Do Waiters Always Deserve the Tip?

Our waitress wasn’t very courteous to us today. We asked for an empty plate and she never acknowledged the request. When she came by 15 minutes later, she just slid the plate on the table without stopping. This got me wondering — do waiters/waitresses always deserve a tip? It’s a widely accepted American standard to at least pay a 15% tip for dine-in meals. Yet, we probably wouldn’t be happy if we went to buy a book and they asked us for a tip. What’s the difference? Someone (or machine) assembles the book, someone might have helped you pick it out, and if none of the above applies, the cashier rang up the register for you. Why don’t these hard working individuals deserve a tip too?

I’m all for paying a tip to a waiter who is polite and treats us well, but why are we forced to pay a tip? I have come across many good waiter and waitresses here in my neck of the woods, but I just feel that if people aren’t forced to pay 15% for the bad ones, the same people can afford to pay more than 15% when they receive good service. Who started this practice and how did we settle on 15%? I know they pay 10% in Canada, and there isn’t a standard in Asia. Why not 12% or 18%?

13 Years Later

I love going back to these earlier posts to see how things changed. You can also learn a ton from the comments (of which there are quite a few passionate ones on this topic). It’s been more than a decade since I wrote this. What’s changed?

  • 15% is now 18% in some areas and 20% in others. In case there was any doubt, the restaurant industry is not moving away from essentially mandatory tipping as a general practice anytime soon. Some stores have a sign that says tipping is voluntary, but those are few and far in between. If anything, the trend is tipping an even bigger percentage of the bill. Many metropolitan areas are now making 18% the new 15%. Some fine dining restaurant charge 20%.
  • The commonly accepted way of calculating 15% changed. Many years ago, most people will tell you to calculate 15% based on the pre-tax bill. Nowadays, more people believe you should pay 15% of the cost of the food and drinks plus taxes.
  • Tips being automatically added is much more common around the world now. More and more places are automatically adding gratuity for parties of eight or more in the States. Whereas tips weren’t really common in Asia when I first wrote this piece, many places add on a 10% service charge, the equivalent of tips, automatically to your bill now.
  • More places are asking for tips. Tips are no longer just asked at restaurants. Coffee shops, even bakeries asks for money. I’ve even seen a kid’s tennis coach ask for tips through his payment app.
  • Some restaurants cleverly help you calculate how much to tip. Some receipts have a suggestion based on 15%, 18%, and 20% of the bill. Some receipts even have a few checkboxes for you to choose from so you don’t have to calculate or even write down the totals.

Does the Pandemic Change Anything for You?

It has for me. I’m not sure if it’s more because I seldom step into a restaurant these days, or if I just feel bad for the restaurant industry, and especially the workers during this trying time. Whenever I’m confronted by a request to tip, I have much more of an urge to add a bit more than I did before the crisis.

And it doesn’t matter what it’s for either. I used to never tip for takeout, but I found myself clicking on the tip button recently when the question showed up in front of me on a screen.

My View of Tips Changed Somewhat Through the Years Too

When I was much younger, I used to think it’s crazy to pay more in tips when it’s voluntary, but I have a slightly different feeling towards the whole concept now. These days, I routinely pay at least the minimum accepted, if not more.

I feel bad for the waiters because it’s true, they need the tips to compensate for their efforts. It’s unfortunate that the restaurant industry underpays them and then shoves the responsibility to the customers without just adding the cost on the menu prices, but it is what it is.

I notice people who’ve served tables always tip very well, no doubt because they understand that serving customers in a restaurant is hard work, and these hard working people deserve to make a good wage.

If there’s any time in history to tip more than usual, it’s now. We get to decide how much to tip, and we can make a real difference to someone’s lives by being a good tipper versus a bad one.

Do you eat out, or buy takeout these days? Would you try tipping a bit more?


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