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May 12, 2007 12:56 PM

How much do you tip when you get comped?

Last night we had dinner at a fine dining restaurant that we visit at least once a month. We always ask for the same server. She usually slips a little something extra our way. Last night it was 2 glasses of champagne, a "splash" of wine, and a dessert. The bill was about $100 but, had she included all of these extras, the bill would have been close to $140. We tipped what I thought was a generous $40 (40% on $100) but then as I started thinking about it, I wondered if that was enough. What do you think? Do servers have the freedom to be generous with regular customers without the management getting upset?

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  1. The $40 was 40% of 100, and 29% of $140. That feels like enough.

    Jfood always wondered whether the server needs clearance from the mgt for free stuff. Would love to hear from the servers and managers on this topic.

    7 Replies
    1. re: jfood

      When I worked in a restaurant, the owner absolutely encouraged the servers to treat regulars like this. A free drink or dessert here and ther goes a long way to making sure a regular stays a regular.

      1. re: markethej

        If the staff is entrusted to do this, they're probably also quick/bright enough to, for example, give a couple of glasses of champagne from a bottle that needs to be served or will be lost anyhow. An extra "splash" of wine can be the same sort of thing...bottles of wine served by the glass can, at times, languish, so using them up while they're still good in this way is good business all the way around.

      2. re: jfood

        It depends on the customer at the restaurant that I work in - we have a LOT of discretion to give good regulars free stuff. Or often the chef/owner will give them an entree he is working to perfect before it goes on the menu. Same with appetizers that are being tested.

        But if the owners don't know they're regulars, we're supposed to clear it with them first. Also, at our restaurant the freebies tend to be food and not booze, but I'm sure that varies greatly.

        Mimi, it sounds like your tip was very generous.

        1. re: jnstarla

          It's weird they would want you to comp with food, not booze. Food costs always have a much lower ROI than booze. If you comp a scotch and soda, how much does that really cost? Maybe a buck or two at most. Comping a dessert or appetizer has a much higher cost.

          1. re: markethej

            It is actually illegal in some places to give away free alcohol (NC for example), though people do it all the time. If your restaurant/bar owner is a stickler for the rules, no freebies there.

            1. re: mojoeater

              I think it's about keeping track of the booze for ordering purposes - the food has to get rung in (to order from the kitchen) and then comped, so they'll still know if an extra app went out. A drink could just be made, and then we'll run out of stuff because there is no record of the drink going out.

        2. re: jfood

          I agree, a good tip by any accounting measure.

        3. Bartenders can easily swing you a free round without management approval. Servers can slip in a dessert or two. If you are getting free drinks from a server, she had to at least ask the bartender (often the ABC manager on premises) in order to get them.

          There were many times when I was a server when I would ask the MOD (manager on duty) for something special for a guest, whether they were a frequent and pleasant customer or in order to make amends for a glitch in their service/food experience. Depending on where I worked, we either had to account for it in the nightly totals under "Comp" or we just left it off. The former is the legal thing to do with alcohol, since it is always supposed to be accounted for. I never had a manager say no.

          An unwritten rule is to tip on what the bill would have been without the comp. You tipped well.

          3 Replies
          1. re: mojoeater

            I just sold my restaurant (yippeee) however, I always encouraged staff to give a dessert to regulars on birthdays, anniversaries etc, and they had enough nous to know that when something went wrong with the food or service or the kitchen messed up that it was ok to comp desserts, coffee etc. but they always checked with me first.

            1. re: mojoeater

              "Bartenders can easily swing you a free round without management approval. Servers can slip in a dessert or two. If you are getting free drinks from a server, she had to at least ask the bartender (often the ABC manager on premises) in order to get them.'

              it can also get them fired. i've worked in places that have zero tolerance for staff giving away anything without direct approval from the chef/owner; in places that allow the bartenders a comp check, say $50 or $100 a night; in places that with my ok, the servers can comp a dessert or round of drinks.

              i have never worked anyplace where servers can comp items on their own, but personally feel it's good customer relations to be considered generous in this way.

              i'm in the business and more often than not get *something* extra when i go out. i tip on what the check would have been. last night we had 2 glasses of wine and a manhattan, and no check. it would have been about $45. i left $20. win/win.

              1. re: hotoynoodle

                When I managed a quite successful, one-off restaurant (ie, not a part of a larger organization) I specifically gave servers and bartenders permission to comp certain things at certain times. For instance, we sold a lot of desserts on Friday and Saturday nights but almost none on Sunday and we were, for a period of time, closed on Mondays. So, if we had, say, two slices of a pie left toward the end of the evening on a Saturday, it was a better use of the pie to comp it for regulars or to make up for a longer than normal wait for an entree or what have you than to let it languish until Tuesday when it probably wouldn't be worth selling anyhow. A similar sort of idea applied for appetizer or dessert specials. If we got to, say, 9pm and had only two or three orders left, it was better to run them out than have them hang around if we weren't going to be running the same special the next night. Ditto wines we served by the glass; better to run them out giving someone an extra splash of wine or a "would you like to taste this wine that is similar to the one you've ordered" sort of thing.

                It depends on the manager and the way the particular restaurant is set up. For a larger chain like Bonefish grill, for example, they need to keep closer track of many things and probably wouldn't want to give their servers the leeway to make decisions like this on their own. I had a staff of about 6 or 8 servers that worked the dinner shift most nights, so they knew what was OK and what wasn't and it was fairly east to keep track of what was going on and make corrections to what we were doing on the fly.

                As everyone seems to have indicated on here, tipping for the service provided brining you the comped item is the way to go.

            2. The original comment has been removed
              1. I would tip my normal (depending on service) on the actual bill, but throw in something for what was comped (but not equal to the actual cost because (1) I don't necessarily want to encourage the server to throw in free stuff to get a much higher tip (as in the actual cost), therefore "stealing" from the employer and (2) if I were to pay for the items, I might have ordered a different wine or dessert, so although free, it may not be what I would have picked. I think you were more than generous.

                If servers had to ask for permission and therefore explain the reason, and the reason was something they did wrong, then I'm guessing most wouldn't do it. Saying, "May I give that table two free dessert? I got one of their order wrong, so now his friend is almost finishing their meal and he hasn't gotten his food yet," is sort of intimidating, right? If he has the freedom to just do it, then he can say to the customer, "I'm so sorry about your order. I'll comp you two desserts." This can go a long way. There have been times that we've been offered something, and we've turned it down because we felt it was no big deal. Yet there are other times in which something goes wrong that if they could have offered anything (the 5 cents soda, for example!), I would have felt better.

                2 Replies
                1. re: boltnut55

                  That's is the question jfood always wondered. Is the waiter diverting earnings from the resto to the server's pocket? When jfood was in college there was a great bar where jfood and friends could hang all night and the bartender would give a bill for $20, when it should have been $220. Jfood and friends would give $100 (numbers used as an example only) and the bartender pocketed the $120. Did not seem right even as a college kid.

                  So jfood always wondered whether this was for the benefit of the resto when the jfoods are offered a dessert or for the benefit of the server. Since this normally happens now at places the jfoods go to often, the assumption is that the resto is thanking us for years of patronage. Jfood normall thanks the manager on the way out and always recives, "It's my pleasure. Hope you enjoyed."

                  1. re: jfood

                    a common enough modus operandi in college bars. the place is already making a fortune on draft beers and shots, so that shrinkage is understood and tolerated. either way, it's stealing. if the bartender falls out of favor, or a new manager comes to town, the shenanigans might not be tolerated.

                    in grown-up restaurants, i always think it's a nice gesture to recognize regulars and thank them for their patronage. good managers know the difference between generosity and giving away the store.

                2. I think that was very generous and reasonable. I'm a server/bartender and would have been plenty happy with $30 tip. Most of the time in my experience their is an amount assigned to server/bartender or wait-staff for comp privileges or (we) usually get approval form management before comping an item. I usually would hope for but not expect a tip on the total amount before comp. Any extra is usually a bonus and makes the night GREAT!