server to have to go out of their way (even slightly) to accommodate me I will always tip extra. For instance the other week, I ordered and got my food, and some acquaintances showed up right as I was digging in. They convinced me to join them, when I did, the waitress cleaned off my table and brought me an extra plate (to share). So I threw in an extra 10% on the tip (maybe I was stingy there).

              1. There are times when I order a 7 course tasting or only appetizers or $3 taste of wine or a $200 bottle. If there are no special circumstances (such as waitstaff going above and beyond or I make special requests etc...) I tip my usual 20%. It all evens out in the end.

                1. I have been both the single dish order and the 2 apps only order. ( guilt over portion control occasional grips me). I try to eyeball what a 'typical' meal would be and tip 20ish% on that -- esp if it's a crowded place and I am eating alone at a two-top.

                  I don't feel guilty about ordering just a glass of wine and a steak though, why shouldn't I order the amount of food I want?

                  Those free refill people make me nuts, for some reason, I always think they under tip. And when I peek sometimes, it seems they do.