Can I get a tip on tipping?
September 26, 2012 7:25 PM   Subscribe

We frequent a wine bar that features a self-service Enomatic machine. You load up a debit card and then serve yourself. My wife usually drinks wine and I normally order beers. A $50 bill may represent $40 charged up on the card, with only 2 beers actually brought out to me by a waiter. I've been tipping based on the value of what we actually consumed, so I'm doing the math on what my wife drank, even though it is all prepaid and self-serve. If I tip the full bill, the waiter that helps us the next time, when we may not need to add to the wine card, gets screwed. Waiters of Mefi, am I doing it right?
posted by COD to Food & Drink (20 answers total)
I'd probably tip on the full bill and let karma work itself out. Unless you guys patronize the bar in some kind of weird pattern where you're unfairly compensating one particular waiter and penalizing another, at the end of the day everybody gets tipped and it probably all works out.

Then again, it would be very generous of you to tip $1 per drink (maybe $2 if you guys are ordering the really fancy stuff) on the times that you know your bill will be artificially low due to preloading the card.

Whatever you do, I don't think you should tip less because of "self service". Unless a bunch of wine bar waiters come in after me and say that they don't expect tips on the Enomatic stuff. Which I doubt will happen, but I guess you never know.
posted by Sara C. at 7:33 PM on September 26, 2012

I don't get it. The waiter that helps you next time??

When I was waiting tables, which I did for 12 years cumulatively, the general understanding was that people tipped on the amount of the total bill, before any discounts. So if someone walked in and used a $50 gift certificate to pay for a $75 meal, they paid $25 in cash but tipped on the full $75.

I could see an argument for tipping on the whole amount you drank. And yet, the automated thing makes me question that. In the above example, the waiter is doing the same amount of work - $75 worth of dinner is $75 worth of dinner, and needs to be ordered, timed, and carried from the kitchen in the same way, and ivnolves the same amount of direct service to you.

But this wine card thing - it sounds like the waiter doesn't even have to get involved. If you both drank from the wine card, would you tip at all? Conceivably not. Does the waiter do anything at all? Bring you clean glasses or snacks? If not - if you receive no service- then maybe you do not need to tip on that amount.

I think it would be reasonable to tip only on the service you got - the beers you drink, that he had to order and deliver to you, and the attention to keeping your table happy that he gave you.

I don't think you need to tip on the full bill which includes the wine deposit - just on the direct service you got.

Others may think differently, but this seems fair to me. I've always been an advocate that the tip is about the waiter performing the service of organizing your meal and attending to you. IF they don't have to do anything to sustain this wine drinking activity, then maybe don't tip on that. Or, if it feels too awkward, tip 10%.
posted by Miko at 7:34 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Been searching online and it's amazing how much coverage of this there is, without any mention (other than this) of how to deal with the tipping question.

I think Sara C's advice is good in that "well, you can't go wrong" way - tip $1 on every drink consumed, no matter how you bought it. I'm sure you still want a nice welcome and good attention there anyway, and it's not that much money.
posted by Miko at 7:40 PM on September 26, 2012

Ok, so I've waited tables a fair bit, nice and moderate-chain places, but never at the type of place where there's a self serve wine kiosk (but that sounds awesome and all 'welcome to the future' right?) but I'll chime in with a note that might apply.

Please note that my opinion here is without respect to the venue nor to what sort of service you're getting by your server. By that I mean the difference between a nice white tablecloth place with a very experience career waiter only serving a very limited number of tables and a bar where you're getting cocktail service by a server who is coming by every so often to see if you need another beer.

If I had a table come in and get a gift certificate or a souvenir as a gift and tack it onto their tab then I certainly wouldn't expect to be tipped on the purchase of an item like a gift card or t-shirt or what have you. Further, I wouldn't tip a full % (where that % is whatever it you normally tip) on the portion of the bill that's wine purchased in the manner you described, and I definitely wouldn't tip on unspent gift-card value that will be spent next time. How you determine the tip is going to be, ultimately, up to you but I think I'd tip the full % value of any services rendered [based upon service] and then a few bucks extra for the wine stuff.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:40 PM on September 26, 2012

I think it would be reasonable to tip only on the service you got - the beers you drink, that he had to order and deliver to you, and the attention to keeping your table happy that he gave you.

I don't think you need to tip on the full bill which includes the wine deposit - just on the direct service you got.

Yep, as a waiter I'd be ok with this.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:43 PM on September 26, 2012

Let me lay out the math - just so it is clear.

Visit 1: Put $40 on the wine card, I order two beers at $5 each. Two hours later the the waiter brings me a $50 bill. The way I'm calculating the tip is 2 beers at $5 each and 2 wines at $6 each deducted from card. So the tip is 20% of $22 or $4.40.

Visit 2 the next weekend: We consume the same thing, but the bill this time is only $10. However I still tip $4.40 because I'm calculating it on what we consumed.

That kind of works out to a buck a drink, regardless of how it got to the table. I never really thought of it that way - but that works too.
posted by COD at 7:45 PM on September 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

The reason I'd be tempted to tip on the full value of the top-up is that I wonder if these machines have maintenance or other tasks that need to be done as side work throughout the shift. Just because I'm not seeing the wait staff interacting with my particular beverage doesn't mean I'm not getting the benefit of their service in some other way. Tips aren't like sardines you throw at the dolphins at Sea World for doing a neat trick. It's part of the basic compensation for the waiter.
posted by Sara C. at 7:45 PM on September 26, 2012

Huh, never heard of this, but I usually tip about 10% at buffets or for takeout since people are usually still checking on you, bringing food/drinks out, etc..

I feel like that would be appropriate here for the self-serve portion of the check, since you're taking up a table and there is a server who is there to make sure everything is cool and the machine is working and all that. Normal tipping, no way, the whole point is that I do that because I am being served.
posted by substars at 7:46 PM on September 26, 2012

You're doing it right strictly from a math/bill/card standpoint -- you don't tip on the value of gift cards when they're purchased, but the recipient does tip on the value of meals/drinks consumed, even if they pay for them with a gift card. The debit card is like a gift card in that sense -- you tip based on consumption, not purchase of the card.

You might feel you can get away with a lower tip percentage because your wife's drinks are self-serve. That's up to your conscience to decide, based on what other service is provided in the context of those self-serve drinks. You should still tip something, though -- after all, you tip at a buffet.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:52 PM on September 26, 2012

My inclination would be to tip 20% based on what I purchased THAT DAY/EVENING. It really doesn't matter how you pay, that's irrelevant.

I tip 20% at a full serve restaurant, and at at buffet, and when I pick up a pizza, and when I get donuts at the local bakery, because, you know, Karma.
posted by HuronBob at 7:54 PM on September 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

Right, like the others are saying regarding machine maintenance, setting/ambiance, side jobs the waiter may be responsible for, and service quality/quantity: when it comes to tipping there's more info to be taken into account than straight up bill total and a tip percentage value.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:57 PM on September 26, 2012

You should tip by the number of drinks consumed at that visit instead of a percentage of your bill (I tip $1/drink; you can tip more if you think it is warranted).
posted by grouse at 8:01 PM on September 26, 2012

If it's the disparity between waiters on different nights that's bothering you, you can let that go. THe job is a game of averages, people understand that, and it's not something they're going to be keeping track of and worrying about. It's no different from a night in a normal restaurant where one person, by luck of the draw, gets a bunch of tables that order drinks and bottles and soup to nuts and run up big bills, while the other guy ends up with the parties that order an entree to share and just drink water. It's not your job to worry about the fairness across sections or across days of the week. It evens out. Just worry about taking care of your own server.
posted by Miko at 8:01 PM on September 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

I see this a little like the way I pre-pay for some spa treatments. I buy an hour's worth of treatment in advance, and then use it in 10 minute intervals.

The first time I did it, I paid for the (separate) procedure I was doing that day ($25), plus the hour of time I would use in future appointments for the other treatment ($120), and I tipped on the whole amount. When I went back and had the treatments done, I felt uncomfortable not tipping for the service that day, so I ended up tipping twice on the full amount, to the tune of 40% on the whole amount. Lesson learned.

Now when I pre-pay, I tip on that day's portion of the service, not the whole amount, and tip as I go for the service on the day I receive it.

In your case, I would tip on the value of the beverages consumed, when they were consumed, not on the value of the card when you purchase it. (I can't comment on what amount that tip should be, because I can't even picture self serve wine machines.
posted by looli at 8:08 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't *frequent* the local wine bar with this set up, but I can tell you that I did *not* tip the server on the purchase of the card. I'm sorry, but if I'm having to do all the work including strolling across the bar, putting my glass up to the spigot and pressing the serve button I fail to see why someone else should be tipped for that. Call me crazy. Maybe. But that's the way I feel.
posted by FlamingBore at 9:13 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Another data point: At our local Enomatic-enabled wine bar, the servers actually tell you not to tip on the self-serve drinks--just the food and beverages that they order, ring up, and deliver.
posted by yellowcandy at 11:05 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

If it were me, i would tip $1 for every beer that was brought to me by a human. If I had a mixed drink that was really a lot of work to make (muddling, crazy garnishes, fresh juices) I might tip $2. But I wouldn't tip on anything that came out of the 'wine hose' or whatever the apparatus that's dispensing wine is called. If a human didn't carry it, I recommend you don't tip on it - which means, don't tip on the total bill, only on drinks served to you by a person.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:08 PM on September 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

I would not tip for self-serve. That means I would never tip on the wine card. I wouldn't tip on its $50 value when I bought, and I would not tip on glasses of wine that I served myself that were purchased with card debits. Otherwise, you are tipping for the privilege of spending your money. And no, I am not tipping someone to maintain the Enomatic, wash the dishes, or take out the trash.

I would just tip of beverages and food brought to me by the server. Tipping is for service, not "basic compensation".
posted by Tanizaki at 6:50 AM on September 27, 2012

The wine card is just a stand in for money so that it is easier to use the self-serve machine. Tip on your bill for the evening, not for the transfer of money from one form to another.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:31 PM on September 27, 2012

Don't wait for the bill. When a waiter bring you a beer hand over a dollar bill. When she/he brings the next one hand over another dollar bill.
posted by WizKid at 10:33 AM on September 28, 2012

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