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Jul 14, 2007 12:14 AM


My reason for asking the following is not to be critical but to fit in with the local culture. I would very much like to understand what is expected in the way of tips in the USA. I live in northern Italy where tips are not expected, not even in restaurants and I rarely leave one. Sometimes the restaurant cashier will actually round my bill down from say euros to 70 so obviously our culture here is very different. Please help me understand how I should behave in a restaurant when it comes to paying - I have been to the States before but always with my American friends, this time I might have to deal with things myself. Thank you.

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  1. 10%-15% of the total bill is a good tip and it's generally accepted as the rule,I use the lower end 10%-12% for bad to average service and 13%-15% for good service.Honestly if it was a horrible experience and I know I'll never be back I'll leave way less than the minimum.Things have to have went very bad for that to happen though.The food was probably awful and the waitress horrible which is rare.

    22 Replies
    1. re: widehomehi

      No. Anything less than 15 percent is an insult to your server. I should know, I am a server and if you come in regularly tipping the way you do, you won't be welcome in my section for very long.

      And why the hell are you taking money out of the tip for bad food? Do you really think that your server goes back into the kitchen and cooks it?

      1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

        This is the way it's done.If you want good service the next time you come in you better stir the pot and get people motivated lol.If its obvious and can be checked by the waiter,sure there getting less of a tip.Blood all over your plate when you order medium well is not my fault and should be obvious to any good waiter.

        1. re: widehomehi

          "This is the way it's done"? You are totally wrong. I have served for nearly 20 years, and I have gotten probably 5 10% tips. Totally unacceptable. 15% is the minimum. To the OP, know that if you tip as little as 10%, you will be remembered and your server will cut many corners on your future visits.

          1. re: ctscorp

            Ah, but the joy of tourists from abroad is that they rarely repeat visit...

            1. re: ctscorp

              Theres no law that you have to tip anything.Some people are poor and are lucky to be able to give you a tip.A tithing at a church is 10% what makes eating out so special.I know you need to survive and make money.If our country's economy grows 8% its a great year.Most sales tax 10%.Theres just no way tipping over 15% is necessary your already getting 5% extra to go out of your way to not cut corners and do me up real good.So be happy when you get 15% or even 20% which is not the tip you'd get from me unless my grandpa was choking on a chicken bone and you gave him the heimlich maneuver.In that case i'd take you out to eat and let you pay the tip.

              1. re: widehomehi

                I don't have that much money at the moment and instead of screwing servers out of a good tip, I simply don't eat at a sit-down restaurant unless I know I can afford the meal and a decent tip. If a person can't afford a tip, then there are plenty of counter service restaurants where a tip isn't required.

                1. re: queencru

                  Oh, that's just far far too reasonable, queencru. Thinking about the total cost of a meal and then choosing your source of food or restaurant accordingly...that could rend the fabric of our society. Most people want the things they want at the price they want to pay, period.

                  I like your approach though. I do wish that we could alter the structure for these things though and simply have servers paid well and have that cost built into the food and drink prices.

              2. re: ctscorp

                sorry but jfood can't agree that there is a floor of 15%.

                here's an example. we were having a good service and good repoire with the server. one of us had a reaction to one of the spices and we had to leave. we informed the server of the situatation and needed the check immediately. well jfood watched the server completely ignore this request for 10 minutes at which time he approached the server and re-emphasized that we needed to leave. she gave a lame excuse about the sushi chef and 10 more minutes passed while other tables were serviced as we had experienced earlier. i approached the manager, explained the situation and told her if we could not pay immediately we needed to leave. she approached the server and she brought the check, and we handed her the CC's without so much as a glance at the check. she went to the machine and then went to the kitchen and served two tables bottled water while our CC receipts laid at the machine. she then brought the receipts for signature.

                That level of inconcideration does NOT deserve a 15% by any stretch. she went from 25% to 10% in the 30 minutes it took her to handle this situation. and jfood thinks the 10% was generous at that point.

                1. re: jfood

                  I don't think there's any disagreement herer. I think the main point being made (at this point in the posts) was that 15% is the "floor" for ACCEPTABLE service. What you received was not acceptable and thus the 10% (or less) would be a correct way to proceed to indicate to the server the subpar job performance. And I agree with you, you were being generous to leave the 10% after all that.

                  1. re: LNG212

                    Agreed. Jfood, I commend you for tipping at all in that situation. I think it's just really important to think of 15% as the base, and also to remember that, as someone else said, dining out is a privilege and a luxury, not a right. If you're planning your budget and it includes eating out, it must also include at least 15%.

                    1. re: ctscorp

                      yup. the jfood general rule of thumb is that the cost per person will approximate double the cost of the entree. So when an average entree is $30 then jfood expects to pay $120 for him and mrs jfood's dinner. now there are a lot of variables, the biggest of which is the jfoods do not partake of wine/liquor, usually split a desert (gotta watch those calories), etc. but over the years this seems to give a good indication.

                  2. re: jfood

                    filth asks jfood "define "a reaction to one of the spices"

                  3. re: ctscorp

                    Is this 15% on the total bill or the pre-tax subtotal?

                2. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

                  I tip 15 to 20 percent unless it was a horrible experience, but if I ever found out that a server was making customers feel unwelcome because of their tipping practice, I would make it a point to mention it to the management and never return to that restaurant again. In this case, it seems like tipping has crossed the line from voluntary to extortion. Perhaps some people should have jobs where they don't have to deal directly with the public.

                  1. re: SuzyInChains

                    I grew up in the restaurant industry and never heard of a 20% tip unless it was some real rich guy tipping.Just not feasible for average folk.When my dad owned restaurants he knew the waiters and waitresses were only getting 10-15% tips,if that,alot of times none.And some make more than others.But 20% is in lala land.
                    I agree that when you tip no mater how much you should just except it and not complain or get mad.

                    1. re: widehomehi

                      Maybe people ought to express tipping with regard to regions. In New York, 20% is absolutely normal and 10% is absolutely an indication of (very) subpar service. Maybe 20 years ago, 10% was acceptable but not anymore -- and certainly not any place that I've been recently (Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco, LA, San Diego, Nashville, Memphis, Miami, and others).

                      1. re: LNG212

                        My friends and I always tip starting at 20% - more if the service is outstanding, less if the service wasn't up to par. (Places where I've dined recently - Phoenix, San Diego, Los Angeles, Boulder, Minneapolis-St. Paul)

                        1. re: dustchick

                          Same here... in Philadelphia. I couldn't, in good conscience, leave a 10% tip.

                        2. re: LNG212

                          right. a 10% tip is only "normal" in rural areas, breakfast greasy spoon diners, or traditional chinese restaurants. 20% is normal in any urban center, for dinner or lunch.

                          1. re: soupkitten

                            20% is the norm adopted by many but not all in urban areas; 15% is still quite normal. Hence, 15%-20% is a better indicator of the normal range.

                            10% is normal for buffet, of course.

                    2. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

                      Oh, poo. I put myself through university working in restaurants, and I considered it my responsibility to get back to the table for a food check within 2-3 minutes of dropping off the entrees. Now, if you've ordered a rare steak, and I've brought you medium well, and you say *nothing*, well, I agree with JK; that's not my fault. I asked, you lied, so why penalize me? On the other hand, if you tell me "this is too well done", I'll apologize like crazy, race back to the kitchen, and try to get a proper steak out to you ASAP.

                      I worked for a chain restaurant, and at the end of the night, we were required (not asked - REQUIRED) to fork over 4.5% of our total sales to the "tip pool", which was distributed amongst the busboys, hostesses, cooks, dishwashers, etc. So a 15% tip actually only netted me 10.5%, and if a customer stiffed me, it actually cost me money to serve them dinner.

                      Here's the funniest thing - if I thought I gave perfect service - greeting the diners as soon as they sat down, taking drink orders immediately and delivering them quickly, describing any specials and then leaving them alone to discuss their orders, all the while watching for signals they were ready to order, taking the orders, timing the appetizers and entrees so that a few moments after I cleared the appetizer plates, the entrees were up, pouring wine whenever glasses were down to 1/3 full, etc., etc. - I got relatively lousy tips (10-12%). On the other hand, if I made one insignificant error - bringing a potato with butter and sour cream when the customer asked for butter only - and then made a fuss about fixing it when it was pointed out to me, I got 15-20% tips. Go figure.

                    3. re: widehomehi

                      You obviously have never worked in the food service industry.
                      Those are horrible tips!!

                    4. 15-20% depending on how your service was. 18% seems to be the norm for good service, 20% for outstanding service. Of course, expectations for service vary from each person to the next. Being in the business (both the boyfriend and I) we have a sense of "tip karma" and tip above the usual.

                      15 Replies
                      1. re: cocktailqueen77

                        this sounds like wait staff power on this site.
                        I leave 15% unless the service is dreadful.
                        I will not leave 20%
                        What next??
                        I much prefer the European system, where I add 10% for excellent service on top of the included tip.

                        1. re: erly

                          JK, you need to relax, or find another job. After reading your post Im glad to hear you're NOT in the kitchen doing the cooking! Whew.....

                          A tip is based on the guest's personal satisfaction with the meal, which includes many different aspects of the experience, not just the taste of the food. The server's JOB is to make sure the guest enjoys him/herself, and that means not serving up a big steaming plate of attitude along with dinner.

                          I hasten to add that I have been a server, and fancied myself a good one. (My customers must have agreed - I got some HUGE tips for doing small favors for my regulars). I am now a generous tipper whenever I see someone actually working to make my meal a pleasant one.

                          And one more thing -- when a server picks up my cash with the bill and asks if I want my change back, their gratuity is automatically reduced by at least 15% of what I might have originally intended to leave.

                          1. re: Cheflambo

                            what is wrong with asking if you need change. more often than not, the customer doesn't, and it just minimizes confusion.

                            1. re: MBShapiro

                              Oooh, there have been some loooong threads about that sub-topic in the past.

                              Bottom line: there is a considerable segment of customers who take the question as unseemly/presumptuous and a number of them will lower the tip as a result - and servers agree that the better way to handle it is to state that they'll return with change and thereby invite customers who intend to leave the change to indicate they don't need to return with the change.

                              Wow; how to summarize hundreds of posts in a single sentence... The number of servers who didn't realize they got lower tips as a result was an interesting exchange of perceptions. And Chowhounds are probably more generous than the average customer.

                              1. re: MBShapiro

                                You just don't do it. You have to assume they want change. You would say "I'll be right back with your change", giving them the opportunity to then tell you they don't need any. Same result, different, more acceptable method.

                                1. re: MBShapiro

                                  Minimizes confusion? WHAT confusion?? The check is $42.00 -- I give the waiter a $50,00 bill ,,, bring back the change, and not in 8 $1 bills, please. Don't assume you get all the change. You dont even have to say "I'll come back with your change" because that is what you are supposed to do. If I want to give you that $8 gratuity I WILL SAY "KEEP THE CHANGE".

                                  1. re: Cheflambo

                                    I am sorry, but I can't resist....
                                    Let me get this straight. Not only are you reducing the tip if a server asks if you want change back, but then you actually have an issue with the denomination of the bills. Classic.

                                    1. re: Cheflambo


                                      Jfood would have thought the eight singles was a good thing. Here's an example. Total bill is $76.

                                      Choice A - Bring the custo a $20 and four $1.
                                      Choice B - Bring the custo a $10, two $5, and four $1.

                                      Choice A leaves the custo with the choice of a tip as $1, $2, $3, $4, $20 $21, $22, $23, $24. None might be what the custo wants to leave. Now what does he do?
                                      Choice B leaves the custo with every integer up to and including $24 as his choice.

                                      Jfood would be happier with choice B in this case.

                                      In your example, the singles give you complete flexibility to leave the tip you feel is justified. You should give kudos to the waiter for being custo-focussed versus being mad.

                                      1. re: jfood

                                        filth plans ahead and saves small denominations.

                                        problem solved.

                                        viva filth!!!!

                                      2. re: Cheflambo

                                        What if the server only has eight singles?
                                        sure, he could go to the bar, but service bar is three deep with servers waiting for drinks while the bartender helps bar customers. He could go around asking other servers if they have a five and three ones, but it's likely that they don't, and that could be as time-consuming as waiting for the bartender.

                                        yeah, it would be good if servers started the night with a healthy bank to make change with, but honestly, sometimes they just don't have it. Bring in $20 or $30 to make change may be helpful in the beginning of the shift, but that change can be gone after one or two tables. When I waited tables, I didn't have an extra $100 to carry each night to make change. That money had already gone to rent, utilities, school fees, etc.

                                        1. re: nc213

                                          yes and different establishments cash guest checks out differently. some waitstaff are required to bring THEIR OWN change banks from home and carry them throughout their shifts-- very common for cocktail and pub service. so the server saves small bills in order to give the customers correct change for the longest amt of time before having to go bug the bartender or mgr for small bills. s/he may not be able to help the fact that it's the beginning of her/his shift and the only change s/he has is $1 bills-- or that s/he's had to break down lots of big bills tonight, using up the stash of $5s, and all that's left is the $1s.

                                          some establishments give the waitstaff their own cash drawer, where they cash out checks as they come in. the waitstaff can get change as they please-- until the small bills run down. . .

                                          many other places control $ flow by having a bartender or mgr cash out the checks for waitstaff. when i tended bar i would always as a courtesy give the server the smallest denomination of bills back-- i knew they'd need the small bills to give a customer change later-- or the server had the option of paying a $21 tab with $21 (saving the $5 bill) instead of $25 and having to stand and wait for change. it also saved me from having to constantly break down bigger bills at the wait station when i could have been serving customers.

                                          don't penalize your server for the denomination of the bills they bring back to you. that's just asinine. chances are good the server just brought what someone else handed them or trained them to! honestly when i read what some people dock their server's tips for on these boards it just makes me sick. i tip well and in my world servers are helpful, insightful, generous, and eager to serve. funny how those who perceive their servers as money-grubbing morons perceive the service they receive.

                                    2. re: Cheflambo

                                      While I agree that "I'll be right back with your change" is the best way to handle things, I am fascinated that someone would reduce someone's tip because of the way they phrase one sentence. You get good service for an hour while you dine and then one statement from your server about change and the tip is reduced? That seems a little over-the-top to me.

                                      It is not presumptuous to ask if you want change. It is a legitimate question. You may just as easily say "yes" or "no"- the server is not making any assumption they are merely asking. It would be presumptuous to say "I assume you don't need change" and walk away.

                                      1. re: Honey Bee

                                        I agree with you on all of that, it *does* seem like common sense. However, by service standards it's considered a rude question, hence the work-around. I also would not reduce someone's tip for asking, especially if everything else had been great. I would be shocked to hear that anywhere other than a cheap eats place, though.

                                        1. re: Honey Bee

                                          Listen, in this case, I was being descriptive not prescriptive: a lot of customers will interpret that question as presumptuous. There are a lot fewer servers than customers, so the reality is that the burden is not on the customers to adjust their attitude, as it were.

                                      2. re: erly

                                        erly, this has nothing to do with wait staff power. Read other threads about tipping and it seems that the general consensus is above 18%, regardless if they have ever worked in a restaurant. It is completely your choice to leave 15%, but I have to comment that there are some dining experiences that warrant a higher percentage.

                                    3. There's a good section on this on Wikipedia though, generally speaking, the minimum for adequate (courteous) service is 15%. You can tip more if your experience was especially good.

                                      You have to keep in mind that the point of tips has gotten rather distorted as time has gone by. It used to be a "gratuity" for good service but now it's a way of supplementing the income of underpaid servers. If you don't tip them, they make below minimum wage in many cases so you are essentially supplementing their salary if they do a decent job and "earn" it when they serve you.

                                      This isn't the servers' fault but rather the businesses who have taken advantage of the way in which the law works for people who work as wait staff.

                                      1. You should know that nothing raises more debate on Chowhound than tipping. However, I will tell you that 10% is NOT considered a "good" tip. Most people tip a minimum of 15% (considered standard in the US), with many routinely leaving 20%.

                                        1. As a general rule, leaving 15% of the pre-tax total in a restaurant is (and should be) considered a reasonable tip. Many people these days leave a bit more than that, more like 17 or 18% of the pre-tax total. You should be able to easily identify the pre-tax total as "subtotal" or "food and drink total" or something similar. The tax should be noted separately just below that and you need not tip on the tax.

                                          The key difference about tipping in US restaurants versus restaurants in Europe is that in virtually every case, the income of the server in the US is designed to take tips into account. That is, the servers (and bartenders and bus persons) do not make very much in a base salary and total compensation is dependent upon their tips. Its a bad system, but its what's there.

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: ccbweb

                                            It's been a while since I've tipped 15%. We dine out a lot, and my tips are now 18-20%. Four of our children work or have worked in food service. It's a tough, demanding job (or career). We listen to both horror stories and sweet rewards our kids have experienced serving the public. So; we're very sensitive to the whole dining experience.

                                            Dracula doesn't wait table. Real flesh and blood human being do,

                                            We set the tone for how we wish to be treated, and the tip reflects how closely the server matched our expectations.

                                            1. re: Griller

                                              I noted "reasonable" not generous and I also noted that many tip more than that now. I was trying to give a balanced, even handed summary of tipping etiquette in the US right now. I worked in food service for many years. You fall on the generous end of the tipping population, which is good. I tip around what you seem to, as well. But, as a general rule, 15% is still reasonable and while I know many waiters in restaurants who would hope for more, I don't know many who would feel stiffed by such a tip.

                                              1. re: ccbweb

                                                Please don't feel my reply was a swipe at your post, ccb. Not at all intended to be. I just ducked into the thread at your spot.