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Need advice about tipping beyond the simple 20% of whatever the bill is....

Last week I went alone to a restaurant after 9pm just for coffee and dessert. They sat me in a two person booth. I stayed for a few hours doing paperwork from the office while my waiter came by a few times to give me free refills.

The bill was $10.80. I thought that a tip of the standard 20% or $2.00 was ridiculously small for all the time and attention spent on me so I gave my waiter a $20 bill and said to keep the change. This is a tip of around $9.00 which I guess makes sense since I was in a two person booth for a few hours. I go to this restaurant from time to time (mostly alone but sometimes with dining companions) and I want them to be happy to wait on me since it makes for a more enjoyable experience for me.

How do other readers of this forum figure out what to tip when the standard 20% doesn't seem to make sense? Examples would be helpful.

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  1. I think you are a good person.

    'nuff said.

    1. I never tip less than $5, even if if the bill is $10 and I'm in and out in 15 minutes; tipping any less just doesn't feel right.

      I think your $9 tip was thoughtful and appropriate for the length of time you were there. The sad thing is that many people would have left just the $2.

      1. jfood has stated repeatedly that the 20% is a nice guideline. Have the $1.99 breakfast special, do you leave $0.40. People get so caught up with percentages when it is DOLLARS that pay the bill. itting for a couple of hours (starting at 9PM) leaving the $20 seems about right. Last week jfood had a 6 course tasting menu for $30, and left a ten tip, it just felt right.

        1 Reply
        1. re: jfood


          I am with you 100% here. Percentages are not what most make of them.

          Though off-topic here, I always leave US$5/night in a hotel for housekeeping. If things were done well, then I bump that up. If things were done great, like fresh ice to my Montrachet in the bucket, 'cause there was no 'fridge," then US$10/day is not out of line.

          In the grand scheme of life, "my money comes and goes... , and flows through the holes in my pockets to my toes," so for service, I'd rather reward the good people, regardless of the math. Matter of fact, I'd rather make up a worthwhile figure than bother with the "math."

          Hunt, the lazy, math-challenged diner

        2. My general guideline is that if I feel guilty leaving 20%, I leave more. A very simple philosophy that's vague enough to be adapted. For a $2 coffee, for example, I'd usually leave a dollar.

          1. John,

            I'm cool with that. I have been in similar situations, and just go with my "gut," and do not bother with the math.

            Booked a table at a NOLA restaurant some years ago. They did a wine tasting, starting about 2 hours before our table, so we attended. Great tasting with about 12 Chards that night, and some great apps. When our table came up, I inquired about paying, and asked if it was all rolled into one bill.

            "There's no charge for the wine tasting," the bartender offered. He'd been great and fielded every question that I had, even when he had to do a bit of research. I protested, and wanted to pay my way.

            "There is no charge for the wine tasting," was his reply. I handed him a US$50, and said thanks.

            I've paid 3x that fare, and gotten 10% of the service in other places, so I felt that it would cover my wife and me, who had sat for 2 hours, sipping some very nice Chards, and eating some amazing apps. (wish that the fried flounder had been on the regular dinner menu!), and taking up space. Service was excellent, so I just made up a figure and paid that.


            1 Reply
            1. re: Bill Hunt

              That was really nice of you, Bill. The bartender probably really appreciated that.

            2. There are any number of different reasons to tip above 20%. The first is when service is simply extraordinary. Also if the menu prices are very low a 20% tip will result in less than I feel comfortable tipping any server; like many $5 is about the minimum I will leave. I think we also all agree that when you occupy a table for an extraordinarily long time, you tip above 20% particularly if you have been conducting business. Also if I am comped in some way I will often leave more than 20%. Lastly, if I am going to favorite spot and am a frequent customer or plan to become one I tip generously.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Kater


                You bring up a good point, re: comp'ing, or perhaps a discount. I always ask for the total, prior to such, and tip on that. Too often, folk will look at the "bottom line," and figure everything based on that figure. For me, it's about what things would have cost, at full fare.


              2. Agreed with all the rest. If the service is OUTSTANDING, or we've taken up the table for much longer than was necessary just to eat (and we won't do that when the place has a line), we'll always leave 25% or more. Even once got a server running after us saying "I think you left too much". That was a long time ago, though.

                1. I recently attended a meeting in Nashville and a bunch of us went to a local joint for pizza on the night before the conference began. We were a bit of a difficult, large group, ordering off the menu, with drinks, etc., etc. and the room was very cramped. Our waiter did an awesome job of dealing with us. At the end, the president of the sponsoring org picked up the bill. (We didn't expect that and had asked for separate checks.) On the way out, I snagged our excellent waiter and handed him $10, saying, "I know the guy who paid the bill probably tipped you well, but I just want to say thank you for doing such a great job." He tried to give the $10 bill back to me, saying he had been adequately tipped. I wouldn't take it back. The guy deserved every extra penny. :-)

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: onrushpam

                    I understand. We frequent a resort, where all gratuities are included in the fare. Still, when a server, or other staff member, goes out of their way, I tip them. Almost every time, they inform me of the inclusion of all gratuities, and I smile, say, "yes, I know."


                  2. I frequent a Mexican place for lunch and the lunch special I get is $3.99. I get water because they only have Pepsi products and no diet coke. I also get complimentary chips and salsa. I always pay $10, including tip. While it's over 100% of the tab, it's a good value.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Janet from Richmond

                      Service has a price. That is dictated by each patron. It depends on the patron, and the service. Normally, I will tip US$5 per night for housekeeping, but if things are over and above, like icing down my white wine, not taking my Riedel stemware, etc., they get more. Same for my food servers. It is about the service and not some % of the fare.


                    2. IMO it depends on what the average price is of the entrees in this place and how busy the restaurant was. If the restaurant was very slow, it's likely the server had been "cut" and wouldn't have been sat with any additional tables anyway, so they weren't really out any income. And if you required minimal assistance, they could go about doing their side work and cleaning and generally getting ready to go with just checking on you now and then (and, perhaps, waiting for you to leave so that they could leave). In that case, that's probably an "adequate" tip.

                      If it's the type of restaurant that serves, say, steaks and alcohol, and tends to be fairly steady with diners until 10pm at least (say they're open til 11), then IMO it was not enough money. While you were sitting there working, the server could have had the table sat again, let's say with a party of 4 women out celebrating someone's birthday, and she could have picked up $25 - 50 off that table depending on what food and drink was ordered. In which case, the $9.20 tip you left was not really that generous. Even if the server had been re-sat with a family of 4 with 2 kids meals, they could have expected to make more than what you left in the time you took up the table.

                      So it depends on the type of restaurant and how busy it was. In the former situation, I think it was "fine." In the latter, not as fine. In my personal opinion, I bet the server had to wait for you to be done doing your work in order to finish up and go home, and that's just unfair and it can take a lot to continue to be pleasant and nice when your shift is completely over and someone is "camping" at your table and not ordering anything. JMO but I would find another place to work besides a restaurant. Even the bar would be better than taking up someone's table. Bartenders are usually there much later than the serving staff except for the closing servers.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: rockandroller1

                        For clarity's sake - if the customer is prepared to tip and additional $25 for sitting at the table for 45 minutes after she has finished her meal do you prefer that she move or sit there and tip? Would it be helpful if she closed out her check with the extra tip money before the 45 minutes elapses? (can the server leave once she has paid anyway?)

                        1. re: rockandroller1

                          You make some good points, but then I think that I would be over-thinking things. For me, it's about the here and now, and I seldom try to factor in all sorts of "what-ifs."

                          OTOH, the points are well-taken.


                        2. I'm going to play devil's advocate for one second. Your tip was spot on in almost every circumstance but one. Was at any point during your stay the table you sat at in demand?

                          1. I tip whatever feels right; generally in the 20% range, a minimum of $5 like many.

                            Once, I hosted four of us at a sushi bar, sitting at the counter; we ate very well, had a couple beers and all for $85 (not per person). I asked them to double check the bill and they confirmed with the itamae that it was $85. So I left a $100 tip.

                            On the other extreme, in rare occasions where service is terrible, I've left no tip.

                            If it's a place you frequent, what you do ($20 for coffee, dessert & tip) seems fair.

                            1. $5 is my minimum tip for table service.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Reston

                                That is a tad generous, by my standards, but nice, none the less.

                                For a coffee, even in the hotel lobby restaurant, i will likely go with less - but that depends on the cost of the coffee.

                                Still nice,