Tipping in Restaurants

Tipping in Restaurants

To tip or not to tip, that is the question! More importantly, how much to tip, is the dilemma. Aside from ordering wine in a restaurant, the tipping phenomenon, for the average diner, creates the most tension, intimidation and insecurity. Philosophically speaking, is a tip a right or a privilege? Most North American restaurants consider a tip as discretionary (up to the diner).

European establishments automatically add a tip to the final bill. There are even parts of the far east where tipping is illegal and in bad taste. So what to do? Tip too little and you look cheap. Tip too much and you appear an easy touch. Following are the Wine Doctor's criteria, thoughts and guidelines on tipping.

Generally speaking, keep in mind that few waiters receive large salaries, if any, and work-related benefits of salaried jobs such as medical/dental insurance, retirement plans and vacation. Most rely on tips. In many restaurants, you are served by a team: hostess, maitre, coat check attendant, bartender, bread waiter, sommelier, kitchen staff, etc. All these people go into making your dining experience pleasurable. The waiter usually splits his tip with all of them. If you were demanding of your waiter such as ordering many course/drinks, requesting substitutions or special dishes, asking the waiter to inquire from the chef about ingredients/preparation, asking the waiter to match a wine to each course or have children with you, then the waiter works harder. The more you work the wait staff, the more you should reward them. In many restaurants regardless of their policy, an automatic tip is often applied to large groups.

Good service means that the waiter was friendly, attentive, prompt, knowledgeable about the menu/wine list and didn't hover over you like a bee over honey. Really good service seems invisible, like it's not there. Reward good service. These days, it is appropriate to tip 15% and up to 20% for great service. Base your tip on the pre-tax cost of the meal including wine or any other alcoholic beverage. The bottom line, of course, is to tip according to your means.

Bad service is another story. Examples of it would be your server brought you the wrong dish, vanished for half an hour between courses, spilled food/wine in your lap, brought you regular instead of decaf coffee or was rude. If this is the case, keep in mind that maybe the poor service really wasn't the waiter's fault or was due to factors beyond his or her control? Perhaps the restaurant was overbooked or there was a problem in the kitchen. If so, you shouldn't blame the server. However, you should be told and an explanation provided. An effort to improve the situation should be made. Maybe a complimentary drink or appetizer could be offered. Whatever the issue, take charge of your dining experience when you have concerns. After all, you are paying for it. If something is wrong with the food or wine, mention it. It should be resolved. If the service is poor and you decide to leave a small tip or forfeit one altogether, tell the manager why. Offering a low tip or rewarding poor service because of guilt is not the way to go and makes you feel bad. By talking to the manager, you state that you're a discriminating diner, not just cheap and nasty; and that they should fix the issues before other diners have similar experiences. Finally, if an automatic tip has been added to your bill, it is your right to deduct the gratuity from the final tally if you're not satisfied.
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"The Wine Doctor" is Edward Finstein, award-winning author, TV host, renown wine journalist, international wine judge, Professor of Wine and consultant.
His website is: www.winedoctor.ca
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