By Robyn A. Friedman
City & Shore Magazine
The next time you’re in a restaurant or bar, and you’re considering under-tipping your server, don’t. Just don’t.
It’s not because the server will spit in your food. It’s because proper tipping is the right thing to do.
Food and beverage industry servers work hard. They’re on their feet for many hours, often dealing with customers who are difficult or downright unpleasant. And their pay is lower than you might think, so they rely on those tips.
Florida’s minimum wage rose to $8.46 per hour in 2019. But tipped workers receive just $5.44 per hour – and need to make up the rest in tips in order to earn the money they need to survive.
“Most of the income of a server comes from tips,” says Kira McManus, 24, a chiropractic assistant who worked as a server and hostess for a local restaurant as a student. “Your paychecks are very small.”
But how much is enough? What is proper tipping etiquette? And is it ever acceptable to skip tipping entirely due to poor service or a problem with the food?
“Tipping in the U.S. has been ingrained into certain positions by culture and standards,” says Peter Ricci, Ed.D., director of the Hospitality and Tourism Management Program at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. “Ten percent has been the historical minimum that is considered customary by most individuals, 15 percent is the norm for a decent level of service and 20 percent, for good service.”
Servers like McManus will tell you that proper tipping is the exception and not the rule.
“Ninety-five percent of the time, customers don’t treat servers correctly, and they under-tip or leave no tip,” she says. “It’s frustrating.”
Here are some tipping guidelines:
- Ricci suggests tipping between 15 and 22 percent, depending on the quality of service.
- For truly exceptional service, consider leaving even more – and also send an email to the restaurant owner or manager commending the employee.
- If you receive bad service, Ricci says that your actions depend on the circumstances. “If I have horrible service that is beyond repair, I do not tip whatsoever and will also write an email to the owner/operator,” he says. But note that bad service is different than a problem with the food. The server is responsible for the service he or she provides, and since a tip is often seen as a way to “shape” behavior, Ricci says, the tip should reflect the quality of that service. But an issue with the food is the kitchen’s fault, and the server shouldn’t be punished. Instead, tip fairly and notify the owner or manager of the problem. Any good manager will ensure that you leave a happy customer.
- What about tipping the high school student who scooped your ice cream cone? It’s likely that when you pay, you’ll be presented with a screen that asks for a tip. Rather than feeling shamed into tipping, feel free to click “no tip.” “These systems are designed to be easier for the consumer to add a tip since most don’t carry cash any longer,” Ricci says. “There are venues that in the past had a ‘Tips’ jar. While some still have these jars, these new computer systems make it easier.”
- Bear in mind that like cruise ships, some restaurants are experimenting with no-tipping policies. At these venues, menu prices are often higher, or a service charge added to the check, to help cover the additional wages paid to employees.