Let's start by stating that any service that is completed by human ingenuity is subject to gratuity. These services can include hairstylists, cab drivers, carpet cleaners, but most commonly servers (waiters) at restaurants. Despite whatever understanding, thought or misconception you may have from what you were taught, below is a comprehensive factual guide to understanding how to be a gracious and appropriate tipping civilian.
Let's use servers (waiters) in our example below to bring it home.
Standard Gratuity (Tip) is 20%
It doesn't matter that you're 65 years old and back in your day you only left 10%. It doesn't matter that you've been under the impression due to your cultural influence that you think that $5 or a random $10 will suffice for whatever your bill was. It doesn't matter that you're European or Indian and in your country the servers (waiters) make a salary and you can leave little to nothing.
Standard, meaning where it begins, gratuity is 20% and it is based upon the total spent on your meal (in this particular case, same applies to any other service), This means that your gratuity is not a random figure that you create in your mind based upon your mood. It is a precise calculated figure. Read on and you'll understand why that precise figure is so important.
Servers (Waiters) make $2.13 Per Hour
In every state (exception of California and Colorado) , no matter what restaurant, no matter how expensive or inexpensive, the hourly wage of a server is $2.13 per hour. Yes, this is true. Consider, the average server that works 40 hours per week makes $85.20 a week. But, as Americans we know we pay good ol' taxes. Goodbye $85.20
In fact, if the weekly wages earned from tips surpass the hourly wages earned bracket, servers then must pay out-of-pocket for the balance of taxes owed to the government. This accumulates over the year and could equal thousands of dollars when tax time hits.
It Costs Money to Wait Tables
Servers don't keep 100% of the money you leave as a tip. As a standard, servers must "tip-out" a percentages of their SALES, not tips, to other restaurant employees. These employees can include hosts, bartenders, bussers, server assistants, drink runners, bread runners, cocktail waitresses and etc. This varies from restaurant to restaurant and can range anywhere from (1.5%-8%) of that server's sales. This means that no matter what you left them as a tip, dependent upon the cost (sales) of your check, that server MUST pay that percent rate to the restaurant to compensate those employees. Yes, if you left nothing, that server still MUST pay that percentage and in fact PAID to wait on you.
Things You Do, That You Probably Don't Know You Do
No matter what you spend or eat at a restaurant, the government recognizes that your server sold that item to you. This means that it doesn't matter that you got it all compensated (items removed from your check due to whatever issue you may have had). It doesn't matter that you paid with a gift card. It doesn't matter that you had a coupon for %50 off, that you used a groupon or had a free appetizer card. The government recognizes that you were sold a good from that server.
What does this mean? This means the government assumes that you were a decent civilian and compensated the server you had for your good fortune of receiving discounts on your goods. Oh yes! Even on that 20% coupon you keep in your wallet, yes on that free appetizer the manager gave you for waiting longer than expected at the door and yes for the free birthday dessert. And most likely, you didn't compensate for your discounted goods. However, the server is required to claim a minimum of 10% on the sale of that good as cash because surely no one would NOT compensate a person for receiving a freebie. It may seem harmless as $10 appetizer, or a free dessert. But, consider how many times this happens to a server over the course of a year. Thousands of dollars in compensated goods that must be claimed and most likely, never compensated for. Seem like there should be a lawsuit or something in there right?!
Oh what a great gift to receive a gift card. You pay with them all the time, but rarely are they enough to cover the whole balance. What's the big deal? Put the rest on your credit card right? Cool.
That's dandy and all, but the gift card didn't wipe away the total of your bill. If you were to have a bill for $100 and paid with a $50 gift card to put the rest on your credit card, your bill isn't $50. By habit, you may leave gratuity based upon the $50 figure you see listed on your credit card slip. So, you feel accurate with the $10 you're leaving. In actuality, you're leaving $10 on a $100 check. And, if you refer back to "It Costs Money to Wait Tables" above, you'll find that in fact your server is "tipping out" on your $100 check and that $10 is dwindled down to virtually nothing.
Splitting A Check
Do this all the time right? Yup, me too. And its perfectly fine, but beware! So, the bill is $50 and you and your buddy decide to split it in half. She has cash and you have your card. She decides to pay in cash and put $30 in the pot. This is to cover her $25 check and $5 in gratuity. You throw your card in the mix and expect the server to make sense of it all. To avoid awkwardness, the server then subtracts $30 from your total and processes your card for $20 (the balance on your bill). By habit, you leave $4 for gratuity as you see that would be the standard 20% from the total on your credit card slip. Good job.
TERRIBLE JOB. Your bill didn't magically vanish, your check was $50 and you left $4. If you refer back to the top of this article (It Costs Money to Wait Tables) you'll find that you may have in fact cost that server money to wait on you. In these cases, you should let your server know that you'd like to either separate the checks completely or apply $25 in cash, keep five and run the rest on your credit card. Once processed you should leave your 20% gratuity on your card allowing a total of $10 to be received. There ya go champ!
I have lots of firsthand experience in sales in general, but particularly in hospitality and food. It's unfortunate to say, but its true that there are certain groups of people that have an expected patterns in behavior and tipping practices. I'll let you deduce your conclusions on who and what they are, but if you have an inclination. You're probably right.
Many of these inappropriate practices are done naively and with no malice, but they still have adverse affects on the server. No, you don't dine out to please your server, but be aware that the server is a person as well. That person is at work, just as you are when you're at work. Consider the difficult patrons that you deal at your job and the patterns you recognize and create in your mind based upon your experiences. True, you're probably pre-judged before you're spoken to, but keep an open mind and adhere to this guide to not add to presumptions.