The Simple Dollar’s Detailed Tipping Strategy

Inspired by Personal Finance Advice’s discussion of tipping, I felt that it was appropriate to discuss my own strategy for tipping, which revolves around one simple tenet: good service is the reason for tipping. I also don’t like to multiply on the fly in restaurants, so I use a strategy that minimizes the need to multiply.

First of all, no matter what, I tip 10% as a baseline. There could be some challenge in the life of the server that you don’t know about or any number of things going on that you are unaware of. A tip less than that is rude, particularly if you are a regular customer at a particular restaurant. Calculating this is easy: just move the decimal place to the left once.

If I am a regular customer, I automatically tip 5% more than that. A regular customer often develops a reputation at that establishment, and I wish to have a positive reputation as a customer. I want the servers to give preferential service to me because I’m a solid-to-strong tipper. To do this, I tack on an extra 5% to my tip by default. This 5% is easy to approximate; just give $1 per $20 on your order.

If the server performs service that I notice as being good, I tip an extra 5%. This usually means that the waitress was very unintrusive, silently and automatically refilling drinks without interfering. If I can’t remember any issues and I can’t remember the server interrupting except to get orders or bring food, this means that the service was good. Again, I just approximate by adding an extra dollar for every $20 on the order.

If the server performs above and beyond the call of duty, I tip an extra 10%. This usually involves handling some sort of disaster with grace, like a recent restaurant visit in which I accidentally dropped a full glass of lemonade on the tiled floor. Not only did the waitress handle this all gracefully, she personally mopped it up while we continued a dinner conversation. She earned a nice tip that day. Again, just move the decimal place once to the right.

If the server is new and performs adequately, I tip an extra 5%. Being a server at a busy restaurant is quite challenging, so when a new server is just getting the hang of it but still manages an adequate job, I give a little more. Again, I just approximate by adding an extra dollar for every $20 on the order.

If something beyond the pale happens, the sky’s the limit. When I was three, I once threw up on a waitress. She laughed it off. My parents tipped her 100%. She deserved it. When something crazy happens, don’t be afraid to tip a lot, especially if you plan on returning to the restaurant in the future.

Once you have these numbers, just add them up rounded to the nearest dollar and call it an adequate tip. I find this strategy works very well, particularly if you visit a restaurant regularly. We visit a couple local family dining chains and have had regular repeat waitresses; when this happens, we always get great service.