How much do I tip when I've already been charged a service fee?
October 10, 2004 12:58 PM   Subscribe

Now that I know whether to tip for carry-out and whether to tip the delivery guy, all I need to know is how much to tip when you're out with a party of 8 or more, and the restaurant has already charged you 15%. [MI]

You know the drill: you're out with a group, and service is never quite as good. Of course, it's a lot more work to deal with that number of people and make sure everything comes out on time, and maybe the server(s) did a good job and maybe they didn't, but the restaurant adds 15% to your bill. Do you add any more?

I usually tip 20% plus change and/or small bills to make up an even amount (which works out to the nearest $5 at the prices charged by most restaurants I frequent). I tip on the full amount of dinner, including tax, even if I had a discount card or something that knocked the bill down. I think I have plenty of good tipping karma. My wife has given up complaining that I over-tip, because really, it's an extra buck or two, and who knows when I'll be waiting tables myself?

But...when the restaurant takes it upon itself to charge me an extra 15%, that's exactly what they get. It pisses me off. It says, "even if our service sucks, and our food is lousy, you owe us extra money, even more than what it says on the menu." I'll add a dollar or two, plus some change, to make the credit card slip come out to an even amount, but it'll be the very next $5 increment, and not the next $10 or $20, unless the service is truly outstanding.

Does this burn up all my normal-situation good-tipping karma?
posted by spacewrench to Society & Culture (11 answers total)
I'm with you, spacewrench; by putting the tip onto the bill, the restaurant converts it from a pay-what-you-wish item to just another charge, like the cost of a Pepsi or something. And that's what they get. Maybe I'm being cheap, but I feel the same thing you do -- if they were to leave it to my discretion, even on larger parties, they'd get more, but they aren't and they don't.
posted by delfuego at 1:45 PM on October 10, 2004

Just an aside -- I rarely dine in groups that large, so I don't have much to say about your main question. But I will say that almost everyone in my circle of freinds (except me) waits tables, and none of them care if the credit card slip adds up to an even amount. It all gets added up when they cash out at the end of the night, so it's not likely that your round total will help at all. If anything, it would probably be better to leave a round tip amount. But not everyone will do that, either, so it really doesn't matter. Unless it fulfills some sort of obsessive-compulsive desire on your part.
posted by Turd Furguson at 1:56 PM on October 10, 2004

As a former server, the 15% rule is just added protection for the waiters. A large party takes up more time than the same sized party divided up into tables. Sounds crazy, but it's absolutely true. This isn't just for the waitstaff, it's also harder on the cooks, because you have to get (say) 8 plates out at once instead of two or three. This is assuming the party isn't being a bunch of prats that make you run your ass off for them -- otherwise double the effort. Mind you, as a waiter you've still got other tables to keep in your head (depending on how large the waitstaff is).

The 15% is just in case. Now, where I worked, the 15% was up to the discretion of the waiter. If you thought your service was terrific, and thought the party were a bunch of nice people, well don't tack on the 15% and it might work in your favor. Occasionally it does, but more often then not, you get screwed. It's absolutely amazing how people lose the ability to do simple math when it's their turn to pony up for a bill. Either some are being cheap, and you've got to root-out who's the cheapskate in your party and get them to put in more ("But I only had a coke... I shouldn't have to put in for the tip!") or what's worse, after paying up someone takes a look at the 15-20% left for the waiter and says, "That's way too much." It might look like a lot when it's in $1 bills -- 15% always looks like 25% when you're dealing with multiple people chipping in or the party in question is filled with cheapskates.

Invariably, most of the waitstaff would try being nice for a couple of months, get screwed over by a large party of 12 that put in a "generous" $25 tip, and would never leave it to the fates again.

Another thing that happens a lot is you'll have (for instance) 12 people who pay one person for their meal, then that one person gives the waiter their credit card. And on the "tip" section, they think, "Well, 15% creates an awful big number. $20 should be enough." Not realizing that they're also supposed to be tipping for all the party members. This particular example is what happened to me, after the party had paid almost a grand for their food and wine. I was furious, but it was my own fault for not slapping on the gratuity. Never again, I said to myself.

So basically, you're paying the 15% because some people would be greedy selfish bastards if you let them. It's kind of like taxes. If you just asked everyone to contribute to a "fireman fund," you'd get a bunch of people who'd say, "But I'm always safe! I'm not going to help you out just because you don't know how to handle fire!"
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:07 PM on October 10, 2004

Thinking about it, though, you're absolutely right -- it's no longer a "gratuity," which in my mind is unfortunate. There are people out there that would gladly give you 25% for your efforts, but upon seeing the tacked on "gratuity" get miffed and don't add a dime more. I used to feel the same way -- until I was on the other end of the table.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:12 PM on October 10, 2004

C_D's got it...what it basically amounts to is that the tip from a large party like that can form a big percentage of the waitperson's time, and therefore take-home pay for that night. It's compounded by the fact that when you're working a big table like that, you're either giving away other tables to other staff, or you're at least compromising the attention you can spare for them.

If a table for two stiffs you on drinks and appetizers, that's maybe $5 out of your pocket. If a table for eight, with a bill for $150-$200 stiffs you on the tip, you could be out $40-50 on just that table, and less money from the rest of the house than you might have made otherwise. In most cases, the 15% is really just an effort to make sure that the waiter doesn't get screwed.
posted by LairBob at 2:42 PM on October 10, 2004

all I need to know is how much to tip when you're out with a party of 8 or more, and the restaurant has already charged you 15%.

Nothing. There's two ways you can work in a restaurant:

- Hoping you'll get a good tip through good service


- Getting a tip no matter what

IMHO, as a waiter, you choose one or the other. You never get both. Basically, you gamble (choice 1) or take the safe route (choice 2).
posted by shepd at 2:42 PM on October 10, 2004

(no, I'm not a waiter. sorry that that previous post makes it look like I am one. damn this falliable language!)
posted by shepd at 2:43 PM on October 10, 2004

Actually, to address your question more squarely, I don't think there's any real reason to judge a 20% tip on a large-party bill any differently than a smaller check.

If the service has been adequate, but not exceptional, then the baseline 15% is definitely acceptable--especially since it'll still come out to a nice chunk of change.

On the other hand, if you were impressed with the waiter's ability to serve that large a group, by their demeanour, or by any of the other things you would normally consider exceptional service, then I think it's entirely appropriate--and even incumbent upon you--to tip more.

There's a reason why tips are basically proportional to the tab...because a larger group is substantially harder to manage and please than a smaller one. Providing "20%-worthy" service to a large group means the waiter or waitress was working their butt off for you, and they deserve to be compensated for it.
posted by LairBob at 2:54 PM on October 10, 2004

I agree wholly on baseline-tipping. If I'm ordered to pay a 15% gratuity, that's damned well all they're getting. I know that it's not the waiter's fault that the restaurant's policies suck, but there's no other action to take to register my distaste.
posted by waldo at 3:55 PM on October 10, 2004

I've also been stung by the person collecting everyone's cash and then charging the meal. In one case, I saw that there was more than enough money on the table (i.e. the amount of the bill plus change) before the last person collected the cash and put it on her card (to which, ostensibly, her share of the bill would be added).

I got screwed. My tip (the extra cash on the table) went into her pocket, she did not pay for a single thing she ate or drank that evening, and I was left with nothing. This was incredible - especially since the group was huge, the service was spot on, and I was a damn good waiter.

15% automatic gratuity for me, please. I'm fine taking a possible cut in the tip, especially given the alternatives (a night's work with nothing to show for it). I wouldn't necessarily expect more on top of this but would be pleased to receive it.
posted by lumiere at 5:04 PM on October 10, 2004

When I entertain a large party of 8 or more, I let the floor manager know that I expect him or her to keep an eye on the quality of service and to assist personally if needed.
posted by mischief at 6:26 PM on October 10, 2004

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