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February 24, 2012 2:50 PM   Subscribe

tl;dr: I’m an easy restaurant patron who tips well. How can I benefit from that fact at the beginning of my meal?

(Preface, I totally get that this is a first-world problem. It’s not really a problem as much as a tiny annoyance, but the expertise of others here might alleviate that tiny annoyance.)

I enjoy eating out, and do it a fair amount, both alone and with others. I enjoy good service, and I’m willing to pay for it. And even when I get bad service, I’m still happy to pay for it. (I mean, other people are making my dinner and bringing it to me? How awesome is that!) The smallest I’ll tip is 20 percent, but on a $15 or $20 bill (if I’m eating alone in a not-too-fancy place), I’m happy to leave up to 50 percent. My thought is that it’s just a few bucks on a bill that small, so the additional cost should be trivial. If it’s not, I shouldn’t be eating out. It’s trivial to me, so I’m happy to do it, especially if it’s not trivial to the server.

The problem (as much as this could actually be considered a “problem”) is that while I know that there will be a good tip, the server doesn’t, and the restaurant doesn’t. This matters because there are a few extras that I really appreciate when I get them, and the server/restaurant might want to indulge me if they knew I was a good customer.

For example, I often have reading material that I bring with me. If there’s any way to not sit next to the group of ten loud teenagers, that would great. A booth in the corner next to the light, wonderful. I don’t expect to be seated in a closed section, but something out of the way would be appreciated. As another example, I’m also vegan, so if I can’t tell from the menu what’s vegan, or what can be made vegan, I’ll ask the server. If he or she knows, or is willing to check, wonderful! If it’s a hassle because you haven’t asked the kitchen before, or it’s going to take an extra trip, that’s okay—I’m a good customer.

The problem is that that’s not clear until the entire transaction is done and the bill and tip are paid. It is not at all uncommon that only after the bill and tip have been picked up by the server, and I’m finishing up my reading, when water glasses are immediately and continuously refilled, an extra drink or sweets come out, or just demeanor changes. So how can I benefit from that at the start of the meal?

There are a few places that I frequent enough when they know that I’m a good customer, so that helps. But I also enjoy going to a wide variety of places, so becoming a “regular” at more than a few places is impractical.

So my real question: For those in the service industry, are there clues or cues that you see that indicate a good customer? This is for servers, but also to hosts, as they’re the ones who pick where I’ll sit. When I ask, “Is there quiet booth in back?”, is that annoying? Is there a better way to ask?

Any advice would be welcome.
posted by ericc to Food & Drink (37 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
Tip up front. Asking for something while you're handing someone cash usually results in a positive response.
posted by HuronBob at 2:55 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


You could ask for these things.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:55 PM on February 24, 2012 [13 favorites]


It's not annoying, and most servers know that if they accommodate you in your requests (which don't seem that outlandish to me), they're more likely to be tipped better.
posted by xingcat at 2:57 PM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


When I was a skycap, the people who tended to tip the best were also the ones who were very polite, made eye contact, smiled, and generally behaved like they were aware that I was a human being with actual emotions and stuff. I recommend unfailing non-boisterous friendly politeness while looking the server in the eye.
posted by Greg Nog at 2:58 PM on February 24, 2012 [46 favorites]


Ask immediately for things that are relevant and can be handled immediately, like reading friendly seating. If there is a host or hostess doing the seating instead of waiting staff, you can tip that person immediately.

This also means that unless it's really busy, the news that you tipped the person who seated you will probably get back to the server and encourage them to treat you well. They can't time travel, so if they never checked for vegan choices before, this won't help, but they may be more amenable to other things.
posted by maudlin at 2:59 PM on February 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


When I worked in the service industry, the people who got the best service from me were 01) the regulars and 02) the people who accompanied all their requests with please and thank you without sounding put-upon or sarcastic when they did so.
posted by elizardbits at 3:00 PM on February 24, 2012 [11 favorites]


My mother-in-law is a very direct person and a very good tipper. She has been known to tell the server, as soon as we sit down, that she will "take care of them". Inwardly I cringe, because in my experience (only as a cocktail waitress and bartender, not a food server), someone saying that usually only means "treat me very well, and maybe I'll leave you a tip if I'm not too drunk to remember." In her case though, it seems to work for her most of the time. We usually get pretty damn fine service wherever we go.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 3:12 PM on February 24, 2012


I don't think asking nicely for any of these things should be construed as annoying. You probably already know what kind of restaurants are going to be vegan friendly and which ones won't. The only thing that stands out as potentially an "uh oh" for a server might be the book, as it might be construed as a signal that you're going to camp out. Times that I've needed to occupy a table a bit longer than average, I've kind of signaled the server by saying something like "I'll be here about 90 minutes, and I'll tip accordingly."

Nthing - to get good service in general, treat people who are waiting on you like a human being.

A lot of the benefit of higher tipping comes after you've become a regular in a place like this.
posted by randomkeystrike at 3:15 PM on February 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ask for things you want, politely, making clear that it's no big deal if they can't accommodate your request. Acknowledge that your server is busy and the restaurant has its own flow that your requests might disrupt. Instead of "why can't I sit at that table by the window?" try "If it doesn't overload that server's section, could we have the window table?" If you show respect for someone's time and other obligations, and genuine appreciation for what they do, they'll be more willing to do favors for you.

And if you're a repeat customer who does this and is known for tipping well, you're pretty much guaranteed great service.
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:17 PM on February 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


I once told a waitress, "If you don't put anything on my plate a reasonable person wouldn't want to eat I'll double your tip. No plastic swords, no paper umbrellas, or purple plantlike substances or fake grass. None of that crap." When she brought it out, it had this stuff on t, and as she was setting it in front of me she says, "Oh crap!" I still doubled her tip. At the end of the day what I am looking for is to have my expectations acknowledged even if they aren't always met.

The one thing that will always earn a crappy tip from me is to be told no. "Can I sit over there in the empty part?" "No. That section isn't opened yet." Five minutes later, while I am eating, they start seating people in there....

I'm with Brandon. Ask for what you want. "Listen, I'm hung over and need a lot of water." Then when you get what you want you tip well.

I wrote a paper in college called "In Defense of Over Tipping."

At places where I am a regular I am seldom told no. "I know it's Thursday, but can I get tomorrow's drink special instead?"

My sister was a waitress for years. She taught me to tip.
posted by cjorgensen at 3:22 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I’m an easy restaurant patron who tips well.

...
For example, I often have reading material that I bring with me. If there’s any way to not sit next to the group of ten loud teenagers, that would great. A booth in the corner next to the light, wonderful. I don’t expect to be seated in a closed section, but something out of the way would be appreciated. As another example, I’m also vegan, so if I can’t tell from the menu what’s vegan, or what can be made vegan, I’ll ask the server. If he or she knows, or is willing to check, wonderful! If it’s a hassle because you haven’t asked the kitchen before, or it’s going to take an extra trip, that’s okay—I’m a good customer.

Okay but here's the thing, all of these things ARE extra requests. Not to say you shouldn't ask for them or they make you a bad customer. Or that the average server would be displeased by them. They just very simply are extra requests, at all. They just do very simply make you a bit less of an "easy" customer.

I think the thought process in the last line is probably not the best way of framing things: "If it’s a hassle because you haven’t asked the kitchen before, or it’s going to take an extra trip, that’s okay—I’m a good customer." Even though I know you don't mean it at all this way, it could come off as feeling entitled on the basis of spending more money.

I think the best thing to do is to just be humble about your requests and acknowledge the fact that you are making extra requests. And express sincere appreciation when they're met.

I think that in and of itself will separate you from the bad customers, who are just inconsiderate or feel really entitled, or are enjoying the fantasy of ordering people around to their whim, etc. I think it will go a long way.
posted by cairdeas at 3:24 PM on February 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


I have never done this, because I'm socially awkward and would find some way to mess it up, but I've seen it done and it works: Give your waiter a 20 at the beginning of the evening. Then tip very well at the end. I dined once with someone who gave a hundred-dollar bill to every restaurant employee he encountered, every time he encountered them from the moment we walked in the restaurant. I thought it was horribly tacky at first (and expensive). But I have eaten in some of the finest restaurants around, and I have never had service as good as I did that night.
posted by The World Famous at 3:24 PM on February 24, 2012


I have a lot of experience as a server so I'll take them one at a time.

First, elizardbits has it. Just be nice and polite and ask for things with a smile. When you're about to be seated, tell your hostess "I've got something to read and would love a quiet spot if you have it."

I didn't treat people well or poorly because I knew how they tipped. I treated them well because I treat people well. While servers find that good tips are an incentive they're not a make-or-break, and I would be offended if someone said something like "I'll take good care of you" at the start of service.

As another example, I’m also vegan, so if I can’t tell from the menu what’s vegan, or what can be made vegan, I’ll ask the server. If he or she knows, or is willing to check, wonderful! If it’s a hassle because you haven’t asked the kitchen before, or it’s going to take an extra trip, that’s okay—I’m a good customer.

This is standard service. It's not going to take an extra tip. She or he should know what to answer, or be willing to check, happily.

It is not at all uncommon that only after the bill and tip have been picked up by the server, and I’m finishing up my reading, when water glasses are immediately and continuously refilled, an extra drink or sweets come out, or just demeanor changes. So how can I benefit from that at the start of the meal?

Sometimes this may happen just because the pressure is over, the server is less busy, and you're still hanging around, and perhaps they feel a little concern for you because you're alone. Don't attribute it to your money.

There are a few places that I frequent enough when they know that I’m a good customer, so that helps.

That definitely helps. If you get a reputation as a pleasant person to wait on and a decent tipper, you will get a nice welcome all the time. The reputation is at least as important as the tip.

IN general, if you smile and make eye contact at the staff, are polite and reasonable, and treat them like a human being, that should be enough. Some staff in some restaurants are simply unable to do a better job and no amount of winking about the tip is going to improve their lacking abilities.

A 50 percent tip, barring some exceptional situation like a big group celebration or a major rescue of a near-disaster or a serious above-and-beyond meal, would weird me out in a "ah geez, he's hitting on me" way.

If you conduct yourself like a kind, respectable, genteel person who will be a pleasure (not a pain) to wait on, you'll get good service from good waitstaff. Period. The tip is a nice thank-you. I think you are vastly overestimating its power and probably not separating it out from how you yourself present and interact with waitstaff. Enter the place in a kind and friendly way, take your time and be polite, let your needs be known as far in advance as you can to give the staff time to make the arrangements you need, and chances are you will be getting the best available service in that place that night no matter what you leave as a tip.
posted by Miko at 4:14 PM on February 24, 2012 [27 favorites]


The one thing that will always earn a crappy tip from me is to be told no. "Can I sit over there in the empty part?" "No. That section isn't opened yet." Five minutes later, while I am eating, they start seating people in there....

This is a real shame because it has nothing to do with the waitstaff, and there are reasons for it (we just had an AskMe on it within the last year). I'm surprised your sister didn't let you know that this is a management/host issue, not a waitstaff issue. Waiters often can't do anything about this.

Similarly, they sometimes can't do anything about certain realities of the kitchen. You can't have Thursday's special if that fish isn't in yet or if they're out of truffles until the delivery tomorrow. And some chefs will simply refuse, flat out refuse, to customize certain dishes. Again, not the server's fault. An issue to discuss with the manager or owner, maybe, but the server can't make the chef do something they refuse to do.

Not all "nos" are from unwillingness. Restaurants are set up to offer and do certain things well, but are simply not always able to be completely flexible for one or two people. When they can, though, great. But please don't punish people for structural situations they have no control over.
posted by Miko at 4:33 PM on February 24, 2012 [18 favorites]


A 50 percent tip, barring some exceptional situation like a big group celebration or a major rescue of a near-disaster or a serious above-and-beyond meal, would weird me out in a "ah geez, he's hitting on me" way.

Is this generally assumed? I have a little Mexican restaurant I go to a lot, and I always tip at least 50% because the bill is usually only nine dollars to start with and the big tips mean I'm feted the second I walk in the door. I rarely tip less than 30% anywhere, just because I only go to restaurants by myself and I hate feeling like I'm wasting the server's time by being alone.

I don't want people thinking I'm hitting on them just because I like being treated like a princess of the taqueria as I read and munch on burritos.
posted by winna at 4:50 PM on February 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


There's always this method.

But more seriously, you can't really buy good service. Just be nice to them; their job is hard and unrewarding and they don't want to be doing it. Ask nicely for things and they will probably try to help you as best they can.

So, what cairdeas and Miko said.

I recently started working in a restaurant kitchen, and one thing that kitchen and servers both really appreciate is when you understand that the kitchen staff's mistakes are not the server's mistakes.

We feel pretty shitty when someone tips less because, heaven forbid, we accidentally put onions on something.

Kitchen makes minimum wage at my place regardless, but servers make less than minimum wage. They literally live on their tips.

Knowing that, why would you ever tip less than you could afford?
posted by edguardo at 4:54 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Winna, please keep tipping well at the Mexican place. Where I used to live in the US, there were Mexican restaurants that used undocumented people for waitstaff and didn't pay them anything, so they lived off their tips.

To the original question, I agree with comments saying service depends on how you make your requests, not how much you're planning to tip. I have some regular restaurants I go to, sometimes alone and sometimes with a friend. When I go with the friend, there can be a clear dropoff in the quality of service, because he makes his requests in a somewhat entitled way. It's the same wait staff but worse service due to the customer's style, not the anticipated tip.
posted by ceiba at 5:14 PM on February 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Long-time server/bartender/kitchen rat here.

You are the table that newbie servers hate, and that I love. A single in a quiet section? I can do that. Here, the table too small to seat a deuce. Vegan? I can do that. Camper? No worries. You're going to be easy to take care of and I can spend my time upselling those four-tops.

And, unlike the newbie servers, I KNOW you're a good tipper. The people who say "I'm going to take care of you"? Those people tip 18% and expect me to do a little dance. But a one-top who seeks quiet and decent reading light? You're ZERO effort and you'll probably have coffee and maybe an after-dinner drink, which pumps my check average. I will happily take that table every shift.

So if you eat at places with an experienced waitstaff, this shouldn't be a problem. A good server sees you coming from a mile away.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 5:43 PM on February 24, 2012 [17 favorites]


As for tipping in advance: Once, when I was working a hostess, a group of eight came in when we already had a thirty-minute wait. They slipped me a five in hopes of getting seated quickly, but in truth there was absolutely nothing I could do to speed the process - there just wasn't space for them, and determining seating in the middle of a rush was the manager's call anyway. It made me really uncomfortable, and I resented them for putting me in that situation. Tipping is not the same as buying service.

Also, if you're going to sit at a table for a while and read, especially if it's in the middle of lunch or dinner, it's a good practice to tip extra anyway. Tipping $10 on a $20 check is a nice gesture, but if you're at a table that seats four and you stay there twice as long as a typical party, that's actually a lot of missed income for your server.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:46 PM on February 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm a waitress. I agree that all of your requests are perfectly reasonable. If you ask for them with a smile and without judgement or attitude, any adept server should oblige you. In fact, I like when customers ask me for things because, in general, each request I fulfill means a growing tip for me. ( note- I find this to only be true when the requests are delivered in a polite manner.)

I will also reiterate that a giant tip doesn't automatically equal stellar service. It's awkward when customers insinuate a big tip and them ask for something that is just impossible. An example is that someone tonight asked for pancakes and handed me a five dollar bill. As much as I would love to deliver them pancakes for dinner, the cooks would have shot me as soon as I brought the order back. It made for an awkward rest of the meal. (I don't think your requests fall into this campy by any means.)

And I don't think it's weird at all when a solo diner leaves a fifty percent tip. I think it's really thoughtful and generous when the bill is less than ten bucks to leave a little extra.
posted by pintapicasso at 6:37 PM on February 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


Not all "nos" are from unwillingness. Restaurants are set up to offer and do certain things well, but are simply not always able to be completely flexible for one or two people. When they can, though, great. But please don't punish people for structural situations they have no control over.

Argh, seriously. Not that I think you have anything like the attitude of that comment, OP, but just so you don't get discouraged if this happens. Very often no amount of tip will change something if the server just can't do it. In my days of waiting tables I got a lecture if I didn't set the napkins a precise distance from the table edge. I can only imagine what would have happened if I had seated someone in an area the manager didn't want opened yet. In lots of places you would be screamed at, absolutely reamed complete with namecalling if you did that. Anyone who thinks that treatment of waitstaff by the management is rare should think again.
posted by cairdeas at 6:45 PM on February 24, 2012


Wow. Thank you everyone. I’ve learned a bunch from here.

maudlin: “Ask immediately for things that are relevant and can be handled immediately, like reading friendly seating.”

I like this phrasing. I usually ask for a quiet place in back, but that always sounds odd to me. “reading friendly seating” sounds much better.

”If there is a host or hostess doing the seating instead of waiting staff, you can tip that person immediately.”

Is this common? The places I tend to visit are not fancy. They’re family places, or specialty cuisine (e.g. Thai, Vietnamese, etc.) Tipping the person who seats me seems odd. Is it?

Miko: “I didn't treat people well or poorly because I knew how they tipped. I treated them well because I treat people well. While servers find that good tips are an incentive they're not a make-or-break, and I would be offended if someone said something like "I'll take good care of you" at the start of service.”

This makes sense, and I think I’ve misunderstood this heretofore. I’ve never worked as a server, and because I know that the bulk of a server’s income comes from tipping, I think I’ve misunderstood the weight the potential of a tip has on service. The group consensus here seems to indicated that it has a negligible effect. Noted. (Not that it will change my tipping habits.)

“A 50 percent tip, barring some exceptional situation like a big group celebration or a major rescue of a near-disaster or a serious above-and-beyond meal, would weird me out in a "ah geez, he's hitting on me" way.”

Oh god, I hope not! My rationale is just that I’m a one-person table, and my bill will never be very large since I don’t drink alcohol and I don’t eat meat, two items that easily drive up a bill. The server shouldn’t suffer just because I’m a cheap date. Other thoughts on this?

“If you conduct yourself like a kind, respectable, genteel person who will be a pleasure (not a pain) to wait on, you'll get good service from good waitstaff.”

This seems to be the answer, which is great. I have tremendous respect for folks who work in restaurants. I wouldn’t have the patience or energy to do it. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to eat out as much as I do, and I think I conduct myself in a manner befitting that respect and gratitude.

edguardo: “one thing that kitchen and servers both really appreciate is when you understand that the kitchen staff's mistakes are not the server's mistakes.”

First, absolutely, I get the difference. But second, and more importantly, what could ever go wrong that justifies freaking out? It’s just food. About a month, I was at a place that had a vegan black-bean burger. Yay! When it came, I took a bite. Unfortunately it was a hamburger (or as I later learned, a turkey burger.). I’m a vegan, so I wasn’t going to eat it. I don’t know if it was the server’s mistake, or the kitchen’s mistake, but it didn’t really matter. No one died. (Except the poor turkey.) The server came around and I politely pointed it out. She apologized, got a new order out quickly, and everything was fine. She got the same tip as had it never happened, and would have even if it was her mistake. People make mistakes. I’m grateful when people forgave me of mine. (I didn’t know I was going to rant, but there you go.)

BitterOldPunk: “You are the table that newbie servers hate, and that I love. A single in a quiet section? I can do that. Here, the table too small to seat a deuce. Vegan? I can do that. Camper? No worries. You're going to be easy to take care of and I can spend my time upselling those four-tops. And, unlike the newbie servers, I KNOW you're a good tipper.”

Yes, this is exactly what I was asking for. I feel like I’m that person, and I was just asking how can I communicate that I’m that person. The answer that I’m hearing is that I can’t, at least not directly. I can be nice, and hope for a server with enough experience to know that it’s a win-win.

Metroid Baby: “if you're going to sit at a table for a while and read, especially if it's in the middle of lunch or dinner, it's a good practice to tip extra anyway.”

I never go to restaurants in the middle of service. If I ever see anyone waiting for a table, I don’t camp at all. It’s only when the table would otherwise be empty that I feel free to finish the chapter.

Thanks all for the advice!
posted by ericc at 6:45 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Be a regular. My mom used to go into a Chinese restaurant once a week and they'd seat her in the same place every time and bring her some iced tea without her even having to ask.

At another place she went to regularly, one day she went in on her lunch break with a horrible headache. The waitress took one look at her and said "I'll sit you in the back in a corner where it's nice and quiet."
posted by IndigoRain at 6:54 PM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think it's really thoughtful and generous when the bill is less than ten bucks to leave a little extra.

Yeah, this sways my opinion. A $10 check means a $2 tip even at 20% and that just never seems like enough. I agree you could go for a higher percentage on a lower check without seeming weird.

My rationale is just that I’m a one-person table, and my bill will never be very large since I don’t drink alcohol and I don’t eat meat, two items that easily drive up a bill. The server shouldn’t suffer just because I’m a cheap date. Other thoughts on this

Knowing that your check total is always very low, it seems like a better idea. Also, if you're respectful and not creepy, the "hitting on me" thing will be less likely to occur to your server's mind.

what could ever go wrong that justifies freaking out? It’s just food

I'm not sure if you mean why would you freak out, or why might the kitchen freak out at the server. If you mean you, you sound super understanding and generous, which is very nice. The burger situation is a great example, because it might look exactly the same to the server and it could be a completely honest plate-for-plate swap mistake. No reason to get mad (though I would have been hugely apologetic that you had to take a bite to discover it. With a vegan or vegetarian customer, or someone with allergies, that's a worst-case scenario and I'd say you had a right to freak out).

To the people who work there, it's not so much food as work, and work stress applies anywhere. Some kitchens are very highly stressed places - this could be due to personalities, management, equipment failures. That's why sometimes it's not possible to work with the kitchen even when it seems slow or a request doesn't seem that out of control (like pancakes, how hard are they to make? That's a good example. It's not hard to make pancakes, but in the evening, if the pancake mix has now been shifted to the back of the walk-in behind 10 bins of chopped pepper and onion and you've removed the griddle from the stove and replaced it with burner racks and the spatulas are put away because you're on to tongs at dinner time, it's a huge hassle that is going to mess up the whole kitchen for a while.

how can I communicate that I’m that person. The answer that I’m hearing is that I can’t, at least not directly. I can be nice, and hope for a server with enough experience to know that it’s a win-win.

I think the answer is that even if you did directly communicate it, the truth is that the service you get depends a lot more on who you are than what you tip. So concentrate on projecting your super Mr. Nice Guyness when you come in and to everyone you interact with, and things should work out. You sound like a truly lovely customer.

And as I said...some places it just might never work, but that's more about the place and the server him- or herself than about you.
posted by Miko at 7:17 PM on February 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Another way to help avoid any "hitting on the server" vibe is to leave the tip on the table when you leave, as opposed to including it when you pay the bill. Then the server doesn't have to keep coming back to refill your water glass for half an hour, wondering why you tipped 50%. It's clear that you're not hitting on them, because you're out the door by the time they even see the tip.
posted by vytae at 8:27 PM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I asked a question here several years ago about tipping cash vs credit. That led to this next question.

If paying by credit card, is it better to leave a whole dollar tip, or tip so that the total comes to a whole dollar? (of course, for us numerically obsessed types it's an either/or proposition). If the results are only tallied and paid out at the end of the night, then my nice round tip number doesn't really matter ...
posted by intermod at 8:55 PM on February 24, 2012


Miko: "I'm not sure if you mean why would you freak out, or why might the kitchen freak out at the server."

I meant that I can't imagine someone else's mistake making me freak out. People make mistakes. It's not a tragedy, and it's not a personal insult. People are trying their best, and it's just food. There are a dozen people here making and serving me food, and all I have to do is sit here quietly and read. I'm going to freak out because it's not 100 percent exactly perfect?

(Sorry, I get a little ranty about people who seem to feel entitled to perfection.)
posted by ericc at 9:08 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nth-ing the people pointing out that your frequent repeat business at a restaurant really helps your good tipping get noticed.

There was one Chinese Buffet that my household used to frequent, and they knew us as heavy tippers there, to the point where they'd know our drink orders without even having to be told, and pulling out special cuts of steak from under the counter back at the stir-fry grilling station. On more than one occasion, the server went ahead and had the stir-fry chef grill me up a steak and brought it to me at the table without me even asking, which, considering this was a serve-yourself buffet, certainly seemed to be above-and beyond.

This also goes for pizza delivery. One time I had called in, and apparently, a new hire was being trained on the phones, because when the manager training her saw who the pizzas were being delivered to, he cut in when she was saying they'd be there in 20-30 minutes to tell her to tell me "they'll be there real quickly". I think they took 10 minutes to arrive from the time I hung up (Helps that I lived like two minutes away, but still). That same pizza place also left a poinsettia on our doorstep for Christmas one year.

So yes, good tippers get noticed and recognized when they come back, so go ahead and politely make any special requests up front.
posted by radwolf76 at 6:05 AM on February 25, 2012


I once received a $50 tip on a cup of coffee, because, as the nice old gentleman said, I was "the only person who'd smiled at him" that day. I smiled at everyone, really - but he was the only one to notice they were genuine attempts to be friendly and helpful. So many of the customers weren't engaged and plowed ahead with what they wanted and where they had to go next that they weren't even really there in front of me; and I tried really hard not to feel bad about being constantly rebuffed. All of the advice to engage with your server as a fellow human being is best, followed by the advice recommending clear, reasonable instructions -- and then if your server's done well for you, follow up by presenting compliments to the owner or manager about their employee either in person or with a quick note in writing.
posted by peagood at 2:26 PM on February 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


. If the results are only tallied and paid out at the end of the night, then my nice round tip number doesn't really matter ...

I do this for my own convenience in tracking my balance. But for the server, no, it really doesn't make any difference whatsoever. At the end of the night there's a balancing process where all your credit card payments are bundled and totalled, and all your cash is bundled and totalled, and you figure out whether you owe the restaurant or the restuarant owes you. Then taxes come out, and then you have tipping out to do. So a little change either way totally gets lost in the churn.

tl;dr do it for your own convenience if you want; makes no difference to the server.
posted by Miko at 2:42 PM on February 25, 2012


The people who say "I'm going to take care of you"? Those people tip 18% and expect me to do a little dance.

This is the truth. In my many years of serving and bartending, every single person who made it a point to tell me "I'm a good tipper" was generally an average tipper. As everyone else has said just be friendly and respectable. I could generally tell pretty quickly when I had a table of people who "get it" - who understand what it's like to be a server, and who treated me with respect.
posted by triggerfinger at 5:23 PM on February 25, 2012


"Oh god, I hope not! My rationale is just that I’m a one-person table, and my bill will never be very large since I don’t drink alcohol and I don’t eat meat, two items that easily drive up a bill. The server shouldn’t suffer just because I’m a cheap date. Other thoughts on this?"

This may be something sensitive to gender. And also the kind of dining we're talking about. Back in the day when I was a server in fine-dining, a 50% tip wasn't that unusual when it was from a one-top and from someone who was happy and could afford it. Granted, in one memorable case, it was mostly an ostentation (he usually only bought dessert for himself and his date, or maybe only coffee, and the bill would be less than $50, but he'd always tip at least that much no matter what).

I wouldn't worry about this. The first time you do it, you'd not follow up with anything like asking for a number, so the server's impression would be mistaken and they'd likely know it. And if you did this regularly, everyone would know that you were just a generous tipper.

I'm a little disturbed by the response above that asserts: Just be nice to them; their job is hard and unrewarding and they don't want to be doing it", because some of us enjoyed it, were/are well-rewarded for it, and definitely wanted to be doing it. However, that varies by the kind of establishment and personality of the server. Even at the high-end, where people make good money, there are people who don't enjoy it and I never really understood why they were doing that work. But, anyway, don't assume that everyone hates serving, just as you shouldn't assume everyone loves it.

However, it would behoove you to be a regular customer at your favorite places and get to know the servers who do enjoy their jobs and do them well. Because those are the people who will understand what you want and enjoy providing it to you, as BitterOldPunk explains.

As others have explained, I think you're making a mistake in assuming that the good service you want is dependent upon you tipping exceptionally well. Frankly, my experience in the business was that only someone who was well-known to be predictably a bad or good tipper would get service that reflected that. Which is to say, normally, the quality of the service you get is dependent upon the skill of the server, the circumstances at the time, and whether you (unwittingly, usually) make it more or less difficult for the server to provide you with good service. By the last, I don't mean because of your attitude, I mean because there's things you can do which make it very difficult to keep things running smoothly. But, the main point is that a highly skilled server who enjoys their work is going to give you as good service as they can manage, probably even when they know you're a bad tipper. Only at the margins, with someone like that (which I was), would it matter (as in, if I have to choose between X customer or Y customer, the known bad-tipper will get a lower priority; but I never wanted to be in that situation or, frankly, even to know that someone was a bad tipper). Much of the time, you're going to get bad or good service regardless of whether you someone thought you'd tip well or tip poorly. Because it's mostly about whether they're good at their job, or not, and whether they're in the weeds, or not.

Also, as others have said, for someone like myself, who prided himself on his professionalism and competency as a server, I would have been a little insulted if someone had crassly promised me extra money beforehand for good service. But I was kind of both snobbish and fastidious about the whole thing; I preferred to pretend that the whole tipping thing wasn't happening at all. I never, ever, ever looked to see what someone tipped me except later, in private, and absolutely not right when I picked up the check. That's just distasteful, to me.

Just find some places that you like and make yourself comfortable there as a regular customer. You tip well, you seem like a nice person, you are probably a joy to server.

Tip well because you know that these folks are relying upon those tips for their income; and, secondly, because you want to reward people for being good at their jobs. The 20% or whatever is the expected rate for the normal level of competency in serving. Giving more than that is not a way of paying for better service after-the-fact, but telling a skilled tradesperson, so to speak, that you appreciate their craftsmanship.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:56 PM on February 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Regarding this:

results are only tallied and paid out at the end of the night, then my nice round tip number doesn't really matter

I must say this statement's implications, along with a few other responses above, emphasizes my practice of tipping according to service rendered. This comes from years of experience in waiting tables all over the place and may not apply as well to someone not well versed in the art of waiting tables.

If you tip well for good service, even if it is unnoticed in the moment and/or you're already out the door, then you're encouraging a good server to keep doing what he/she is doing. If you tip well for *any* service then you're potentially encouraging a bad server to keep doing their thing as well, possibly more so than the former since there are more bad/uncaring servers than good one.

Anyway, this is kind of off topic from the question and basically what I meant to say is that by tipping well for good service you're helping maintain/improve the pool of good servers that will treat you, and others like you, well in the future. Beyond that, what others have mentioned about being polite, yet direct was always something I appreciated. Speak up so that your server can hear you; I constantly had a hard time hearing people who didn't talk *to me* but instead talked down or had a passive/softspoken tone.

As usual, I agree with Miko's points above as well. And regarding the "I want to sit over there, may I?" thing, I cover that a bit under the host section of a previous comment. It can be a really tough request at times even though it may not look like such.
posted by RolandOfEld at 11:31 AM on February 27, 2012


This comes from years of experience in waiting tables all over the place and may not apply as well to someone not well versed in the art of waiting tables.

My comments are based on 12 years' combined staffing at four different upscale Northeastern restaurants.
posted by Miko at 11:46 AM on February 27, 2012


Oi, just realized the root of that comment was talking about the rounding of credit card tip amounts. I thought it was rooted in "My good tip doesn't matter because it gets lost in the sum total at the end of the night". Please consider my response as such. Miko's original response is spot on, end of night the crazy pennies at the end of a credit card tip do not even cross my mind.
posted by RolandOfEld at 11:51 AM on February 27, 2012


"This comes from years of experience in waiting tables all over the place and may not apply as well to someone not well versed in the art of waiting tables."

Yeah, I don't agree with you about this, either. And I waited tables for about five years at a number of restaurants. None of them chains, and 75% at the fine-dining level with the balance at the level just below that. So, I don't really know what it's like to wait tables at TGIF or Denny's, and I'm thankful for that.

That said, I think your argument carries less and less weight as you go down that ladder. I mean, really, part of what radicalized me about some of the economics of this stuff is that even at the fine-dining level, about half the women I worked with who served were single mothers...and that's with the bias against women servers at the fine dining level. These women worked at night, which is when they made the most money, but because they were single moms, they had to pay babysitters while they were working.

And then, worse, because of a) the bias against women at the ultra fine-dining level where serving can actually be a well-paying career, and b) the bias against older women or, for that matter, women who aren't sexually attractive, it means that even at the fine-dining level these women are doing something that has little long-term potential. Their earning potential will decrease over the years, not increase. I hope that this is less true today than it was 25 years ago, but I'm sure it's still true to some degree. And they most often don't have benefits. This is a very economically insecure vocation for everyone, and it's doubly true for women. And if they're not even at the much better paying fine-dining level, but working at Chili's or, worse, Denny's? Then, I'm sorry, but they deserve that 15% even when they do a crappy job.

All things being equal, I'm all in favor of encouraging people to do a better job and not rewarding incompetence. Frankly, this is precisely why I think having experience waiting tables is extremely helpful for anyone working in a customer contact position. If I had my way, every person doing customer contact work would have to have demonstrated an ability to make an average wage waiting tables. Because having your income depend upon actually making the customer happy is a mind-concentrating way to learn to make the customer happy. And making the customer happy is, in the end, the job of all customer contact people. It's just unfortunate that a lot of them don't realize this.

That said, all things aren't equal. In the context where people are relying on the 15% to pay their bills, which include things like the babysitter that's taking care of their kid and the health care they're probably only getting in emergency situations, and doesn't include things like saving for retirement or pretty much anything else that could provide any long-term security, then I favor social justice over my theoretical influence of teaching individual servers to be better servers and my theoretical influence of encouraging the whole body of servers to be better. I'm content to allow the difference between my 15% tip for shitty service and my 30% tip for outstanding service to do that work. Stiffing the crappy server? Nope.

And I say that as someone with extensive experience waiting tables, just like you.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:38 PM on February 27, 2012


I thought it was rooted in "My good tip doesn't matter because it gets lost in the sum total at the end of the night". Please consider my response as such.

I agree with insofar that waiting tables is a game of averages and that, as a server, you do all you can to keep your average up (so though each good tip matters, overall one good tip doesn't make a critical difference).

But I also agree with Ivan F.'s critique of the idea that it's ever acceptable to tip below standard (15%). To me, 15% is just payment for services rendered; if the tipping system did not exist at all, it's about how much your bill would increase if servers were simply paid an hourly wage. If they took your order, relayed it to the kitchen, brought your food from the kitchen and worked to solve any problems you experienced, they earned 15%. And it's not only for the moment in which they serve you that you're paying them - it's also for the hour or two that they showed up before service began to wipe tables clean, set tables, fold linens, light candles, slice bread, sweep, polish silverware and glasses, set up stations, fill condiment containers, write out the specials, get trained by the kitchen, and so on, as well as it's for doing all that in reverse at the end of the night, so the restaurant is always in a ready condition to receive guests when service starts. For all this, 15% is really the base wage. Tipping lower than that is never, absolutely never, acceptable in my mind because of all this. If there is a serious problem with your service, tip that as a minimum, and then speak to the manager.

The opportunity you're given to recognize exceptional service should not be misconstrued as the opportunity to deprive an individual of wages for work they've already done for you.
posted by Miko at 1:01 PM on February 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


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