Tipping 101: Lia’s Guide to Being a Good Customer

Hey there, Lia here! Are you in the United States and plan on going to a restaurant, café, fast food joint, or other establishment where food is served? Then you need to know how to tip. Period.

Warning: this is going to be a long post, but I am not putting it under a cut. Why? Because it’s information everyone needs to know. If you’re going to scroll past it, you’re going to have to scroll a lot—you may as well just read it.

So here we go. Here is how to be a good customer and tip properly.

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Part One: Why tipping is NOT an option.

Why do I need to tip?

Many people think that tipping is a way to give your server extra spending cash. Nope. That’s not how it works. In the United States, restaurant owners are not required to pay their servers minimum wage, so long as those servers are allowed to collect tips. According to the Department of Labor, only 7 states—Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Alaska, Montana, and Minnesota—plus Guam, require employers to pay their workers full state minimum wage before tips. In 26 states and DC, employers are required to pay their workers “above the federal tipped minimum wage,” but that number is not specified and so wages vary drastically from state to state. Everywhere else, employers are only required to pay their workers $2.13 per hour before tips—just under 30% of the federal minimum wage ($7.25/hr). The other 60% of the minimum wage is earned by tips.

What if I’m in one of those states that requires employers to pay the state minimum wage?

You still have to tip. Remember that the federal minimum wage is only $7.25 an hour, not even half of what most people consider a living wage ($15/hr), and while none of those states have a $7.25/hr minimum wage, none of them require employers to pay their workers a living wage either. The highest state minimum wage anywhere in the US is $10/hr, which is still not enough to live on.

That’s a shitty system.

Yes it is. It’s an absolutely awful system. You should not be on the hook for servers’ wages. That is the job of the employer. In a perfect world, all restaurants would be required to pay their workers properly. In fact, some restaurants already do that and do not allow customers to tip. These restaurants are doing the right thing. But for everyone else, as long as the law doesn’t require employers to pay their workers fairly, you have to tip. If you protest the tipping system by not tipping, you are an asshole.

Part Two: How to tip

For this crash course, I am only going to focus on “on-site” tips—as in, tips you pay while inside the establishment. Tipping delivery drivers is also something you should do, but I don’t know the rules around that as I have never worked in delivery.

The rules around on-site tipping are shaky, and not all forms of on-site tipping are a general requirement. However, if you are going to tip, you should do it properly. More on that later. For now, let us move onto a form of tipping that is absolutely a requirement….

Dine-in tips

If you are sitting down and eating your meal in the restaurant, tipping is a requirement. Your dining experience has been brought to you by an underpaid server, so you need to tip.

Most people do tips by percentages—usually around 15-20%. However, this can lead to pretty assholish tipping when the food is particularly inexpensive, so this is how you do it properly.

  1. Regardless of the price of the food, start by tipping $2 per seat. If your meal for two was $25, start by tipping $4.
  2. Now you calculate your 20%. Yes, 20%. Whether or not you include beverages when you calculate is up to you, but don’t worry about tipping on the tax—the tax money goes to the state, not the restaurant. (but hey, if you want to tip on the tax you’re more than welcome to).
  3. Remember that $2 per seat you’ve already put down? Okay, now add as much money as you need to get to that $20% calculation. If you were already at or above your 20% with that $2 per seat, move on to step 4.
  4. You’re still not done yet. Did you make any special requests? Was your party more than 6 people? Did you order all the most expensive items on the menu? Did you get there at 6 and are still there when the restaurant is near closing? If the answer to any of those questions was “yes,” add at least an extra dollar per seat. All of these things are extra burdens on your wait staff—especially the lingering. Servers need their tables to turn over if they want to make money. So if you’re going to take up a table for four hours, you’d better be paying for it.

Takeout tips

This is one of those ones where tipping isn’t necessarily a requirement since you’re not being waited on. However, tipping is still a nice thing to do, especially since in some smaller restaurants, servers often take up cashier roles as well.

If you are going to tip, start by tipping at least a dollar per entree (the equivalent of a dollar per seat), preferably two (the equivalent of two dollars per seat). If you follow this blog, you know that there is an asshole who tips on a credit card by rounding to the nearest dollar, meaning he’s tipping in literal cents. Do not ever do this. I explain why in detail here, but TL;DR: tiny tips are a pain in the ass to cash out and sometimes just never do get cashed out. Also, it’s a shitty thing to do.

If you have a large order or make special requests, you really should be tipping, if only to apologize for being a pain in the ass. Here’s where I would say 10-15% is acceptable, depending on how big your order was or how many special requests you made. Note that price increases for special requests or substitutions ARE NOT TIPS. Those price increases are to pay for the food, NOT for the service.

Tip jars

These can be found in cafés, fast food places, and at the cashier station for takeout. If you can, put a dollar in the tip jar. You can also put in your change if you pay in cash, although if your change was under a dollar, it would be nice if you threw a dollar bill in there as well. Do not use the tip jar as a place to dump your pennies—we don’t want them either.

If you are paying for your takeout order and there is a tip jar, you are welcome to either put the tip on your credit card or put cash in the tip jar; both are fine—just make sure you’re putting in the same amount either way. If you have to put the tip on the credit card to tip properly, do it on the credit card.

Part Three: Tipping for Service

As I’ve said before, tips are part of a server’s wages and thus tipping poorly for poor service is a shitty thing to do. Don’t get revenge on your server by tipping badly, people. You may have been inconvenienced, but your server needs that money to eat and keep their lights on. If you have enough money to purposefully withhold tips from a server, you probably have no idea exactly how much they rely on tips to live, so suck it up and tip properly.

However, if you got great service, by all means, leave a bigger tip! Servers rarely receive appreciation or respect for the work they do. Leaving a bigger tip is a way to say thank you.

Part Four: Don’t Be An Asshole

This should go without saying, but unfortunately there are people who do horridly rude things to servers when tipping is concerned. If you do any of these things, you are a horrible human being:

  • Leave cash scattered around the table or balled up
  • Put cash inside your drinking glass, on your plate, or anywhere else where you would not want to retrieve money
  • Make a point of saying that you don’t need to tip on takeout
  • Say “keep the change” if the change is under a dollar
  • Leave a note on your receipt and call it a “life tip”

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Well, there you have it, folks! I hope that this guide has helped you become a better tipper and person. Your servers will appreciate it.

Lots of love,
Lia

vine

Leaving work after smiling at customers all day

((Information is changed for confidentiality)) This is no word of a lie. This actually happened.
  • Me: What's your first and last name?
  • Customer: John Smith
  • Me: And your zip code?
  • Customer: Smith.
  • Me: Your zip code please?
  • Customer: S-M-I-T-H.
  • Me: No sir, your ZIP Code
  • Customer: John.
  • Me: (mutes customer) Are we having the same conversation?
  • Me: (unmutes customer) No sir, what is your ZIP CODE?
  • Customer: What's that?
  • Me: The zip code for your address.
  • Customer: 123 Easy St., Houston Texas.
  • Me: ..... I'm sorry sir I need your Zip Code.
  • Customer: My member ID number?
  • Me: No sir ... I need you to confirm your zip code ...
  • Customer: I don't know what that is.
  • Me: ZIP CODE ((trying to pronounce it clearer))
  • Customer: IP Code?
  • Me: No sir your zip code.
  • Customer: Spell it for me.
  • Me: Z-I-P Code
  • Customer: Cip code?
  • Me: No sir, z as in zebra.
  • Customer: Sip code?
  • Me: Yes sir, your zip code.
  • Customer: S as in sam?
  • Me: No sir Z as in Zebra.
  • Customer: I still don't know what that is. Look I want to cancel.
  • Me: I'm sorry sir I need to locate your account. I need your zip code.
  • Customer: OH MY ZIP CODE?!
  • Me: ..... Yes sir.
  • Customer: Z as in Zoo right? ZIP?
  • Me: ......... Yes sir .....
  • Customer: 302
  • Me: ....... I'm sorry what was that?
  • Customer: 302
  • Me: No not your area code, your zip code.
  • Customer: 302 is my zip code.
  • Me: That's too short to be a zip code sir, it's a 5 digit number.
  • Customer: Oh, I don't know what that is. Why can't you just cancel my account?
  • Me: Because there are 24 John Smith's in my system here, 14 of which are active, I need to know which one is you.
  • Customer: Well what do you need then?
  • Me: Your zip code please?
  • Customer: Hold on, talk to my wife.
  • Customer's Wife: Hello.
  • Me: Hello ma'am, can I get your zip code please.
  • Customer's wife: What's that?
  • Me: (mutes customer) God here we go again.
  • Me: (unmutes customer) The zip code for your address.
  • Customer's wife: 123 Easy St., Houston Texas.
  • Me: And the zip code?!
  • Customer's wife: 302
  • Me: No no, the zip code.
  • Customer's wife: He already told you this information. The zip code is 302.
  • Me: ..... Okay ma'am, Do you have a piece of mail or something that has your address on it?
  • Customer's wife: Yes, ma'am.
  • Me: Okay So your address is 123 Easy St., Houston Texas.
  • Customer's wife: Yes ma'am.
  • Me: What's the 5 digits under that?
  • Customer's wife: On what?
  • Me: Under your address.
  • Customer's wife: My address isn't on here.
  • Me: Can you get a piece of mail that has your address on it?
  • Customer's wife: Yeah hold on. ((puts me on hold for 6 minutes))
  • Customer's wife: ((Comes back)) Okay I got it.
  • Me: Okay so you're looking at your address on the letter.
  • Customer's wife: Yes ma'am.
  • Me: Okay what's the 5 digit number under your address.
  • Customer's wife: 75468
  • Me: Thank you!
The Customer is Always Right?

The thing is, the phrase ‘The Customer is Always Right’ doesn’t mean that the customer is literally correct in their opinions. It’s supposed to mean that no matter how wrong they are, the retail worker has to agree with them and bend to what they say. By pandering to customers and letting them have their way once in a while, big businesses like Walmart make tons of money. 

The only sacrifice in the middle of this is the poor retail worker. The side effect to letting the customer get away with whatever they want, is that the person bending to their whims gets treated like shit. The head office, or even the manager, doesn’t come face to face with the customer and receive their abuse, it’s the retail worker. The retail worker has to take the blame, accept abuse and not say anything back to defend themselves, as part of this “rule”. 

Imagine two random people where one person commands the other person to do everything they say and abuses them and the second person can never defend themselves. The second person feels like a slave to the first person and gets no respect. This would damage the second person mentally and emotionally, because they are treated like nothing more than a servant. 

This is the relationship retail workers have with customers, when the company follows that rule. The company forces the workers to be a slave, not to the company, but to the customer. That’s demoralizing and unethical. That’s why ‘the customer is always right’ is downright damaging and should not be accepted as an excuse every time a customer wants to get their way.