It’s late Thursday night and my girlfriend and I have just returned from a long road trip only to discover that we’re hungry. So we stop into the local TGIF’s to get a bite to eat. TGIF is not my first choice but, due to the hour, all other culinary options have closed

“Hi,” I say to the hostess as we walk in. “Is the kitchen still open?”

“Yes, sir,” the hostess replies. “It’s open until eleven.” I look at my watch. It’s ten o’clock, so we’re not in the last minute asshole zone.

The hostess seats us at a table where the waitress on duty promptly ignores us. We’re the only table in the place but the bar is half full of drunken commuters killing time before they go home to whatever hell awaits them. Most of them have been here since their train pulled in at six o’clock. It’s not a pretty sight.

After ten long minutes the waitress comes over. She’s in her mid-twenties and looks at us with barely disguised disdain.

“You know what you want?” she says.

“I think we need menus first,” I say.

“Sorry, let me get you some.”

The waitress brings us some menus. “While we’re figuring things out,” I say. “I’d like a bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon.” My girlfriend orders a Coke. Then we wait. And wait. And wait.

“My God,” I say to my girlfriend. “What’s taking them so long?”

“I think they’re brewing your beer in the back.”

The drinks finally arrive. Because we’ve had so much time to peruse the menu we know what we’d like to order – an appetizer and two burgers. “Don’t wait for us to finish the appetizer,” I say. “I know it’s late.”

“Ah hmm…” the waitress says, walking away. No thank you is forthcoming. I’m pissed. When you come into a restaurant late, asking for all the food to come out right away is a cool move. A good waiter would realize that their customer is being considerate. But this girl wouldn’t know a good customer if it bit her on the ass.

“Not a great waitress,” my girlfriend says.

“I’ve seen worse,” I say. “At least she isn’t high on meth and took a shower recently.”

My girlfriend lasts. “I know about those types,” she says. “I read your book, remember?”

The waitress reappears and drops the appetizer and burgers on our table. Before I get a chance to ask for ketchup the waitress is out of earshot. Piqued, I get up and take a bottle of Heinz off another table – along with some extra napkins. Just being proactive.

After ten minutes I want another beer but the waitress is sitting at a table in the corner talking on her cell phone. I give her a little wave. No reaction. So I flag down another waitress. This one’s friendlier and returns with my beer in two minutes while her colleague pretends not to see us.

“So what are you going to tip her?” my girlfriend asks.

“I’d love to tip her nothing.”

“But you’re not going to.”

“Of course not.”

A few days ago I filmed an online promotional spot for the paperback edition of my book Keep the Change. (Coming in September!) When we finished the producer asked me if people always expect me to leave a good tip. “Yeah,” I said. “I guess you can say I’m screwed.”

And to some extent I am. After telling people to tip heavy for years it would be the height of hypocrisy for me to get all cheap now. I haven’t waited tables since 2008, but I still feel the job in my bones. My experience tells me that our waitress might be having a bad day, that the manager may have groped her, cut her shifts or that she’s pissed that it’s a slow night and the rent is due. Now that doesn’t excuse bad service but, as I said in my book, the quality of service has almost nothing to do with the tip you leave. And anybody who’s waited tables knows this is true. You could give great service and get a lousy tip. But you could give bad service, insult your customer, hit on his wife and make fun of his kids and still get a great tip. Even though people will say to their dying breath that they tip to reward service, they don’t. Studies have shown that service quality affects tipping only 2 percent of the time. Unseen processes buzzing inside the customer’s head dictate what tip servers receive.

Here’s an example. Ex-waiters and bartenders are the best tippers, hands down. That’s because, like me, they’ve been there. But a waiter cannot know, unless they are told (Which I consider passé) that their customer is an ex-comrade in arms. What I will tip is dictated by reasons that my waiter has no clue about. And it takes a lot to make a former server leave less than 20 percent. Leaving 15 percent might be a clue that you’ve pissed us off, but it’s still a decent tip.

My girlfriend and I finish out meal, pass on dessert and ask for the check. When the waitress delivers it she says cheerily, “Thanks for coming. I hope you enjoyed everything.”

Great, I think to myself. Now she’s being nice.

“She was terrible,” my girlfriend says. “Are you going to leave her a good tip?”

I stuff some bills into the check holder and get up to leave.“Yep,” I say. “Twenty percent.”

“I’d have left fifteen.”

“It’s only a couple of bucks extra,” I say. “Besides, I acted like her occasionally. Waiting’s a tough job.”

“But still.”

“Did you ever hear of a song called Waitress by the band Live?” I say.

“I haven’t.”

“Well it goes something like this.”

Come on baby leave some change behind
She was a bitch, but I don’t care
She brought our food out on time
and wore a funky barrette in her hair

Come on baby leave some change behind
She was a bitch but good enough
to leave some change,
Everybody’s good enough for some change

“She was a bitch,” my girlfriend says.

“But everybody deserves some change.” I say, smiling. “Besides, after writing my books I’m condemned to always tip well.”

And with that, my girlfriend and I step into the warm summer air and leave our cranky waitress behind. She was a bitch. But I don’t care. I’ve been in her shoes. So you see folks, how much you tip has nothing to do with service.

It has everything to do with you.

66 thoughts on “Change”

  1. Pat says:

    I’m surprised by your tolerance for bad service. I would’ve complained to the manager. One can complain while staying polite but firm. I would’ve left NO tip at all. If you haven’t waited tables since 2008, it’s OK to begin not tipping sometimes.

  2. TAG says:

    Could you cite this study that shows only 2% of the time the size of the tip is correlated to the quality of service? I find this very difficult to believe.

  3. thatgirl says:

    very happy to see another post! Please don’t make us wait another two months… that being said, i commend you. i would have left 10%.

  4. Shar says:

    You’re patient, Steve. I would have been on my feet during one of those long waits, or when cranky waitress failed to respond to your attempts to flag her down. Thanks for all the great posts, keep ’em coming.

  5. guru says:

    TAC. Just Google Dr. Mike Lynn from Cornell University about the subject.

  6. Mark in St. Louis says:

    You are a very gracious man, and she got grace, which was more than she deserved. Thanks for the story. We’ve missed you.

  7. Jennifer says:

    I love that song. I have LIVED that song. But I don’t think I would have left her 20%. You’re a better man than I. 😉

  8. No longer disappointed says:

    That’s more like it Steve!!! Great to see the real you back! :))

  9. Blip says:

    I understand not going below a minimum tip, but wouldn’t it be unfair if a good server also got 20%?

  10. mccn says:

    @Blip – yes, which is why I myself will tip good servers 25, 30, and once, 50%! Like Steve, I can’t bring myself to leave under 20, because of what the job demands and how servicefolk are paid (below minimum wage) and treated by management (runs the gamut). I think that’s his point – 20 should be a baseline, and you go up from there, but not down.

    Steve – would anything get you to leave under 20? I did once exactly, when I made an arithmetic error – I didn’t realize it until I got home. I suppose if the person actually spat on me or got physically violent, I might not leave 20, but that’s really all I can think.

  11. MMKK says:

    Honestly, this is BS. There is a difference between someone having a bad day, and being a bitch. Tips are based on the level of service. Shitty service, shitty tip. Having a bad day? stay home!

  12. mike says:

    I admit I’m a better tipper for having read your blog and then your book.

    Having said that, this would have been a 10% night.

  13. inthenet says:

    It’s been 10 years since I got out of the food service industry, and the job is still in my bones, too. Like Steve and other ex-servers, I normally tip high… however, atrocious service gets 15% from me. I cannot tip below 15%, but I have no problem tipping under 20%.

  14. Bartender says:

    I am a bartender/waitress and I refuse to tip 15- 20% for bad service and have left no tip when the service was just horrible.

  15. says:

    It’ll be interesting if I hit the US as planned in October, ‘cuz I’ll be bringing my tipping habits with me … 5 % if services is so-so, 10 % if it’s great and 0 % otherwise. (That’s the customary tip where I come from.)

    How can you give up your hard-earned money for not only lack-luster but positively sucky service? How can you ever expect things to improve?

    Maybe I can adjust to 20 % for great service. Just this once for the developing country that is the US of A where waiters are not paid enough to make a living. (Yeah, I know.) But for sucky service it’ll be still 0 %. No matter what I am not giving away my money for no service.

  16. Marcel says:

    I don’t get it. All these years I’ve read here that the US system is superior because it provides an incentive for the waiters to deliver a better service and now all of a sudden the tip is independent of the service quality anyway. Why not just pay a fair wage and be done with it then? For me the whole argument for tip-based services falls apart here.

  17. omcdurham says:

    I’ve missed your thoughts and musings since you last posted…and since I’ve read both of your books, I only have your next postings to enjoy your writing.
    As a bartender and server, I get what you are saying…I start at 20% with a tip (and my wife does now, too). Service like you described would have extracted about 15% from me, but I, too, have had nights like she had, for any number of reasons.
    The place I like to hang out at has many great bartenders and servers, my drink is ready before I get settled into my seat. I tip these people $10 minimum, no matter if I had one drink, or five drinks. Even when they are obviously having bad shifts. The end result is usually a free drink or an extra strong drink once or twice a week.
    Bottom line is, even though you got shafted by some server who just didn’t have her game on that night, restaurant work is hard work, so much harder than the general public realizes.
    Thanks for your blog, Steve, I hope to see more!

  18. RK says:

    Kids of waiters/waitresses are good tippers, too! I was raised on the “nothing less than 15%” rule and usually leave 20%. My mom also told me of an old skool custom whereby, if the service was sub-par, a single penny left facedown on top of the folio (or in some other prominent place, like on top of the paper bills left as a tip) signaled the customer’s displeasure. Somehow I think this quaint custom has probably gone by the wayside, but I still do it every now and then 🙂

  19. John says:

    Steve did not get shafted … he did get his food and sounds like probably not spit on.

    Times have changed and the days of 10 or 15 percent are long gone. I tend to think that 20 to 25 percent is about right …

    Lots of things can happen to orders in the kitchen that are totally not under the control of the waiter/waitress.

  20. Kim Henderly says:

    I’ve been out since ’06. I would have left 20% also. I really want to be the person who can leave less, but I can’t. I simply don’t blame her, I blame the management (who let her sit at a table while working on the phone) and who knows, maybe she was suppose to leave and got stuck staying…..

  21. cloudia says:


    What else can ya do?

    Aloha from Honolulu

    Comfort Spiral




  22. Kane says:

    Made me think, Steve. Here in the Philippines, it is not required to leave a tip. Some restaurants include a service charge.

    Perhaps you’re right. Its mostly about who you are, rather than how the servers treat you. Let me ponder a bit.


  23. Waiterrant Fan says:

    Firstly, great to not have to read about ‘Willem’ at last.
    Secondly Waiter while I remain a great fan I don’t think I can agree with your approach to tipping. If it is purely charity then you will tip the same regardless of the service you receive. If it is reward for service then it will vary according to the service. There are always outside influences but if you want to receive a gratuity from me then you will be professional enough not to let it influence the way you serve me.
    I have plenty of issues going on in my life, but I try not to take it out on my servers or customers and I expect them to reciprocate.
    All of the arguments in favour of tipping would be negated if there was an almost mandatory 20% on every bill. If this is the way you roll Steve maybe you ought to lobby for a standard service charge on all restaurant bills.

  24. Chuck K says:

    This is so true. When I go out with my girlfriend she too will say why are you going to leave so much, (the waiter) was bad. I try to explain that its an unwritten code like so many other “unwritten rules” of the restaurant industry. I really wanted to thank you for writing a book that should be MANDATORY for customers to read before dining out!!!!!! Looking forward to reading Keep the Change. Thanks again.

  25. The bellman says:

    I definitely tip based on service but probably allow quality to swing my tip between 15%-25%. I know that if I don’t show up to my job with a smile on my face and a willingness to help people, I’m not gonna make much.A Tip is a commission, not a charity. I think standard is 20%, but below average is 15%. Sure it’s only a few bucks, but I’m gonna do what I can to send the message to not expect gold when you are only working hard enough for silver.

  26. joe says:

    My tips usually vary based on the service – but like you I try for 15% minimum and up from there. In relation to everyone else though my poor tip sounds like it might be a great one though

  27. Captain Chameleon says:

    In response to Pat’s post, it is my experience as a 35 year veteran barman, that only self-aggrandizing, pompous douchbags complain to management about a server. Even if given in a “polite and courteous manner” your complaint may end in termination for a server who is having a bad day. If you are coughing up $200 a plate and are treated with rudeness, that might be justification for action (if you are spending that kind of dough there is a 75% chance you are a pompous douchbag anyway so go ahead and complain, I doubt anyone would really care). The girl worked in a burger joint…like The Waiter said, fill your pie hole and drop her 20%….perservere, be cheerful, and try and make HER day a little better.

  28. Bob Dobbs says:

    Thanks for the post. I suppose that I agree with what you did.

    But if I had her for a waitress once more and she was no better, I’d either raise the issue with somebody or never come back. Of course you made it clear that you’re probably never going back to that TGIF in any case.

    And yes, we routinely tip 20. We live in a very expensive area. People have to survive. Around here if you pulled down $500/week in tips on top of minimum wage, you still couldn’t afford your own apartment. Talked to one waitress who was sharing a house with no heat with four other people. That’s why I tip 20.

  29. Stephan says:

    I generally start off intending to leave 20% for decent service and then go up from there if the person really wows me. But even having been a waiter/bartender, I would not have left that waitress 20%, more like 15%. And then I probably would have slipped a couple bucks to the nice waitress who got you your second beer and made sure the shitty one saw me do it…sending the message “look, bitch, this is where the rest of your tip went.”
    But I generally agree about not stiffing anyone under any circumstances. They would pretty much have to take a dump on my plate to get nothing.

  30. Felicia says:

    Maybe the right thing to do is give the 15% for bad service, but then write on the check that the service was lousy so that the owner or manager sees it. I think the evaluation of someone’s service gets clouded by the money you “are compelled to pay” for good service. I know a lot of people who knit-pick every little thing or compare it to some other experience they had at a 4-star restaurant to get out of paying the full tip.

  31. Thomas Drew says:

    Hi Steve, and thanks for both your books. You’ve made me a better tipper, though I don’t think I was bad before.

    Now my policy in a nice restaurant is $20 minimum, until the tab goes above $100; above 100, it’s 20% minimum. In a more modest place, probably one without a beer/wine license, I tip less, but still at least 20%. Look, what’s the difference between $20 and $25? Not even the price of a beer, lots of places.

    I like being a regular in a place, so people know me and seem glad to seem me. If they’re glad only because I tip well and say please and thank you, I see nothing wrong with that; we understand a restaurant is a business. If something goes wrong with the food or the service, yet the server handles the situation well–take back the drink, strike it off the tab without being asked–then the tip stays up as usual. If I really didn’t like the place for some reason, I still tip well but I just don’t go back.

    Once when really displeased, I left 10%, calculated to the penny. The attempt to communicate probably went unnoticed.

    PS: Since we know you have a seminary education, how about a chapter somewhere about Church offerings as tips; put a few charlatans in their place.

  32. Heidi says:

    I’m surprised that in all the previous comments no one mentioned that stiffing the waitress would have meant punishing all the other people (busboys, dishwashers, etc.) she had to tip out at the end of the night who (presumably) did nothing wrong. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s the system we developed & live with in this country and you have to dance with the one who brung you. That having been said, since reading “Nickel & DImed” my standard restaurant tip is now 30% (despite Steve claiming this actually insults the server by implying they can be bribed)…bad service only gets 20% (for the aforementioned reason), superior service gets 50%, and I am always warmly welcomed back at my favorite establishments!

  33. Dasi says:

    I know you have your reasons (have been reading your blog for a long time) but to me the size of the tip is directly correlated to the attention I receive. You treat me well, you get a good tip, you don’t and you get a lousy tip or don’t get one at all. I don’t live in the US though, and over here waiters automatically get 10% of the bill, but still…
    To me a tip is a reward for good service, not an obligation, sorry!

  34. nunya says:

    Waitresses are paid the minimum wage here. My kid waited tables and almost every time I leave a tip the complaint from the kid is that it is too much. That said, if you are a b*tch to me, you will not receive a 20% tip, and if you are really a b*tch, you’ll be lucky if you see 10%. I can see when the restaurant is slammed and understaffed, and no, I don’t undertip then.

  35. Blogdramedy says:

    A “tip of the hat” for this one.

  36. Brad says:

    Not a chance in the world she would have received more than 15%. As someone above said if you are having a bad day stay home. If your rent is due and you need the money suck it up and provide proper service.

  37. Aaron says:

    Sorry, but reading this I couldn’t help think about how you sounded like a battered spouse at the end. I have worked in restaurants, but there’s no excuse for giving no service and expecting any tip. From your story, she didn’t make sure you had menu’s, she took forever with a simple drink order (and it wasn’t like she was busy turning down her other stations), she didn’t check on your condiment needs, she didn’t do her job. If someone doesn’t do their service-related job, they don’t deserve a tip. The fact that you are aware that tipping has very little to do with service doesn’t mean that you should continue to do so.

    The main point I’m trying to make is that you should always tip based on service, never on the food quality or timing, etc. When she didn’t do her job, she didn’t deserve a commensurate tip. Perpetuating that, knowing what you know, is making you part of the problem of unpredictable tipping.

  38. carsie says:

    I disagree with the statement regarding tippers always leaving the same amount, no matter how the service was. If I receive amazing service, I tip better. If the service is bad, my tip reflects that. It has nothing to do with what I always leave. (and that is coming from a waitress of 5 years)

  39. Sloot says:

    My standard tip is 25% post-tax.

    This weekend I went to a breakfast buffet for the first time. I sat down and waited a bit. Neither waitress came over to me to let me know the routine or offer me coffee or tea or juice (I don’t drink coffee, but would’ve liked tea and juice). I got tired of waiting so I went to the buffet table without instruction, filled my plate and sat down. I grabbed silverware off a neighboring table (I had to go a couple of tables over since the closest tables were still covered in dirty dishes).

    I managed to finish my food without anybody saying anything to me. Then when I went over to pay, I still had to wait around for a little while.

    I still gave 10% – and the food wasn’t even good.

  40. Waiterrant Fan says:

    Sloot – so what exactly was the 10% for and to whom?
    By this same logic you should be paying 10% extra at your local self-service gas station.

  41. Patricia says:

    I haven’t been a waitress for over 35 years and I still can’t leave less than 20%. If the service is bad I tend to think that it could be management’s fault in some way. That’s for table service. For other things, like take out, I still have trouble remembering that tips are expected for a lot of things that weren’t tipped services in my day, but that’s another thing entirely.

  42. Desmond says:

    Every since once I dated a waitress I tip generously: 10 to 30%.
    In this instance I would have been inclined to tip only 10%, but to your point, if the difference between 10 & 15% were a couple dollars, I would have left the couple bucks.
    I like the point someone else mentioned, leaving a penny face down on the bills to show your displeasure, but why not also just mention your displeasure to her in person when she brought the tab?
    ie: Xcuse me, but from one who knows a little about the restaurant business you look like you’re having a really bad day, I just want you to know, in spite of the very slow service we just received I still think you should have a decent tip. Have a good night and hope things work out….

  43. Angela says:

    I think you meant “my girlfriend laughs” where you wrote “my girlfriend lasts.” Freudian?

  44. Michael says:

    Steve, you have just made the best argument that I have ever heard for terminating the whole tipping thing completely!

    Add the 20% to menu prices and give those 20% to the wait staff. Save the customers the work of figuring out what to give, and make it easier for them to determine the actual cost of the meal.

    Now, only thing missing is also adding in the sales tax. As it’s hardly optional, it might as well be calculated into the menu prices.

    That way a burger could be listed as
    Burger : 12$
    Rather than
    Burger : $9.50 (but you have to pay ($9.50+20%) + (8% of $9.50)= … ????

    Ask yourself what is easier to understand… and ask yourself why in Gods name one should prevent the customers from seeing clearly what the true cost of things are.

    It’s not a valid argument to say “thats just how we do it”. I suggesting there is a better way for all. Also, that would allow people to tip extra for exceptional service WITHOUT the waitstaff hurting if it did not happen. Freedom for the waiters, freedom for the customers. Does this sound bad to anyone (except the ones who would like to be able to not pay for service at all)?

  45. TipForService says:

    Maybe what you tip says nothing about the service YOU received but it says everything about how I feel about quality of service. I don’t give a hoots nanny if the server is nice or surly, smiling or crying (so long as he/she keeps the tears out of my drink). But bad, slow service, talking on the phone while working, or forgetting simple things like menus means a piss-poor tip for a piss-poor performance.

    15% almost all meals that are adequately served.
    20% if the service was extrodinary…almost never more than that…food is expensive and dancing bears are not required to get a meal to the table…they can be less great next time if the server is unhappy with the 20%.
    7-10% if the server sucks.
    Never less than 7% because after that, I’ve already confronted the server and most likely left. I won’t take service from someone, even bad service, for free, so I feel the need to speak up.

    That said, I never complain to management because, you never know, that server might just be having a terrible day and I don’t feel the need to have their job to make me whole again. Still, I don’t care if the server’s mom just went to the hospital, bad service = bad tip.

  46. TipForService says:

    Restaurant work may be tiring and trying but it is not difficult. Ditch digging falls into much the same category. Barriers to entry are low, training (other than OJT) unecessary, and you don’t have to shell out a lifetime’s salary to go to school to do it.

    Someone please tell me what is so hard about restaurant work. Unpleasant perhaps, and mildly demeaning for certain. Those are downsides but they do not make it difficult. now NASCAR driving and Neurosurgery are difficult…life affirming and filled with accolades, but difficult nonetheless.

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  49. Eric says:

    If your study is accurate, than I find myself in that elusive 2%. For me, tipping is about service. Now, having a mother who was a waitress for many years when I was a child, two daughters who waited tables for a few years and my own miniscule experience working the counter at a sandwich shop, I try to take in all the factors when evaluating service. When my glass is empty for long periods of time, I take notice of the overcrowded room and the fact that my waitress has been given too many tables and adjust my opinion of her service. But in the end, I tip at some level based on performance, outstanding performance gets a very generous tip, average gets average and poor gets a poor tip. I understand that tips are vital to a waitress’s income, but in my opinion, so is performance.

    Of course, you did set yourself up on the tipping front…lol

    By the way, found your books at the largest single owned bookstore in America, Powell’s Used and New Books in Portland, OR.

    Oh and because of you, I tipped the driver of the hotel courtesy van, even when I didn’t have any luggage for him to help me with.

  50. xKitchen Staff says:

    Sorry Steve, but I must disagree with your 20% tip. Poor service should never be rewarded.

    I’ve worked more times that I care to admit hung-over, in a crappy mood, etc. but I’ve done my job to the best of my ability. I never blew off a customer, no matter how much I wanted to smash them in the face because they were being assholes (and you weren’t). It’s not like she was in the weeds or anything, she was a poor waiter, period. She was not doing her job.

    Working a tip-based job can royally suck, you can be screwed good job or bad, but rewarding poor performance drains your wallet and reenforces poor behavior. A lose-lose situation.

    On those VERY rare occasions I tip low (and service would have to be pretty bad), will leave an unemotional explaination as to why. The waiter may not give a damn why, but at least they’ll know.

    BTW, you would NOT be a hypocrite if you tipped low, you always preached to tip appropriately.

  51. Ex-server says:

    Years ago when I was a server I went out to a TGIF type restauran with two other servers. The restaurant was not busy, but we had the worst service I have ever had. The only time we saw the server was to place our order. Otherwise it was the busser who did everything – kept our drinks full, checked how the meal was, etc. Our server was not in a bad mood or to busy – we saw Him joking around with his couple of other tables. We believe it was because we were young and not dressed well, and he probably figured we would be bad tippers. well, it was a self fulfilling prophecy. We gave the busser a great tip, letting him know it was for him as we considered him our server. Our real server received a note saying we were all servers and he had blown a great tip, and in the future maybe he shouldn’t judge. I don’t reward bad behavior with my kid, and I won’t reward bad behavior with a server either.

  52. Connie says:

    I’ve been a waitress (server now days) and “it’s still in my blood, too. I always bus my table before I leave..which drives my family crazy….but, I don’t think it is too much to help out a good server. But….give me a server who is indifferent to me…I will not leave a tip. I almost always say something to the server about the job and let them know I know what they go thru. No excuse for bad service when they know that. Also, in Calif. servers make minimum wage, plus tips. They are expected to report the days tips (HA!) so the IRS will know what tax to charge. The servers are already charged on the minimum wage and what the IRS thinks they should be making. Never, did I report what I made…the whole group of servers deceided what we would report. Some days you make a lot and some days next to nothing. So, no IRS, they don’t need to know everything about your income….just be sure to report something…

  53. Judy H. says:

    I had a service experience very similar to yours once. It was a group of co-workers with individual checks, and we were all aware that makes a server’s job harder, but we barely saw our server at all, except when he served every other table around us with great cheer. I was annoyed, but still planned to leave 20%. But, here’s the kicker. I couldn’t really afford this lunch, so I ordered something small, and the bill I put down to pay with was bigger than the 20% tip. Another co-worker was using this to break a bill and get quarters for the vending machine, and planned to keep the coins. Our server threw a fuss about bringing us our change! I’m sorry, that’s *my* money until I tell you you can have it. That’s the one and only time I left two cents as a tip.

  54. Liz says:

    Thanks for mentioning the customer’s part of the equation here. I try to be a good customer when I go out and I’m grateful for good service when I get it.

    Last night I went to a new place (3 weeks open) and even though the waiter got surly when he realized we weren’t going to send his kids to college, and the bussers were aggressive to the point where they were practically taking food out of our hands, I left 20% because the food was good, and because waiting tables is a job that I didn’t have to do last night.

    And even though my waiter was clearly having a bad night before I came in, and that shouldn’t have been my problem, I know enough servers that I couldn’t have walked out of there giving any less.

  55. John says:

    So you have books, huh?… a bit heavy-handed, honestly. Good read except for the constant plugs. Sorry to be a bother about it, it’s just hard to not notice it.

  56. Rob says:

    I interpret the research from Dr. Lynn quite differently, or perhaps this is a different study than you are referring to. I’ll quote his research:

    most participants increased their tips by one to two percent of the bill for each one point increase in service rating on a five point scale; however, many varied their tip percentages with service quality hardly at all, while others varied their tip percentages
    with service quality much more than the two point average. This variability in the tendency to base tips on service helps to explain why the service-tipping relationship is weaker than many expect…Interestingly,…the more people varied their tip percentages with service quality, the larger the tip percentages
    they left on average.

  57. Jay says:

    I work in the biz too, as a cook and bartender.
    I agree with your stance completely on this one. Where I worked the boss routinely gouged the servers’ tips (by taking 2% of their daily gross sales) It’s a tough business, and servers deserve their gratuities. If they full out don’t seem to care about your experience, there could be an underlying reason, as you know. A bad restaurant can wear its staff down quickly.

  58. Jason Lebrun says:

    Hello Steve! Just wanted to say, im in the process of reading Waiter Rant, just started actually, love it so far. Im canadian, and i work at possibly the busiest, most stressfull deli in north america. I work a very interesting trade…im a smoked meat cutter! Have you ever heard such a thing? Our smoked meat is like your(American)pastrami…similar anyhow. Same piece of meat, pickeled differently. I have struggled between those walls for ten years(may of 2001 to be exact). During my metamorphosis from busboy to the very coveted position of cutter, i have missed countless engagements, worked weekends, double and triple shifts, 25 days in a row, some 80 plus hr weeks, christmas, NYE, all holidays, and forget taking off in June, July, or August! A considerable amount of anguish and stress has plagued my life since then, but i stay cause i like my trade(i try to consider myself an artist with the knife:)and the obvious other reason……here it comes… This deli is called Schwartz`s deli, and it is located in Montreal ,Quebec, Canada. A world famous reputation for surly waiters, cramped quarters, and amazing eats at pretty good prices. I saw your book at an Indigo and picked it up instantly! Congrats on your success, and thank you for sharing your crazy stories. Crazy this trade…isn`t it!?

    Alright, so…change,yes,well here`s my response. Like you, it takes a hell of a lot for me to `stiff`a service person, but it has happened Steve. In your case i believe that a 10% tip would have been in order. I sympathise with my fellow soldiers, but after all, it seems that was quite bad. And i would not have enjoyed the thanks for coming and smile at the end. You cant con a con artist sweetie! Dismal effort, worthy of a Ramsey rant no doubt, but 10 pm, perhaps our young lady was a little tired, bummed out, however the cell phone is also very annoying.

    I applaud you with the 20%, and i understand why you did this, but i dont believe i would have. She should have been able to realize the sub par tip. Also it`s awesome that you mention the tip has little to do with the service, i tend to agree Steve. I was just saying this last night at the deli actually. If you generous, your generous. Broke you will find a way to leave something decent. If your rich, you`ll just leave much more. On the flip side however, if your cheap, your cheap. Struggling student or driving a bentley, you will not to be compensated…..and those take there toll on you:(

    If your a career server of 30 yrs, or just starting this hard but rewarding trade……i love you. I love you cause you know what i have endurred, and what pressures i must deal with. I love you cause……….you know!

    Thanks for your insight and candor Steve. Thanks for starting at Amici`s:)

    Jason Lebrun

  59. Jason Lebrun says:

    Just read Tip for service`s two entries. Very interesting. I agree with much that was writen, but i cant help to think that you have never worked in restaurants before. If you read this message sir or madame, and have not worked the grind of restaurants, please write me jasonlebrun1@hotmail. I would love for us to chat so we can discuss how your comparision of nascar and neuro surgery are a little rediculous. Please dont be affended, i certainly im not, i just think it would be nice to share views. You may have worked them and thought it was a breeze, all the more power to you if this is the case! Good day, looking foward to us chatting.


  60. South County Girl says:

    I used to wait tables for a while… and there are good days and there are bad days for everyone.

    Some days you have dealt with just too much and you shut down, other days your at your utmost best and your still handed crap.

    I would have tipped her 15% and then tipped the nice waitress the rest that you would have left with a sincere thank you for her helping you out when the other gal left you high and dry since you weren’t her responsibility.

  61. Matt says:

    Hello. This is a little more in response to your whole blog but I have a short film online right now called “Server” and touches upon similar experiences.

    Right now, we’re working on getting a pilot set up. Show us your support by voting and thank you!

  62. Georgie says:

    Stop giving your hard earned money away to people who don’t like you anyway! If they give bad service, don’t tip hands down. If it’s terrible, inform the manager that you’re leaving.

  63. beth says:

    I’m a waitress/bartender for 10 years. I have had b ad days at work to and am sure a customer or two have caught me rolling my eyes or pouting here and there after a 14 hour shift for the 7th day in a row but with that said this waitress did not deserve 20%. I would never be caught dead sitting at a table talking on the phone and completely ignoring the people I depend on to get my bills paid and food on my table (when I get a chance to eat anything besides what I serve all day and night). 12 to 15% because there are other people who get a piece of her tip. Not to mention if its a pool house and u leave nothing everyone is being screwed because of one waitress.

  64. jo says:

    someone commented about stiffing a server means stiffing a busboy, bartender, etc. sadly, we still have to tip those people out even if we were stiffed. so, there have been many times (all working at a chain restaurant) where I had to actually PAY to wait on a table. They either left nothing, or a tip so small it didn’t cover the percentage I had to tip out on their bill. Our tip out there was based on our total sales. It didn’t matter at all how much we made.

  65. Michelle says:

    I’m a server in one of the busiest restaurants in Waikiki. Yes you heard me, Waikiki. That means hoards of tourists who don’t know how to tip or just ignore it. We have to tip out the backwaiters bartenders and hosts even if we get stiffed and in Waikiki that happens at least couple of times a night. Europeans and Asians tip you roughly 13% if you put a tipping calculator in their checks. Australians on the other hand, no matter how nice and polite you’re to them give 10% if you’re lucky. Last night an Australian table not only stiffed me but they also paid the amount before tax and I had to pay 5$ for the tax and another $5 for tip out, total of $10 out of my own pocket! Feel like we should start including auto gratuities on all the checks.

  66. Ruxandra says:

    I’m a waitress in NYC and really can’t complain, while we have the occasional aholes, the money I make is really good and that’s the only thing that stops me from pursuing my real profession(yes lots of waiters do have a degree, even though people think we’re uneducated and couldn’t do anything “better”). Anyway the worst customer I’ve ever had was a woman from the south that came with 5 friends to NYC on vacation. They showed up for a late lunch, without reservation, at 4:15pm, even though we stop lunch at 4 I agreed to serve them the lunch special. Everything went well, they were all having fun, tasted a few wines before they decided what they wanted to drink( to be more specific, we have 5 house wines, 2 reds, 2 whites and 1 blush,they tasted all of them ). Gave them directions and suggested attractions in the city as per their request, they loved me. At the end the woman in question asked for separate checks, didn’t mention it at the beginning. Apologized and I politely told her that my computer doesnt split checks and that the only option would be to void the whole check and then redo each separate with the wine on a different one, total of 7 check, but I’m not authorized to void checks. I called the manager in, he apologized and he said we’d rather not have to do it and that if they wanna pAy with separate card we can accommodate that, she accepted rudely, but at the end when she signed the cc slip she left me a $.01 tip writing underneath that the customer is always right and that I am a spoiled new Yorker. While walking out she told all the customers that I was a dumbass who didn’t care about them.
    I think it’s all about manners and the education someone received. And since then I tell everybody, better cross the tip entirely than just leaving cpl of pennies, it’s very insulting and hurtful to us!

  67. MoniRoni says:

    Just wanted to say I’m a huge fan of LIVE and am rather stoked you quoted one of their lesser known songs. Love the blog (and the books)! I’m rereading it and am enjoying it just as much as the first time.

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