The Art of Tipping: The True Cost of Poor Service

Tybee Island. Spring Break at The College typically marks the rough and tumble race to the end of our fiscal year. For starters, my guys get a week-long, all-access pass to spruce up classrooms too heavily booked to do more than sneak in a lamp replacement between regular classes. Filters get cleaned. Dust bunnies get vacuumed.

Meanwhile, I have budget proposals (and their obligatory revisions) to attend to.

WelcomeToGeorgia In years past, we have often been the beneficiary of end-of-year spending dollars doled out from our parental unit engaged in the organizational equivalent of checking between the sofa cushions for spare change.

No such luck this year (and things are looking fairly doleful next year as well).

With the execution (in a good way, sorta) of my fiscal homework and the safe return of our sunburned students (bleary-eyed and somewhat wiser to the ways of tequila) I spied my window of opportunity to cash in some accumulated vacation-time and pull a “Don Draper” and disappear for two weeks.

With our budget in shreds and dust bunnies at bay, the place pretty much ran itself without me.

Don Draper, oh sooooo coolFor weeks I have been priming Chance for our ultimate tour of the barrier islands by framing it as a cross between modern vagabondage and a quest for the perfect barbecue. To his credit, Chance had been toiling away in his workshop, making sure his inventory of stained-glass wind chimes was packed and ready for the Summer arts-and-crafts circuit. To ensure that our 14-day getaway would not leave him pining for his wire cutter, I sweetened the deal by tossing him a new Kindle and an Amazon gift card.

In short, we were loaded for bear.

All good plans, sadly, have unintended outcomes. And although eating out played a central theme, I had not considered the consequences leaving a push-over man-child with the weighty responsibility of leaving an appropriate gratuity. The man has a heart of gold and knows his barbecue, but he can be the biggest sap when it comes to overpaying for luke-warm service.

Hungry-angry-unhappy-man-waiting-for-dinner-poor-service-bad-review-restaurant-pen-ink-drawingBy the end of our second week, I got tired of having to explain tipping to him over and over again about enabling piss-poor performance, so I wrote up a little cheat sheet to help him focus.

Let’s be clear about it: I am not cheap. When I go out to eat, I avoid the chains and expect good service. In college, I waited tables during a time when little or no gender-specific decorum existed among the kitchen staff. The pay was lousy and tips were important. The work was hard and working conditions were occasionally miserable. Compared to those cro-magnon days, today’s waitresses have it easy: good service is good enough for a good tip. And for me (and you) good service should be worth chipping in about 20%.

You could say that I am an all-or-nothing kind of gal: you deliver good service, you get your 20% tip. You disappoint me without making it right, expect zilch, darlin’. Nothing personal.

And so here are a few tips for the waits-of-the-world who really want to do a good job and make good tips: it’s all about Courtesy, Timeliness, Mindfulness. Let me know what you think!

Anita’s Guide to Best Practices in Restaurant Tipping

Courtesy is not a crime

Let’s start with the basics: Courtesy

  1. Dining out is an intimate experience and I like to feel comfortable with the person whose going to be handling the food I am about to eat. A pretty good start begins with, “Hello, [optionally insert your first name here, if appropriate] I’ll be your server.”
  2. Ask permission… “can I refill your drink?” “would you like to see the dessert menu?” “are you ready for the check?”
  3. Don’t waste my time trying to be extra-nice. A few years ago, Ira Glass of This American Life, conducted a pseudo-scientific experiment with two waitresses, each behaving super-friendly to half their tables and aloof to the other half. The tables treated to aloof service (good service, but aloof) tipped more.
  4. Sometimes mistakes happen. Don’t make a big deal of it. Fix it quickly and cheerfully without casting blame. If it leads to delays, offering a complimentary beverage will put me in more benevolent frame of mind even if I decline the offer.
  5. Equal eye contact all around, thank-you.

We waited 30-minutes and no service


  1. Drinks orders are taken and filled the moment we’re seated.
  2. Entre orders are taken within 3-minutes of seeing our menus folded closed on the table.
  3. Please be sure that our table receives entrees before other guests who were seated after us.
  4. I like to receive my entre within 15-20 minutes of placing my order. The maximum acceptable waiting period for the delivery of entrées may be adjusted down for short-order diners and up for schmancy restaurants or exceptionally crowded dining rooms. Food served more than 20-minutes after the order better be straight off the stove (fries are hot, meat sizzles, salads and garnish are fresh, moist and cool to the touch, fruit is chilled, plate is at room temperature). If the food comes late and everything is the same temp as the plate it’s on, I’ll know it’s been sitting under the heat-hood for a good long time.
  5. The check appears within minutes of its request and my credit card is retrieved and returned in short order. Please don’t tempt me to dine-and-dash.



  1. It is good to check to see that we are satisfied with the meal. When the entre is delivered he may ask, “Does everything look okay?” Then, once we’ve had an opportunity to taste our food, you can return to inquire, “How’s everything taste?” And never do so when my mouth is full.
  2. Drinks are kept filled (ice is always replenished before refilling ice tea and ice water).
  3. When I need your attention, a little acknowledgment goes a long way, even if it is just to say that you’ll be with me in a moment.
  4. I’m not saying that a server must be a mind-reader. I’m just saying don’t make me get up to find my own straw.

Attention to Details

  1. Beer glasses are chilled.
  2. Iced tea and water refills always include ICE.
  3. UN-sweet tea is never refilled with SWEET tea.
  4. Beer glasses should never be warm. They don’t have to be chilled (although it is a very nice touch) but an empty beer glass ought not to be straight-from-the-dishwasher hot unless there’s a waiting line out the door.

Kings Country Produce Barefoot Cowboy

Big Mistakes

  1. You shouldn’t be interested in how my boyfriend is dressed (and I can assure you, he isn’t either.)
  2. If you fawn over my male dinner guest and make little eye contact with me, how do you expect me to react when I ask for the check and you bring it to him?
  3. My estimation of service extends to how I see you treat other patrons. Unless you take reservations, each arriving party should receive the best available seat. I won’t think much of you if you stash the family with young children in the far corner next to the rest room or kitchen entrance when there are better tables available.
  4. You can’t fix a broken kitchen. If one free drink leads to a ladies-drink-free night because of the comedy of errors going on in the kitchen, be advised that I can be a pretty mean drunk. If it’s Hells’ Kitchen in the back, you’ll have a better chance for a tip if you call your manager over (don’t wait for me to ask for her) to apologetically comp my meal.
  5. Flair.

Kings Country Produce - Best Peanuts On US301!

A Recipe for Disaster…

  1. I don’t want to hear about where you went to school.
  2. Please do not try to impress us with your ability to memorize our individual orders — and then getting it wrong.
  3. “Is everything okay?” (Meaning, “The cook’s pretty sure he cleaned up all the broken glass, but I still think a shard may have found its way to your chili… You haven’t found it yet, have you?”)
  4. Let’s not tempt fate: When you come to refill my ice water, tea or coffee, do us all a favor and pick up the cup to refill it.
  5. And while we’re on the subject, during Summer months, condensation tends to collect on the outside of cold drink pitchers and needs to be wiped off with a clean towel before entering the dining room. If, at some point during your drink refilling, condensation drips off your carafe onto my food, drink or garment, I cannot be held responsible for my actions.

In short, if I wanted to have an indifferent dining experience, I’d stay home and boil an egg. I came to dine at your table for something more — for a memorable experience of good food and efficient service. If you can deliver those two things (and then get out of the way), you will be handsomely rewarded, else, you’re likely to receive the same tip I get at home.


William Michael Lynn, PhD is a former bartender, busboy and waiter who is now a nationally recognized expert on tipping who has written over 30 publications on this topic. At the start of the 20th Century, working for tips was considered by the elite to be a form of Flunkyism, that is, indicative of a character flaw in which one is willing to be servile for a consideration. Some considered such professions to be undemocratic. Those days are gone. Service of any kind is an honorable trade. I don’t expect to be entertained. I just want good service and nothing more.

The AV-1 Forum Let me know what you think!

by Anita Vidwell
Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

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