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Restaurant Dining and Tipping Etiquette

Restaurant Dining and Tipping Etiquette

Related to this Tuesday’s Tough Talk post, I wanted to talk about a few points of Dining and Tipping Etiquette. I am writing this as both a server and as a diner. This might seem to be a very $$ centered post, and to some extent, it is, but I am simply bringing a few things to your attention.


A few more Restaurant PSAs:

1) Appropriate Dining Time: Let us be clear, I am all for enjoying your time at a restaurant. You are paying for the privilege. And we allot a substantial amount of time for your to enjoy your dinner. But here is the thing: 2.5 hours is PAST YOUR WELCOME. And staying 1 hr past paying, when we have cleared and cleared your table, IS TOO LONG. GO TO STARBUCKS OR A LOUNGE. Believe me, it will serve you better–servers will not hover over you, you can drink or not to your heart’s content, and it will be far quieter and more comfortable than the restaurant I work in, which has a reputation for being loud and close-quarters (actually, the pack-them-in strategy is a staple of Chicago dining). And to not tip well on top of it, well, coooooool. 

I love you but out you go.

I love you but out you go.

Also, think about this–the restaurant and hostesses have allowed reservations based on very generous in/out times. How often do you as a diner like to be seat 30 mins past your reservation? Even if you don’t have the courtesy for the server, at least think for a second about the table meant to follow you. And if you are a diner waiting for your table, realize that it is not always the hostess’s fault that she isn’t able to seat you at the specified time. Hell, help her out and go invite yourself into that table’s space–they might leave then! We are very unlikely to ask people to leave simply because of temporal reasons (unless we have a law to abide by). We might remind you about “out” times, but will only do so if you were told that the table was reserved for a reservation when you were seated. Otherwise, we structure your dining experience so that this discussion never comes up.

And if their is no one else in the restaurant, I can guarantee that you have overstayed your welcome. We want to go hommmme.

2) Appropriate Tipping:

Very serious piece of advice to all diners, and humanity: learn the standards of tipping of the country in which you are dining. Here in America, 18-20% is standard. It might be snobbish to say, but that is what we expect, especially at upscale restaurants. Now, if you feel that we have not warranted the full 20%, I totally understand. But if you have had a pleasurable meal, with no slip ups, your water was keep fresh, and you have no complaints, tipping 15% is literally a slap in the face to your waiter and the service staff. A) I take my job very seriously–it really bothers me when I feel I have fallen short, and in those cases, I am happy for the higher tips. But when I know I have performed my job to the utmost, and my support staff has as well, 15% is a slap in the face. Please understand: I do not keep every $ that you tip me. Much of it goes to taxes, the bar, and the support staff. Their livelihood depends on the tip that I (for the most part am responsible for and) garner from you. Consequently: all the time we have spent on you is time we could have spent on someone else. Please show your appreciation.

2b) Calculate your tip based on the total prior to any discounts or cash deductions.

I cannot tell you how many people tell me to run the cards less the cash that they give me (often when paying in groups), and then tip based on their fraction. For example: $75 tab. Assumming full 20%, tip =$15. There are 5 diners, 3 are paying cash. The cash’ers pony up $45 to cover themselves. So that leaves $30 for the other 2 to split– $15 each. In this situation, remember that though you friends gave you enough to cover tip, that tip is simply going towards paying for the meal, not to your server. In this situation, it would be appropriate for the card-holders to each tip $7.50 to cover this discrepancy. NOT. THREE. DOLLARS.


Also, if you have a gift card or whatever, just because you got $100 dinner for $35 doesn’t mean that you get to just tip $7. NOT COOL. If there is confusion, feel free to ask.

3) Valid and Appropriate Complaints and Tipping 

To continue that discussion, if you are going to stay way past your time, consider leaving a little bit (not even that much) extra for it. You may not be eating more, but we are still taking care of you. Our service does not end until after you have left, and sometimes not even then.

On another but still related note, if you didn’t like the food but it was your fault (ie you simply ordered wrong) or it was cooked wrong but you did not bring it to your server’s attention, tip should not suffer. Had you asked our advice, or brought your dislike/issue to our attention, we could have prevented it, or at least tried to make up for it. Don’t suffer in silence, but don’t cause issue when it is your own darn fault

passive aggressive

4) Food Allergies and Aversions

This is a serious issue. If you have a food allergy of any kind, tell your server as soon as you sit down. In fact, tell the hostess or put it in the reservation notes and they will alert
the server. Now, this is tenuous issue: just as there is a difference between Celiac and Non-Celiac Gluten Intolerance, there is a difference between Lactose Intolerance and I Don’t Do Butter. Celiac, Lactose Intolerance, and Allergies are contamination issues. We will alert the kitchen and they will prepare your food in a different area of the kitchen. We will accommodate your meal in a specific way. At Orzo, we did an exceptional job at this, if I do say so, and one reason we were so popular had to do with Chef Tommy being a magician when handed impossible situations. I had a diner one time (and this was her first time dining with us, and I am proud to say not her last), who literally could barely ever dine out at restaurants because of her allergies. She came to us, and Chef and I devised a meal for her. It was amazingly gratifying to give her that experience.

food allergy

When I dine out, I ask for all sauces on the side, no butter or added oil (or as light as possible), and I stick to broths. But I make sure that they know it is not a contamination issue. I can get sick, but not sick. There is a serious difference. I have a food sensitivity. NOT AN ALLERGY. Here is were I bring up the make sure to let your server know if your food is prepared incorrectly. If I receive something that, though I specified “no sauce” or “no oil” and it is drowning, I will absolutely send it back. How I tip depends on how the server recovers.

It is ourjob to take care of you, let usI take no pleasure in making people miserable. In fact, it is my job to make sure that you AREN’T!!!!!! 

5) Changes in Automatic Gratuity Laws

On a far more serious note, a serious monkey wrench has been thrown into the service industry in the State of Illinois.

Illinois is going to take away automatic gratuity. Which sucks. For servers, this is our safety blanket, especially when we have large parties or if you are a bottle service person. In short, as of the start of the year, diners will have the ability to leave NO TIP on a bazillion person party. This. Is. Terrifying. I work at a restaurant that is the go-to place for big parties, and you typically make your money during the shifts that have you covering the big parties (6+). So please, for big parties, TIP 20%. Apparently, so many servers were not declaring double tips (as in, they didn’t say tell their employers that they got a tip on top of the auto-grat (probably because they didn’t inform the guest that grat was included)), and were making so much money but not declaring it for taxes. F. You. Deutchmarcs (insert similar word here).

If you don’t want to deal with calculating the tip after a long, boozy dinner (possibly you just don’t want to think about how much you spent!), get an app or a friend to do the calculations for you. Big parties require a lot of coordination and we juggle them along with smaller, just as needy patrons–doing so simultaneous and efficiently is a learned art. Don’t take away the feeling of privilege we get by being trusted with a big party but shafting us after all of our work.

tip number

So I ask that you, as diners, make sure to take care of the people that take care of you. If you feel that we did not warrant a full tip, bring it to someone’s attention. Don’t just not tip and leave–we cannot learn that way. That’s like getting a grade on a test but never knowing where you went wrong. And know that you should include the price of alcohol in the calculations of the tip. We are, after all, relaying numerous drinks, often with particular presentations, and we do tip out the bar.

Alright, rant/psa over.

Think out loud with me–what do you wish that people knew/kept in mind in your industry? 

Have you ever lost your bananas at work? 

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