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How to tip for food where context clashes with protocol.
January 3, 2009 10:53 AM   Subscribe

Am I tipping correctly?

I didn't grow up in the USA, so there is a lot I don't get about the tipping culture. Here's my current confusion:

My understanding is that normally, if a place is set up so that customers pay for their food before they get it, you don't tip, or you leave a tip when you leave, depending on the context / set-up of the establishment.

I'm a regular at a bar that serves food. When I buy a drink, I am served the drink, then I pay and tip. I'm fairly confident this is correct.

But when I also order food with my drink, I have to pay for both, so I am served the drink, pay and tip for the drink AND for the food, even though the food will be delivered to my table later.

But the food is not prepared or delivered by the bar staff, and after I leave, the table is not cleared by the bar staff. There are busers doing that.
(And at busy/chaotic times, this also leads me to having tipped for food that never arrives. That's not a problem - they'll fix it if I ask, but it makes the tipping seem even more senseless)

So I'm wondering if the tip for the food is supposed to be left on the table afterwards instead of at time of purchase. Or if I'm supposed to tip for the food twice?

Added issues:
-If I stop tipping for the food at time of purchase, in order to tip at the table, then it's probably going to be noticed by bar staff and misinterpreted.
-I'm tipping 20-40%, I don't want to double that just to keep everyone happy.
-The bar staff have a better demeanour. Maybe they're supposed to since they're the bar, or maybe the bus staff hates not getting tipped. I wouldn't know.
-Why don't I just ask? It's nearly impossible to be heard just to make the order, and with a queue behind me, probably unwelcome, and the answer I get probably depends on who I ask. Instead, I'd like to know if there is a wider consensus on how to tip in this situation.

thanks
posted by -harlequin- to Society & Culture (35 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
40%-- who on earth tips 40%? You must be a *huge* favorite amongst wait staff. Unless someone does an astounding job, I've rarely heard of giving more than 20% and 15% is often considered decent. In New York City, we just double the tax-- giving about 18%.

Never tip twice.
posted by Maias at 11:00 AM on January 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


It seems like the best solution is to buy your drinks from the bartender(s) and pay for them immediately in cash (standard tip for drinks is $1-2 each). Then order food separately, and don't pay for that until after you've eaten and you get a check (20% tip on that is fine).
posted by letourneau at 11:02 AM on January 3, 2009


When I order food and drinks at a bar, I pay for it all at once at the very end of the meal.
posted by yeti at 11:04 AM on January 3, 2009


Can't you just go and sit at the table when you enter, and order drink and food from your table, and tip when you're done?

I didn't grow up in America either, but have extensive experience of bars and restaurants in NYC and DC, and can't recall ever being in a bar that a) had tables separate from the bar, but at the same time, b) expected you to order at the bar for food to be delivered to those tables.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 11:05 AM on January 3, 2009


My understanding is that normally, if a place is set up so that customers pay for their food before they get it, you don't tip, or you leave a tip when you leave, depending on the context / set-up of the establishment.

This is mostly correct. If you get up and get your own food, or otherwise have no interaction with the staff after you pay, you don't need to tip. If you have someone coming around to refill your glasses or offer you stuff, then you'd tip. If it is a situation where you would tip -- yes, you'd leave it on the table when you leave.

When I buy a drink, I am served the drink, then I pay and tip. I'm fairly confident this is correct.

Are you just buying one drink? If so, yes, pay and tip then. Or you can run a tab if you're having more than one drink. Then you pay at the end and tip once, accordingly.

But when I also order food with my drink, I have to pay for both, so I am served the drink, pay and tip for the drink AND for the food, even though the food will be delivered to my table later.

You should just pay for everything together at the end -- drinks + food. Then tip on top of that. If ordering food and drinks, I cant imagine anyone wanting you to pay for your drink separately.

So I'm wondering if the tip for the food is supposed to be left on the table afterwards instead of at time of purchase. Or if I'm supposed to tip for the food twice?

Generally, yes. Leave it on the table afterwards. Is someone delivering the food to you? That's who will get that tip traditionally. Whether or not that's the bar staff or not, they usually will expect a tip. UNLESS, they're just delivering your food and never returning again. In that case, tip the bar staff separately on your way out (for the drink), and run down the bus boy if you feel he should get a tip too.

Just keep this in mind: You're tipping for service, not shits and giggles. Did the bartender grab a beer out of a cooler and open it for you? Tip him $1. Did a server take your order, bring it to you, and check up on you throughout the night? Tip them a % of the meal. If you're going up to a counter and ordering your food, and taking it back to your table, tip no one.
posted by nitsuj at 11:05 AM on January 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, I'll amend my earlier comment by saying that I thought you were sitting at the bar to eat. If you are at a separate table, order your drinks from your waiter/waitress, have the drinks put on the check along with your food, and leave a percentage of the total bill (15% is low-ish, 18% is medium, 20% is a nice tip, more than that is quite generous) after you've eaten and gotten the check.
posted by letourneau at 11:11 AM on January 3, 2009


But when I also order food with my drink, I have to pay for both, so I am served the drink, pay and tip for the drink AND for the food, even though the food will be delivered to my table later.
This confuses me. I've eaten in many hole-in-the-wall bars that also served food, and I usually just took a seat in a booth (or wherever I was going to eat) and ordered my drink first and then browsed at the menu. My drinks and food were all combined onto one bill, and I tipped based on that total. I'm trying to picture a scenario where you'd order food at the bar and have it delivered to a table...do you pay in advance for the food? The only thing I can picture is a place that has a lounge as well as a restaurant area, and you pass the time while you wait for a table at the bar. In this case, you'd cash out of the bar and include a tip once you're alerted that your table is ready.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:19 AM on January 3, 2009


Are you sitting at a table that has a server? If so, do not go up to the bar and order anything from them, order from your server. Otherwise, you are taking up a table that they could be making money on, and maybe that's why their demeanor isn't as nice as the bartenders.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 11:20 AM on January 3, 2009


When you go, I'd keep a tab running and pay for it all at the end. It's easiest to tip the appropriate amount that way.

You only have to tip the person who you are dealing with. If you order from a server, tip them when they give you the bill. If you drink and eat at the bar, then tip the bartender.

I've worked at a few restaurants (as a summer job) and my partner is a chef at a restaurant and it's been mandatory for servers to 'tip out' the kitchen and the bartender. Usually they have to tip a few percentages of their total sales to them for preparing the food and drinks.

So yeah... tip once and running a tab is easiest to do that. I'd tip 15% during the day-time and at least 20% for dinner and later.
posted by DorothySmith at 11:24 AM on January 3, 2009


There are no servers, no way to order from the table, and no-one checks up after dropping off the food.
Perhaps bar is the wrong word here - it's one of those places that is different things at different times of day or night. At the times when I'm there, let's call it a nightclub.

Also, I'd rather not put things on a tab - I like to be able to get up and leave without delay.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:26 AM on January 3, 2009


There are no servers, no way to order from the table, and no-one checks up after dropping off the food.

How do you get your drinks? If it's by going up and getting them from the bar, then tip that bartender. But that's the only tip you have to leave.
posted by nitsuj at 11:28 AM on January 3, 2009


I have to go to the bar to order any drink and/or food.

Sorry, I thought I had noted that, and I hadn't.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:33 AM on January 3, 2009


I'm also confused by your question so here's my answer based on my assumption:

If you walk in and have to wait for a table, you sit at the bar and order a drink. To save time, you also order your food from the bar staff as your table is being prepared. When your table is ready, I would assume that normally your entire tab (including drinks) would be transferred to your server and you would pay for everything when you're through eating. If this is the case, leave your drink tip on the bar for the bartender when you leave to go to your table. Tip your server for food at the end when you pay your whole tab.

It sounds though as if you're saying that you have to pay the entire tab before you go to your table. In this case, I would pay the tab and include the bartender's tip in this. When you have finished your meal and are ready to leave your table, leave some cash on your table to tip the waiter. This is assuming you had someone bring your food, fill drinks etc.

This may not be the right answer, but in the event of having more than one "tippable" person that I'm dealing with, I always tip them seperately.

Also, when I was a waitress, a substantial portion of my end of night tips went to the rest of the staff. IIRC, I tipped about 20% to the people busing my tables, 10 - 15% to the bartender (for making my drinks), and 10 - 15% to the food runners in restaurants that had them. The bartenders also tipped this way (but obviously they didn't have to tip themselves). I think some form of tip sharing is pretty common in most retaurants so the bussers and other "helpers" are getting tipped as well, if not directly.
posted by triggerfinger at 11:37 AM on January 3, 2009


Okay so what you're asking, in short, is: do you have to tip the bartender (who you order both food and drink from, at the bar) for the food portion of the bill, or just the alcohol?

Good question. If all they're doing is taking the order and handing it off to a cook (to be delivered by someone else), I'd say you don't tip them for that food -- only the drinks they're getting for you. But if they're delivering the food as well, it might be wise to tack on a few extra bucks for them.

But the crux of the confusion, for you, seems to be the fact that you have to tip multiple, separate times. This is because of you wanting the luxury of getting up and leaving without delay, not American tipping customs.
posted by nitsuj at 11:37 AM on January 3, 2009


On non-preview, I would tip the bartender when you pay your tab and I guess it's up to you whether you want to tip on the food portion. If he is not delivering it to you, I might tip a few extra bucks out of goodwill but I'm not sure how necessary that is and I think is something that you have to make your own call on. If you're a regular, maybe it's a good idea to do so. It is also up to you if you want to leave a few bucks on the table for the person who brought your food.
posted by triggerfinger at 11:42 AM on January 3, 2009


i've been to many bars like the one you describe - if you don't want to run a tab you just tip for the whole thing when you order. chances are the bar you're at has a tip share program (at the end of the night everything is divided up a percentage goes to bartenders, a percentage to the busboys, a percentage to the kitchen) so everyone is getting paid, you just aren't seeing it.

i personally always ran a tab - that kept me tipping the correct amount and allowed me to just settle up at the end.
posted by nadawi at 11:45 AM on January 3, 2009


If there is no waitstaff and just bartenders and bussers, then I'm fairly certain that the bartenders are tipping out the bussers that clear the tables and run the food. So, yes, tip on the food amount and the drink amount, but just once.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 11:46 AM on January 3, 2009


Many bars and restaurants have a system where tips are distributed for bussers and others who perform service work without being front-and-center with customers. I'd say you're probably already doing it right, tipping when you pay for your food and expecting that it's going to the right place.
posted by nadise at 11:49 AM on January 3, 2009


Tip whoever you order from. That person will tip out whoever necessary.
posted by miss tea at 11:52 AM on January 3, 2009


I think you should try to tip each person as they help you. Order your drinks & food, and tip the bartender for the drinks immediately as you pay. Then go sit and eat, and leave a few bucks for the meal on the table for the busser.

In my opinion you don't need to tip the busser a full 15-20% because they aren't a server. A couple bucks would be nice. If the food isn't full service- if a waiter didn't come and say "What would you like tonight" and then bring it to you and then come back to see if it was good and if you need ketchup or whatever and then bring you the ketchup-- well if they don't do that, you don't tip the full 15% for service, since there actually wasn't any.

To me, tipping 40% at a counter service place is really high. You're awesome and I bet they love you, don't get me wrong- but you should only tip that much if you want to & can afford it, not because you feel obligated. I usually just tip a buck or two at counter service places for a standard order, which in my case usually works out to be a little lower than 10%. I tip more if I asked for something finicky. When I've worked counter service, I never expected a full 15% tip.

So I say tip maybe $2/drink at the bar, and leave a small tip for the busser. To calculate it, maybe leave $0.50 to $1 per plate that you're leaving on the table for the busser (so a standard dinner of 3 plates and a glass, you could leave the busser about $2-$5). That's what I'd do.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:54 AM on January 3, 2009


Ah, it sounds like the clarifications have allowed a consensus to start forming. Even better, it sounds like what I'm already doing is ok.

(Regarding the 40% thing, that's just from tipping a buck on inexpensive drinks, rather than running a tab. No biggie. On nights when I'm buying food, the larger total will cause things to settle down closer to 20%)
posted by -harlequin- at 12:06 PM on January 3, 2009


you're right about drink tip, btw - $1 per drink if you're doing them one at a time and not on a tab. unless the drink is $5+, in which case it's $2 a drink. keeping your bartender happy seems to be cheaper in the long end (drinks get poured heavier, you get served quicker, they take care with your drink, sometimes they'll substitute the good vodka for the well price).
posted by nadawi at 12:13 PM on January 3, 2009


Tip who you pay when you pay. Bussers are tipped out. Dollar a drink or 20% on a tab is dead on. You're doing fine.
posted by lampoil at 12:23 PM on January 3, 2009


If the bartender is "responsible" for taking orders for tables around the bar then s/he should be tipping out the bussers and expediters at the end of the night. That's the way it's worked every place I've ever worked on this side of the pond, anyway.

Why not just ask the bartender next time?
posted by jamesonandwater at 12:32 PM on January 3, 2009


My wife, who's a former waitress, says it's fine to tip the bartender when you pay for the food. All the tips would go back to him anyway, and then he'll tip out to the bussers.
posted by EarBucket at 12:43 PM on January 3, 2009


unless the drink is $5+, in which case it's $2 a drink.

Unless you're in someplace L.A., where essentially all drinks are $5+.

I asked my boyfriend, who's a bartender, to chime in. "For drinks under $10, a dollar a drink is the bare minimum; $2 is classier. For drinks over $10 -- especially ones that require some effort and skill to mix -- $2 is the bare minimum, $3 or more is classier. It's really just a matter of respect."

He also asked me to make a plea to all you lushes out there: "if you want a really strong drink, order a double, don't order me to 'make it good,' especially if it's the first time I've seen you at the bar."
posted by scody at 12:56 PM on January 3, 2009


@scody - yes, i almost put that in my post - if i'm ordering something that is an alcohol and a mixer over ice and it's under 5, i tip a dollar. if there are more dishes or shaking or general fuss that has to happen, i tip 2 (for instance, margaritas, martinis, guiness). luckily i live in oklahoma and did most of my drinking in denton, tx so i've never had to tip 3 on a drink.

i also don't understand ordering singles ever, but that's probably again from my denton roots. $2 double wells are a happy hour norm. besides, any time i have gotten a single i've noticed that i get exactly one shot. most of the times i order a double it seems like there's always a little overpour.
posted by nadawi at 1:01 PM on January 3, 2009


Tip whoever you order from. That person will tip out whoever necessary.

that is not always true. Many times the kitchen gets screwed on the dispersion of the tip.

I must stress however, that some tipping should not be automatic. I'm thinking of other establishments you might go to. If the service or the food is lousy, or even marginal, then tip accordingly. 10-20% should not be a given, but rather a guideline in which to work within. (or without) Nothing chides me worse than when upon giving feedback to the server about the service or the food quality, than when the server acts as if they dont care or nothing can be done. Your basically voting with your tip, is what I am trying to say.
posted by captainsohler at 2:39 PM on January 3, 2009


I agree with Miss Manners (Judith Martin) in the "freshly updated" edition of her Excruciatingly Correct Behavior (discussing restaurants in general, but this naturally applies to a bar/restaurant situation):
As you are paying for your meal in a restaurant, it is perfectly proper to...

* Remain ignorant of the personnel heirarchy of the restaurant. If a restaurant employs an army of captains, waiters, headwaiters, priests of wine, busboys and hostesses, that is its privilege. But the customer should not be expected to recognize and treat according to rank the entire service. ... Unless some special favor is given, the client should have to leave only one tip, to be divided by those involved according to their own standards.
So, just tip whenever you pay and leave it at that. Or tip at the end if you'd rather give one tip. You're making it too hard on yourself as a customer by trying to figure out the exact process of where the money is going to go and who it's going to go to. That's the job of the establishment, and you can be sure they're well aware that people go to bars and place multiple orders somewhat haphazardly without following some neat set of rules.

You're the one losing money; they're the ones gaining money; they owe it to you to keep that process super simple. You're entitled not to worry about this whole mess.

And as others have noted, 30-40% is a strangely high tip. 20% is a high tip for unusually good service, 15% is standard, and you're entitled to tip appropriately less for substandard service. Tipping 20% for minimal service is bad policy, as you'll send exactly the wrong message to the servers ("great work" instead of "poor work").
posted by Jaltcoh at 4:14 PM on January 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


And as others have noted, 30-40% is a strangely high tip. 20% is a high tip for unusually good service, 15% is standard, and you're entitled to tip appropriately less for substandard service.

20% is not high for unusually good service. 20% is the standard for exceptional service. 15% is the standard for service that was neither poor nor exceptional and 10% is the standard for poor service.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 6:23 PM on January 3, 2009


Many times the kitchen gets screwed on the dispersion of the tip.

Is that the customer's problem though, or just a screwed up restaurant? And how are you supposed to remedy it as a customer, walk into the kitchen and give them some money?
posted by smackfu at 6:59 PM on January 3, 2009


20% is not high for unusually good service. 20% is the standard for exceptional service. 15% is the standard for service that was neither poor nor exceptional and 10% is the standard for poor service.

We're not really disagreeing on anything -- the difference between "unusual" and "exceptional" is negligible.

From answers.com:

unusual: "Not usual, common, or ordinary."

exceptional: "1. Being an exception; uncommon.
2. Well above average; extraordinary."
posted by Jaltcoh at 5:45 AM on January 4, 2009


Jaltcoh, you are saying that 20% is high for really good service, that is what I was disagreeing with you about. I don't know why you put up definitions of exceptional and unusual because that doesn't have to do with anything that I said. I used "exceptional service" in my statement instead of repeating "unusually good service" just so I didn't sound like a broken record. I know that they mean the same, I was varying my vocabulary.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 9:30 AM on January 4, 2009


Jaltcoh, you are saying that 20% is high for really good service...

No I'm not.

I'm saying that if you get exceptionally good service -- that is, unusually good service -- then you should tip about 20%, because 20% is a high tip (higher than the normal 15%).

We're not disagreeing about anything. And I wasn't criticizing your word choice, just pointing out that we're saying the exact same thing, since "exceptional" means the same thing as "unusual."
posted by Jaltcoh at 12:18 PM on January 4, 2009


Am I the only one who generally tips 20% as a matter of course, mainly because it's easier to figure out than 15%? I bump it up to 25% if service was really great.
posted by scody at 1:51 PM on January 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


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