Dining Etiquette: Who To Tip and When To Tip Them

CALABASAS, Calif. — Whether you’re grabbing a quick bite to eat or enjoying a decadent meal at a full-service restaurant, your meal will conclude with a bill. However, in most of the United States, tipping your bartender or server on top of the bill’s total is not mandatory but is customary.

According to California law, a tip or gratuity is defined as, “…money a customer leaves for an employee over the amount due for the goods sold or services rendered.”

What many dining patrons may not know is that the tips presented to a bartender or server are in part received by their support staff – bussers, food runners, hosts, and others who contribute to the dining experience. In fact, many employees in the restaurant industry rely on their tips as their main source of income rather than the hourly wages they earn from their employer.

As a general guideline, the tip on a meal or bar tab ranges from 15% to 20%. Serving staff who cover the basics (taking orders, having a positive attitude, and occasionally checking on the table – all in a timely manner) generally garner a 15% tip. Providing service that goes above and beyond these amenities can range from 16-19%. In some cases, if the service provided was exceptional – for example, accommodating special or extraordinary requests, discussing wine pairings, and the like – are generally tipped at 20% or more. Additionally, if the service is not up to par, as low as 10% is an acceptable tip. Diners are also encouraged to discuss the matter with a manager.

Some exceptions to these recommendations include complimentary courses or food items presented to the table. Although these items are not being accounted for on the bill’s total, it’s expected that a party tips their server or bartender because they are still providing the table with service (and may have been the reason for the complimentary items your table receives.)

According to a recent article published by the Matt Walsh, a writer for the Huffington Post, many diners will tip in order to send a message to the restaurant that they were dissatisfied with the service, timeliness, or food.

“…the main justification offered by non-tippers is not so much based on principle as it is on punishment,” writes Walsh. “From what I’ve seen, the server is usually punished for things that have nothing to do with [them].”

This is a common mistake that many diners make when their food is not to their liking, and mistakenly punish the server by not leaving a tip. However, issues with the quality or preparation of a dish are the responsibility of the chef and kitchen staff. Bringing up your likes and dislikes before ordering, or letting your server know if your order isn’t to your liking gives the server an opportunity to correct the mistake and redeem the restaurant – and the diner’s experience.

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