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Tipping at a BYOB

Normally when we have a meal (usually dinner) at a BYOB, we are paying enough for the meal that a 20% tip on the check seems right (and that's on the meal + 6% sales tax, so pretty adequate).

But we've found a great BYOB brunch place where the total tab is extremely low. After we left most recently, I wondered if we should be tipping more than 20% on the food + tax. As one of our party said, "If we had paid for the drinks, this bill would be at least $100 more." Probably true -- 9 Bloody Mary's, a bottle of Prosecco.

The total bill was $66; there were six of us. Service was outstanding. We left $15 -- about 23%. I think we need to really up the tip next time. What do you think? Thanks!

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  1. i think you already know the answer to your own question:
    your tip should have been substantially higher.

    you only left $15?

    2 Replies
    1. re: westsidegal

      I am confused by this. Why should the tip be "substantially higher" than 20%?
      My own experience is that a service charge is added for each bottle of wine; or a flat rate per person for beers. We would tip on the food and the corkage charge, at about 15-20%, rounding up to the next dollar.

      1. re: KarenDW

        In NJ, you cannot add service charges for set-ups, glasses or ice, and you cannot add corkage in BYOB.

      1. OK, fair enough. But -- playing devil's advocate here -- what if we were NOT drinkers? If we just came and ordered the meals?

        Should we be leaving a bigger tip because the food is quite good? We're not responsible for the prices on the menu.

        4 Replies
        1. re: Red Oakley

          You can choose to tip based on the total check or the quality of service.......I choose the latter.

          1. re: fourunder

            fourunder . . . Acknowledged. We routinely have meals in the $75-100/person range (including cocktails and wine). If the service has been very good, we tip accordingly -- say $40-$50 for a $200 bill.

            So what would you tip on a $66 brunch bill if there was an additional $100 worth of alcohol that was BYOB?

            I'm not challenging, I'm really curious. It's the first time this disparity between the cost of the meal and the imputed cost of the alcohol has arisen as an issue. Because usually the wine we bring to dinner would be, on a wine list, maybe 25% of the cost of our meal. In the case of our brunch, the drinks would have been quite a bit more than the meal.

            When we pay a corkage fee we assume the wait staff gets some of that. And usually a BYOB's menu prices kindof make up for the absence of a liquor license; a few bucks higher here and there on the entrees and the server makes out OK.

            But that's not how this restaurant operates, at least at brunch. (Dinner prices are much higher.) So we're still struggling -- how DO you tip on a lower priced meal, IF you BYOB? Why would it be any different than if you just came and ordered food and didn't drink at all?

            1. re: Red Oakley

              Maybe you should call the restaurant and complain that their prices are too low and causing you all this distress. Just tip as you normally would, on the bill.

              1. re: Red Oakley

                * I'm not challenging, I'm really curious...

                Probably another $10 on top, minimum for the bottle....more for making drinks, like pitchers of Sangria or Bloody Mary.....In NJ, Spirits are not permissible @ BYOB....also, more if there is a second bottle and the server actually pours for me (refills)

                * When we pay a corkage fee we assume the wait staff gets some of that...

                Probably not....In NJ, it's illegal to add corkage fees @ BYOBs

                * And usually a BYOB's menu prices kind of make up for the absence of a liquor license; a few bucks higher here and there on the entrees and the server makes out OK.

                I would agree with that and one of the reasons I don't visit BYOBs in general. Not because I have to tip more, but because the restaurant doesn't have the costs associated with a restaurant that does have a liquor license...so why am I paying more for the food. I can go to a full service restaurant and have a reasonable sized portion and not be inconvenienced by having to bring my own liquor....plus I can enjoy whatever adult beverages I am in the mood for. The entrees itself do not contain more protein, just more pasta....which I don't need or want to bring home.

                For the record, I would tip a 5 spot at a Cheap Buffet per person, not the cost of the buffet..... and if I only had coffee at a diner with refills, I would probably throw the server at least $3...more than the cost of the cup of coffee to put things in perspective of what I believe would be fair. last, you have to remember that when you bring in your beer or wine, the server looses out on other beverages that may be purchased like bottles of water, soda or juices that add to check totals.

          2. I think your tip was more than generous. This is not like using a coupon at a restaurant. The restaurant is byob and the staff know that when they accept to work there. Many byob restaurants have higher menu prices for that reason. Just tip on the food.

            1. $15 for six diners appears to be very lean, you probably were there a couple of hours as well. I would use a scenario like, What would you expect for a tip if it were you. I make it a rule to tip very generously when I BYOB.

              16 Replies
              1. re: treb

                $15/2=$7.50/hr and I highly doubt the server only had a single table for two hours. I don't think anyone expects their server to be making six figures.

                1. re: Rick

                  Lol, six figures is about $50 an hour, assuming 2,000 hours of work time; most servers probably average half of that amount of time working while earning tips. You've never waited tables, huh?

                  1. re: carolinadawg

                    I hope you are not saying the average server only works about 20 hours a week. Is that true?

                    1. re: genoO

                      No, I'm talking about the actual time working while receiving tips; i.e. not performing opening and closing tasks during which no tip income is being earned.

                      In other words, a server may arrive at work at 3:00 and spend 2 hours preparing for the opening of the restaurant at 5:00, during which time no customers are present so no tips are being earned. From 5:00 until 9:00 the server will be serving customers and earning tips. From 9:00 until 11:00 the server may be cleaning, preparing silverware sets, etc. and earning no tips.

                      Thus, the server was at work for 8 hours, but only spent 4 of those hours earning tips. There is a fallacy in calculating an amount of tips per hour (usually wildly exaggerated) and computing it over an entire 8 hour shift.

                      1. re: carolinadawg

                        Something has got to be wrong with that model with a ratio of 50/50 of time for revenue and non-revenue earning time. Not only wrong for the server, but it doesn't make great business sense.

                        I have noticed in France the servers are there 30 mins before service and usually leave soon after the diners. Maybe having to pay real wages for staff (as they do in France) ensures the labour is utilized efficiently, rather than diners "guiltily" worrying about paying a fair wage to a server via tips.

                        When ever I read a thread about tipping people are passionate about arguing it is a system that rewards good service and thus it's an incentive to drive performance. Most of the replies to this post seem to be more concerned about basic compensation for hours worked and effort.

                        1. re: PhilD

                          I know in some states when a "server" is doing other duties besides serving the employer is required to pay at least minimum wage, not the "server" wage.
                          So although the server is not making $15 + an hour with tips they do make the Federal Minimum Wage at least.

                          1. re: genoO

                            In my state, the server minimum is $2 and something per hour, plus tips.

                            And the discussion wasn't about making minimum wage, it was about making "six figures".

                          2. re: PhilD

                            I meant the time as an example, not specific reality. Although in many cases it is reality.

                            And it makes great business sense for the restaurant owner.

                            I hate the current system in the US.

                            1. re: carolinadawg

                              Not really. The owner is only making money for as small percentage of the time their assets are available - real estate, equipment and staff. Far better to generate revenue for longer and maximise the utilisation of all assets.

                              The exception is the fine diner where the prep time for the food represents a lit of the cost. So the kitchen staff arrive eight hours before service to prep and cook. The food then cost many times the cost of raw materials to cover this labour cost. But even in the fine dining model servers won't arrive or leave too early - and their average hourly rate including tips from €300 a head meals is pretty good.

                              1. re: PhilD

                                My point was, the restaurant owner is paying a server $2 an hour to do something that he would otherwise have to pay someone $8 an hour.

                                I am aware of many restaurants whose hours match those I've given, by the way. Although that nothing to do the point of my post.

                                1. re: carolinadawg

                                  There have been class action law suits over this type of thing. The restaurants have always lost.
                                  If you are really spending half an 8 hour shift doing something besides serving than you should be paid the according minimum wage.
                                  If you stay 2 hours after closing and getting paid the $2 and change server wage, contact an attorney.

                                  1. re: genoO

                                    You are wrong, at least as far as my state. And your incorrect belief does not give you permission to be a poor tipper.

                                    1. re: carolinadawg

                                      I don't need permission or requirements from anyone on how to tip. Thanks.
                                      It is a law in some states, as I mentioned. Your state just doesn't care much I guess.

                                      1. re: genoO

                                        Well, you certainly seem to be looking for reasons to tip low. My apologies if that is incorrect, but I'll be surprised if I am.

                                        I don't think it really has anything to with the state not "caring", whatever that means. Although, on second thought, the republican a$$holes who control the state legislature don't seem to care about much of anything, except running this state into the ground.

                    2. re: Rick

                      Not sure where you're from but, waitstaff in MA make $2.30 per hour. As a rule, if the establishment I eat at is at the low end per entrée, I will tip generously, hey these folks need to make a living also.

                      1. re: treb

                        i dont tip relative to how much servers make. I just tip for service.

                  2. I don't drink so my answer leaves the alcohol out of the equation. My personal rule is to always tip at least $5/person. If my share was $11, I really only need to leave $2.20 for 20%. But, if each of the 6 people left $5, the tip would be $30. Still super cheap for brunch and drinks, in my opinion.

                    I love cheaper places like diners. I just don't want the wait staff to suffer because I only ordered a cup of tea and 2 pancakes, you know?

                    1. Personally I think you are fine in the way you are handling things. You left 23% last time......and you think you "need" to up it. So up it........there is nothing wrong with the tip you left last time.....if you want to increase it because you are enjoying the experience and the service there is nothing stopping you. Go for it!

                      1. I agree, more is warranted in that situation.

                        1. If you wish to tip extra because you feel you got excellent service and the food was good, but you think the tip on the low price of food is not enough, well go ahead.

                          My question is, why would you tip on something you DIDN'T pay the restaurant to provide?

                          We don't have any BYOB restaurants in our area, so I don't have any experience in this matter. Are the bottles provided and the restaurant staff mixes the drinks? If so, well then I do suppose and extra percentage is appropriate.

                          1. I haven't noticed that BYOB places charge more than similar non-BYOB places for their food in my area. Therefore, I generally tip a little more than the standard 18-20% at BYOB places, just to cover the extra work that the server has done as far as supplying extra glassware, clearing it away, etc. Some BYOB places will also provide you with ice buckets for white wines, pour for you, etc. Perhaps 5-10% extra in tip, depending on the level of service provided.

                            1. I don't know if it was ever said, as i only skimmed the thread, but did the staff prepare the bloody Marys at all for you? Or did you bring everything pre-made and pour it yourself, etc.
                              That would make a difference.

                              1. Where I am in the world, tip is a percentage of actual spend, not presumed possible spend or a comparison with prices at competitor restaurants.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Harters

                                  Well, I hope if you have a groupon or something, you'd tip based upon what it would have cost, not what you paid.

                                  1. re: TroyTempest

                                    Generally yes - although I suspect I am very much in a minority as the cultural norm here is to tip on bottom line paid.

                                    Even though I generally do so, I am in two minds about it. Restaurants generally offer discounts to increase throughput which means that servers are going to have more tipping customers on that quiet Tuesday evening than they would otherwise, thereby already earning more. That said, many places which have service charges, rather than old fashioned tipping, add the charge on full price, rather than discount price.

                                2. As a former server I often add a "camping fee" to my tip.

                                  If we linger longer than the meal would usually take (drinks, chat, whatever) I increase the tip proportionally. Servers in the US make money by turning the tables (very fine dining excepted). BYOB puts you in the camping fee category.

                                  Corkage, setup and other fees don't always go to the server. Depends on the venue and the state. In my experience restaurants seldom share the fee with the servers unless the state says they must.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: meatn3

                                    The "camping fee" is a great concept. But, it does illustrate the significant flaw in the whole tipping system. The server gets the best return from turning tables or up-selling dishes.

                                    And interestingly this has translated into the US definition of good service and thus good tipping. So a fast server, who recommends lots of dishes, serves coffee with the dessert, and presents the bill the moment the last mouthful is swallowed is perceived as a better server.

                                    They get better tips despite the underlying business model is all about improving diner throughput and in effect degrade the dining experience by speeding up the meal.....which in most places in the antithesis of good service. I wonder if this was alway the case - has the pace of an American meal picked up over the years?

                                    1. re: PhilD

                                      I think the pace of a meal has always varied. Workers on lunch break and travelers with little time gravitate towards places that have speedy service. Same with a families with children who have a limited "sitting" span. A business meal aiming to build relationships and cement deals would take place at a spot which has a leisurely pace. A special night out (budget allowing) is nicer at a restaurant that has a slower pace.

                                      1. re: meatn3

                                        Agree there is variation in the US. But if you contrast the overall time of meals in the US compared to say Europe the equivalent meal will be far far faster. I often see US visitors to Europe commenting about how slow the service is, or how long a meal takes.

                                        The other factor of the tipping model is how restaurants servers try to manage to meal pace. When the restaurant is slow servers will be encouraged to "sell" starters, desserts and extend the stay. This ups the spend (obviously) and is in the servers interest as it improves tips.

                                        But when busy, servers should undersell low cost things like desserts. It's better to turn the tables to sell more entrees which deliver a better dollar per minute return for the table, so better tips per hour for the server.

                                        Restaurants that manage service in this way are more profitable and servers are more loyal, and so less employee turnover, because the tip take is higher. There is lots of theory put into practice in order to maximise the revenue by adjusting the service model and the impact of this in tipping is very important.....it's not really left to chance.