Tipping: A Simple Guide

Let’s talk about a basic matter of manners and decency.

Take this scenario: Say I want some pancakes, but I don’t feel like making the pancakes myself. Fair enough — I make shitty pancakes. So maybe I decide, “Hey, I know. I’ll let someone else make me pancakes.” Great idea. So I go to a restaurant, where someone else will make me pancakes and yet another person will serve them to me on a plate. Super.


Then the bill comes. Do I…

A) Pay just the cost of the pancakes, nothing more?
B) Pay the cost of the pancakes, plus a standard tip amount or even a smidge more if the server was super adorable and/or nice and/or helpful?
C) Pay the cost of the pancakes, but instead of a tip, write a note on the receipt in which I make assumptions and express opinions about my server’s personal life?

The answer is B. Always B. Not A. And never, ever C.

I’ve never been a waiter. I can barely carry a napkin from one end of a room to the other without wounding myself and others, much less four plates of delicious breakfast. But in a very unscientific survey of my friends who have worked as waiters, I have come to understand that the pay is such that gratuity makes an essential difference in whether the job is liveable. So it seems like a basic part of the arrangement is that if you decide to go to a restaurant, you pay. Food, drink, tip. All of it. That’s how it works.

So why are all these anecdotes flying around about people stiffing their waiters or leaving horrendously presumptuous notes instead of tips? Do people not know better? Are they deep-down evil, stingy scroogedonkeys? Or perhaps just tragically math-impaired?

(unable to attribute photo - all over the internet)
You know what my brain does? Sometimes it mixes up numbers with letters and colors and textures. Like if you tell me “3,” I might write down “E,” or I might think “green.” But even I can figure out how to leave a tip. If I can do it, anyone can do it.

Personally, I don’t like doing math. Never quite sure if my calculations are right, I prefer to let my more number-savvy dining companions do the figuring for me. (When left to my own devices, I tend to spaz and throw a few extra bucks down at the last minute. I end up overtipping a lot.) Such is life. Not everything is easy.

But you know what I don’t do?

I don’t skip leaving a tip entirely. And I sure as hell don’t write some ridiculous diatribe regarding what I imagine is my server’s religion, sexual orientation, or marital status — or about my server’s pregnancy, wardrobe, hairstyle, or anything else. Because THAT’S ASININE and has NOTHING TO DO WITH PANCAKES. It’s just not part of the deal. People work for tips, not life tips.

Here’s how I figure it:


“But it’s my right to decide whether I want to tip!” Freedom! America! Yes, it’s everyone’s right every day to choose whether to be an assbag or a decent human. That’s true. But hey, non-tippers? Just be sure you realize which one you’re choosing.

PS: A Bible verse won’t pay anyone’s rent; so no, that doesn’t count as a tip instead of real money, either. Save it for the stone tablets, Moses.


  1. What a headache. Long live the UK where we just don’t have this system. Were just downright mean, and honest with it! It is heartbreaking that companies pay such a low wage that waiting staff NEED tips to live. I have waited in the past, and am glad this was not an issue! I can’t imagine worrying that I must schmooze every customer so I can eat! I like working with people but I don’t want to be everyone’s best friend. America has lots of things topsy-turvy…though nowhere’s perfect! Interesting post 🙂

  2. Reblogged this on Ambling & Rambling and commented:
    If any post has ever deserved a reblog, this is it!

    It’s refreshing to read something like this from the perspective of a customer, someone who has NEVER served before. And, yeah, there’s a pie chart. That’s awesome, too!

  3. Love the pie chart. And the whole post! I am an overtipped. I know it is hard to make ends meet these days for many and I try to be kind and acknowledge good service. It helps if you build a relationship with the wait staff instead of just ordering!!! If I act interested they open up a bit. Hence—a bigger tip. Great post!

  4. I waited tables. It was hard work and I was conscientious and friendly. Most people compensated me well. I once got a mega tip, $100, for waiting on a family who’s son just retuned from Iraq (the first time we invaded, last century — I was going to just leave it at that, “the first time” but then I realized that might’ve sounded vague because of redeployments and so I had to clarify, sigh).

    I have also eaten out and endured waiters who can suck the fun out of the experience. This is usually at an IHOP so you know, you get what you pay for; plus if you’re not paying at all, as a guest, you just reframe and think of it as free therapy, as in, “I’m so glad I’m not THAT person…”

    But yes, Always B. Never A or C.

  5. Great post. Loved the chart, and you are exactly right. They work for tips, not life tips and food service is a tough gig. It’s kind of sad that this even needs to be said, but entitlement runs rampant. I’m generally just thrilled to be getting a meal I don’t have to cook served on dishes I don’t have to wash.
    And now I’m kind of hungry for pancakes.

  6. I think every quality argument is reinforced with both pie charts and multiple choice questions. A million points to you!

    Also, this makes me happy. I’m not a server, but I’m also a math-challenged, chronic over-tipper. I’m always happy to give people money for fetching my food and saving me from doing dishes.

    Thanks, food industry!

  7. I do think the tip should reflect the service. If I spend my whole meal wishing I had another glass of water then the tip will be lower, but there will be a tip. I only ever drink water so it is interesting how often all the tea and soda drinkers get refills and I get nada!

    I find it interesting how a group of guys and a group of gals eat out. The guys eat and everyone throws a twenty on the table afterward and leaves. Gals eat out and one of them whips out a calculator and calculates everyone’s meal with tip to the penny and half an hour later they are still gnashing their teeth over it.

  8. What I don’t get it why they had no problem letting someone serve them, and it was only after they got what they needed (service and food) that their high and mighty objections became an issue. Totally ridiculous, illogical, and ass-hatty.

  9. I was a server several times. I wasn’t very good at it, but it instilled in me a lifelong obligation to tip well. My mom always says she remembers me telling her if/when she is debating whether or not to tip another dollar – do it, because that one dollar will mean way more to the server than it will ever mean to you. I survived off those tips.

  10. I guess it’s a different culture between the US and the UK. Obviously the fact waiters in the UK get an okay (comparatively) wage to begin with is a factor, so for me only service that is above average would receive a tip above 10%.
    If service is truly terrible I wouldn’t leave a tip at all. I guess you’d get chased out of a restaurant if you did that in the states!

  11. They work for tips , not life tips- this is so funny and so true! What is with these crazy people thinking they need to tell everyone else how to live their lives? I survived 6 months as a waitress and my feet were never so sore, trust me it made my day to have nice people who tipped well.

  12. Yes. Yes. Yes. Total agreement here. Why it’s necessary to pen Basic Human Decency Tips like this is beyond me, but I am so glad you did. Of all people we come across daily who deserve our courtesy, those who serve us food should be treated with dignity and not disdain.

    Making a living having to rely on the monetary tips of ‘Muricans must be terrifying.

    Great post.

  13. Even if I have the assiest server in the world, and that has happened, I know I have to tip because when my sister waited tables, she said they had to share their tips with the bussers – there was a specific amount they had to give out based on their sales for the night – and that it was considered kind to share with some of the people in the kitchen, too. So, really, she was only getting a small portion of her tip and if someone didn’t pay the requisite 15% of the bill in tips, then she may have to give more to the bussers than she actually got to keep.
    That freaked the crap out of me because UNFAIR! But, then, not really, I suppose. It’s not like bussers get paid a whole lot, either, and if they don’t clean your tables, you’re not going to have as many people to wait on, etc., so you need to keep them happy.
    I couldn’t work in that industry. I’d go to jail for stabbing someone with their fork. Probably the one they made me return because there was a water spot on the back of the tines. So even if I hate my server, I make sure I tip. They probably don’t get to keep it all and they’re also doing a job I definitely do not want to do.
    But then, I also curse them under my breath as I leave the building. Much like I leave love notes on the bill if I had an awesome server.

  14. What an opportune time for this post! My daughter is becoming an adult, (over 21) and although she really doesn’t enjoy eating out that much (don’t ask) she will sometimes join friends for a meal. She might have a milkshake but never a full meal. When the check comes she is so embarassed by the friends tipping she will throw down a significant amount of money. She really “gets” it. There have been times her milkshake cost her $20. But she won’t let the server get screwed. Same if she goes to a bar. The girl doesn’t drink alcohol. But the bartender will get a great tip from her. Even more so if the people she is with try to gyp the tip. (haha. sorry that made me giggle a little)

    I have worked hard, more often than not 2 jobs for most of my children’s lives, and I still do. But I also believe that when I have I should give. Last year I donated the cost of a Thanksgiving dinner thru my grocery store job. There were departments that didn’t do that much total. I had it, I gave it. I don’t get it (I mean as in understand) I started random acts of kindness when my check was a little more than usual. Pay it forward. I went on a quest to make sure all the firemen had cookies. Thank you for the job you do. 3 days in a row, cookies delivered. (because of the shifts they work) Does it still count if I just told you about it??

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