What happens to your restaurant tip?

Some time ago, the Seattle Times ran an article on how your restaurant tip gets divided up among the staff. A week later, they ran an entire article of responses to the original article, some from customers, but many from restaurant staff (both cooks and servers). And, now on a roll, the next week's food section looked at the sociology of splitting the bill with a sidebar looking at how hard it is for different types of restaurants.

Comments (37)
  1. Gabe says:

    I never understood why it was so hard for restaurants to deal with large parties. Wouldn’t it be the same amount of work for 5 parties of 2 as it would be for a party of 10?

    [Five parties of 2 are already on five separate order tickets, so no splitting work needs to be done. “Who ordered the appetizer?” “Table 12.” “But which person at table 12?” “Um, I’m not sure, it was sort of a collective decision.” -Raymond]
  2. Nawak says:

    Interesting Raymond… when we split bills, we do the splitting work ourselves and the only extra work for the waiter will be to check that the total is correct (which is still ‘extra’ work, agreed). I’ve never encountered a situation where it was up to the waiter to remember who had what, like you seem to imply.

    The simplest way to do bill splitting being, imho, that everybody pays for what he had and wine is split among the wine drinker.

    [Hm, maybe it’s a terminology thing. Out here in Seattle, a “split check” means that each person at the table gets a separate bill. The waiter has to keep track of who ordered what. (As opposed to merely splitting the payment, which is a “client-side” operation. Well, except for the part where you hand the waiter 5 credit cards and say “$20 on this one, $25 on this one, $10 on this one…”) -Raymond]
  3. dave says:

    All this makes me think that restaurants ought to institute a program of paying their employees. We could call it, I dunno, "wages".

    Yeah, I tip. When in Rome, etc., and besides wait staff deserve to get paid. But I find the practice to be class-ridden and abhorrent. Raise prices and wages by 20% and let’s have done with it.

  4. tatsuling says:

    I tend to favor very small, family owned restaurants (think husband/wife being the only people there).  I get personal treatment and hardly have to order since they already know me and what I want.

    Since I know everything given in a tip there is going directly to the people that served me and prepared the food, I have been known to tip over 100%. Though that is not a regular occurrence.

  5. Puckdropper says:


    Tipping gives customers some form of feedback.  If the service was bad, tip nothing or less.  If service was excellent, tip more.

  6. RobO says:

    Waiting is an easy job to learn and it can be fun, depending on where you work. But, on the money side, it can really suck to be a waiter, which is why the last time I relied on it for a living was when I was 18. Interestingly, I made more of an hourly wage ~20 years ago in Washington than these folks in Ohio do now.

    Here in Ohio – and many other states are similar – a waiter may be paid $3.65 per hour. Twenty percent more isn’t going to do much.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Be careful when tipping with a credit card.  I had a bad experience at a restaurant (waitress was rude) so I only tipped 10%.  When I looked at my statement she had added an extra $1 to the tip.

    It was an OK place, and I think this waitress was just an outlier, but I haven’t eaten there since.

  8. a waiter may be paid $3.65 per hour. Twenty percent more isn’t going to do much

    I think the "raise prices and wages by twenty percent" meant "raise prices by twenty percent, and distribute that additional income among the waiters."

    I seem to remember that at some particularly fancy restaurants waiters work for tips alone.  I’m not sure whether there are places so fancy that waiters pay their employers for the right to collect tips, but it seems logical.

  9. Gabe says:

    Maurits: If you raise prices by 20%, you also raise sales tax by 20%. That additional sales tax goes to the state instead of the wait staff.

  10. Okay, if the restaurant owner want to pay his sales staff fully or partially by commission, that’s between him and the staff. Why should I, the customer, be tasked with managing his bonus program?

    Excellent service? How would I judge whether the service is excellent or not? What I expect from the waiter is a very simple task: first communicate my order to the kitchen, then when the food is ready carry it to my table. Finally accept my payment for the meal. I fail to see how any of this can be carried out with a larger or smaller degree of excellence, save for how long it takes for it to happen — but that is governed by many factors that is beyond both the waiter’s control and my knowledge. I have no way of judging accurately whether the waiter is doing a good or bad job, so I just add the percentage the guidebook tells me is appropriate for the locale. The restaurant itself could have done that when setting its prices with considerably less hassle for anyone.

  11. Dan says:

    @Maurits: I think that may be the arrangment at…um…"clubs" which sell expensive drinks to mostly men.

  12. htd says:

    I never understand why they cant just put the cost into the menu price honestly.

  13. Mark Markindale says:

    Wikipedia has a list of tipping guidelines for various parts of the world, and it’s a LONG list.


    I’m strongly in the camp of "raise prices and wages and get rid of tips". It’s just not worth the hassle.

    If the lack of tips makes service get worse, than customers will go to restaurants where the service is better. That’s how the free market is supposed to work, isn’t it?

  14. I had a bad experience at a restaurant (waitress was rude) so I only tipped 10%.  When I looked at my statement she had added an extra $1 to the tip.

    Dispute the charge.

  15. And complain to the manager.  And file a police report.

    Modifying a credit card slip is fraud, pure and simple.  (Also, never go back there again; but escalating the issue might get this predatory waitress out of waitressing, which would help protect future patrons of the restaurant.)

  16. configurator says:

    @Mark: The list may be long, but I’d prefer it if it were right.

    [From Wikipedia] In France, service charge is always included, and so tipping, or le pourboire (lit. pour boire: "to drink"), is not expected. It is however not at all uncommon to leave some small change on the table; this is only if the service is of a high standard.

    [Truth] In France, service charge is rarely included. When it does, this service charge usually doesn’t actually go to the waiters, and tips are still expected. If you leave less than 10% you’re considered a shmuck. All the tourist guides say otherwise though. French waiters hate tourists.

  17. Cheong says:

    In Hong Kong, since splitting bills is such a common thing in here, most POS systems be used in restaurants can handle them automatically.

    Actually, each "food record cards" have a S/N or barcode on them, so for the system, the ordered food goes to seperate biils but the same table.

  18. ap says:

    @configurator: Without tourists, French waiters would be unemployed. However, I agree: the French generally seem to hate tourists. Happy Bastille Day.

  19. mx.2000 says:

    The whole bill splitting thing is complicated by the fact that sales tax is not included in the price, which is probably the single most annoying and unnecessary thing about trips to the US.

    There’s just no justification for it — I could care less about the taxes, I want to know how much its going to cost me. I also don’t care if taxes vary by region; unless your restaurant is on a truck, there’s no reason not to include it.

    Here (at least in the German speaking parts of Europe) its no problem whatsoever to split a bill between 20 persons – the waiter just gets a single bill and manually calculates the subtotals at the table. Very simple and fast, because the actual price is already on the bill.

    It also means that someone can leave early and pay for his/her consumption separately, something patently horrifying for waiters in the US.

  20. The Imp says:

    >That’s how the free market is supposed to work, isn’t it?

    Oh, wouldn’t that be nice!

    Unfortunately, how the Free Market *actually* works in this case, is, people start tipping in exchange for excellence, and the *business people* see an opportunity to pay less because they can get away with it on account of their staff getting the money from elsewhere, but still with thanks to the job opportunity that they have provided them with. Then, other business people further down the chain at less exclusive places figure "why should I pay the same for my (seemingly) inferior staff?" and they lower prices on the same logic; proclaiming that the staff are welcome to also solicit tips, and so on it goes.

    I haven’t found a solution other than to open my own restaurant and run it how I think that it should all be run. Which is **really, really** how the free market works. Anyway.

    I once worked on the development of a wireless computerized ordering system. A huge amount of work went into adding split-billing functionality, but most venues simply disallowed it. There is a massive labor issue; checkout time becomes multiplied (at least) by the number of patrons instead of the number of tables, and the credit card surcharges on each extra transaction can eat most of their profit. And that’s before you even try to split the cost of discrete units (such as a shared appetizer or bottle) across more than one bill, sometimes unevenly and sometimes only on some bills. Mistakes are frequent, especially where the staff do not naively speak the language of the customers (and it can apply as just as well to businessmen from overseas being patrons while the staff are otherwise well-educated, as it can to illegal immigrants working for pennies). There are lots of other arguments too.

    It would however give each patron, and not just each bill-ee, the opportunity to tip. But since, as explained, non-cash tips are rarely paid in full to the appropriate staff, this would likely not increase their total payout.

  21. Nawak says:

    @Raymond: I’ve never encountered that situation but it may also happen here in France, I don’t know… Maybe this habit is related to location, age or social status…

    If I were to split check that way, I think that telling the waiter beforehand would be the least I could do.

    @configurator: In France, service is always included (by law I think). Tips are extra.

    I rarely tip as I rarely think there was something making it deserved. If I am unusually solliciting the waiter, then I tip.

    It seems to be that way for many of my friends. Older generations tend to tip a lot more but maybe because they grew up when service wasn’t included? Or maybe they’re richer?

    About your experience, maybe french waiters expect tips from tourists and are annoyed when they don’t get one, maybe it’s because you were in Paris (Parisians have a terrible reputation, even by french standards :) ), maybe Parisians usually tip or maybe everybody does and my friends and I are jerks :)

    I heard recently that french tourists were the most despised tourists in the world. The lousy tipping habit may be part of the reason! (But not the first one as I recall it was the "loudmouthness" and constant whining about anything)

    All in all, the french seem have a terrible reputation, both as hosts and as visitors! I always have to remember that when I go to other countries…

  22. Mishu says:

    It seems that in Japan and other parts of east Asia tips are considered to be bad etiquette. Does anyone know what happens in those countries when you show bad manners and you do leave a tip? How do they punish you if you don’t respect the etiquette? Let’s suppose that you go more times at the same restaurant and you tip all the time and a lot. How far would they go in discouraging you in humiliating them.

    Going on the "extreme", does anyone know a country where the tip (that is the tip for the waiter) is punished by law as bribery? I expected Iran to be such a country but it seems that tips are common there and they are not considered morally wrong.

  23. former bus boy says:

    More than thirty years ago I worked as a bus boy. Bus staff did get a share of tips, but I think it was reckoned out of tips, not sales. And I never heard of the kitchen staff getting a cut of tips. Of course, a lot of my work was in the breakfast world, where prices and tips are lower.

    An ethnic restaurant in Washington, DC once tacked on a service charge for a party all from another ethnic group. When the party asked, the restaurant staff said "You people don’t tip." This was not a safe answer to give to a party of law students. The restaurant lost a civil case.

  24. Arno says:

    In addtion to mx.2000’s comment: It’s really easy in Germany to do that, and it’s commonly done. The waiter addresses each person, asks what that person orders and everybody pays separately, with their own tip (which usually comes out a bit higher than the tip would be if everything was paid at once).

    Reasons why that may be so incredibly difficult in the States are…:

    • Tax is not included, so the waiter would not only have to add a few numbers, but also add 8.25% (or whatever it is at the the place where the restaurant is).
    • People want to pay with their credit cards. Paying separately is major pain when some people don’t want to pay with cash. If eight out of ten people do, it’s really annoying. But – cash is much more common here, so that’s usually not an issue.

    • Waiters aren’t expected to be able to add numbers quickly, so a lot of them simply can’t.

    … but then again, I never fully understood that. Waiters in the States are all friendly and nice, but they act as if you just rudely insulted them when you say: "I will just pay for the beer and the fries and my friend will pay for the rest".

  25. ReiVaX18 says:

    @Mishu: this guy left a 1 yen coin at a shop in Japan, and an employee followed him to the next street to return it to him: (in spanish)


    http://www.borjanet.com/archives/2006/12/28/entrevista-a-kirai-sin-recortes (2n question)

    It is somewhat common in Spain to leave 1 and 2 cent coins, as they are kind of an annoyance to carry.

  26. kog999 says:

    I hate tipping, I do it because I don’t want to look like a jerk, especially when I’m out with friends, but it’s so stupid. If the restaurant can’t afford to pay their waiters a decent salary they need to raise their prices, and were so hypocritical about who we tip. Does the cashier at McDonalds or Wendy’s really do that much less work then a waiter at a nicer restaurant? I mean they take our orders, collect and process our payment, tell the cooks to make our food and when its ready give it to us, and we never tip them. It’s the same job their just faster at it. Yet somehow McDonalds manages to pay their employee’s without customer tips supplementing their income. Admittedly their not well but well enough for them to take the jobs. Also tipping has become so expected that most people will tip regardless of the service they receive. Perhaps it will be slightly more if they received excellent service but not much. This leaves little incentive to actually provide good service.

  27. dave says:

    Tipping gives customers some form of feedback.  If the service was bad, tip nothing or less.  If service was excellent, tip more.

    Yeah, but strangely enough, I never suggest "let’s go to X restaurant, they have great service" – I tend to be more interested in the food they serve.

    In other words, a feedback system that controls a secondary aspect of the system doesn’t seem like an essential feature.

    (I agree that I might say "the food at X is good but the service is bad, so let’s not go there").

  28. former bus boy says:

    @kog99. I’d distinguish hypocrisy from custom, not that there aren’t hypocritical customs.

    And I’d say that the waiter does somewhat more complex work than the cashier, and has more latitude to give you a good or a rotten experience.

  29. -dan says:

    So much to say.

    Tipping is a great way to insure proper service – and it provides instant feedback.

    The server can only blame so many people for being cheap until they realize maybe it’s them.

    I’ve always felt like servers should be there whenever you need them, it’s not like I can get up and get my own drink when I’m thirsty.  We are helpless in our chairs and have to be Waited on, that’s their job.  I’m not talking about being at my beck and call, but for me if a server is there a few times to check on me, make sure I have what I need.  They get tipped well.  It’s that easy.  Ignore me, and you lose out. A quick walk by is all that’s needed.

    I never blame a server for the food not coming out, they are not the cook.  I do blame them for being slow to come over and take my order or check in on me, or making me wait for the check.  That is their fault, and the tip reflects.

    I start off assuming I’m going to get good service which to me translates into 20% roughly, and then I add or subtract accordingly.  Rounding off goes up or down depending on service.

    I shoot for 20% but that can change depending on what the check is.  I believe service is only worth so much, but  I believe it’s worth something.  If the bill is really low because we drank water and split an appetizer, I don’t think the server should get ripped off, they had to do just as much work.  With that said, just because I order the lobster and a pricey bottle of wine, I don’t think the server should get a  huge chunk of money either.  The work load was the same.  So I will cap of the tip.  I know that’s not common practice and probably frowned upon by some, but serving 2 people is serving 2 people no matter what the bill is, granted you will get a better tip in a better restaurant based on price, but there are limits.  I don’t think a waiter really earned 40 bucks for about 10 minutes worth of work time on my table.  If they are working 6 tables for an hour at 40 bucks, that’s 240 bucks an hour.  Sorry that just doesn’t add up for me.  I realize I’m over simplifying to keep this easy, but hopefully I made the point.

    I don’t believe the cooks should share the tips.  I believe cooks should be paid well.  They are the only reason why I am there. They are the life blood of the restaurant and should be treated as such.  Note, I’m talking about cooks, real cooks, which means NOT A CHAIN restaurant.  No cooks there, those places are a different animal.  And as side note, I wish all those restaurant chains would disappear, they are evil for so many reasons.  And in the long run we all suffer from their success, but that’s another rant.

    Splitting the bill, or sharing the bill, or who pays what.  To me it’s simple, be fair.  When with my friends, we just chop it up into equal pieces, if someone ate really little usually someone else will step up and say, hey you don’t have to pay as much.  But many times this is passed over anyway, because if you eat with the same group over time it all evens out in the end.  My opinion is if that extra 15 bucks is going to change your life you probably shouldn’t have been eating out to begin with.

    Oh and about servers who pre-judge people based on where they are from or what they look like are ignorant simpleminded idiots who deserve what they get.  You never know who has money, who appreciates service, and who is willing to pay for better service even if they don’t have a lot of money.  If you give poor service because you think you won’t get a tip, it’s a self fulfilling prophecy, you’ve just insured (and earned) yourself a crappy tip.   Which reflects on the restaurant, and if I were the owner, you’d be out on your ass.  

    It all comes down to if you’ve had a good experience while you were there.  It’s not rocket science.

    Everything has a value, be fair.

  30. KenW says:

    @kog999:Does the cashier at McDonalds or Wendy’s really do that much less work

    Yes. The cashier at McD’s or Wendy’s takes your order, and then puts it in a bag and hands it to you.

    The waiter at a restaurant, OTOH, physically comes to you, takes your order, carries it from the kitchen, serves it to you individually, brings you drinks (and refills), delivers desert, and caters to your whims. Ask a cashier at McD’s to do any of that, and see what response you get.

  31. DWalker says:

    @-dan: All chain restaurants should disappear?  Huh?  

    So, let’s say you have a good, single, independent restaurant that people love.  It’s so busy that you open a second restaurant in another part of town to meet the demand.  Then later you open a couple more in a neighboring town.

    Do you see where this is going?  Someone asks you to offer your menu and recipes as a franchise.  So, you do.  There, suddenly you ARE a "chain".  Why should you be shut down?  When did you become "evil"?

  32. DysgraphicProgrammer says:

    When I split the bill with my friends, I pay the whole bill with my credit card (because I get bonus points on that card for pumping money through it) and my friends fork over cash. If someone is without cash, someone else will cover them, or they can catch me later.

    We do not stress over exact divvying of the bill. Each knows the base price of what they ordered, and they guesstimate the tax and tip. Some times someone will come out ahead, sometimes some one will come out behind. It usually evens out over iterated visits. Known chronic cheapskates are not invited out again.  

    I usually leave the tip in cash rather than on the card. It just feels more personal that way. I also usually slightly over tip rather than calculate the correct percentage. I notice that at places we go frequently we get very good service.    

  33. dg says:

    "What I expect from the waiter is a very simple task: first communicate my order to the kitchen, then when the food is ready carry it to my table. Finally accept my payment for the meal."

    @Henning Mackholm – either you haven’t thought about your restaurant experience very deeply before posting or you go to some very sad restaurants, or you’re missing out on a large part of the restaurant experience.

    1) Have a smooth transition from the bar to your table, a table that you and your dining partner both like.

    2) Ensure you have a drink before you even start the whole ordering thing.

    3) Come back quick with that drink, now let’s talk about specials and appetizers.

    4) Appetizer and/or salad.  Ground pepper?

    5) Take the order from each guest.  Help the ones that are undecided.  Let them know maybe they can tweak the item on the menu so that their dish is just perfect.  Talk more about the specials or whatever dish in great detail.

    6) Now – what wine to get with all this?  Be familiar with the wines available, and what the minimum set of wines might work for all the different orders at the table.  Consult with a sommelier or the bartender if necessary.  Maybe bring tastes of wine over before the final decision.

    7) Bring the food – hot!

    8) Check up on us after like 3 minutes – make sure there are no problems.

    9) Let’s talk about dessert.  How about a nice port or dessert wine with that?

    10) Drop the bill silently at some earlier point, I don’t want to have to ask for it.

    11) Somehow notice immediately that I dropped the credit card on the bill, collect and process my bill immediately and discreetly.

    12) Say goodbye genuinely on our way out.

  34. Anonymous Coward says:

    That tip list is bullshit. I’ve been to several countries in western Europe and I think the writes just made most of the entries up.

    Belgium: You only say ‘houd het wisselgeld maar’ or ‘het is wel goed zo’ if it just works out that way, otherwise leave 10% if the service was good.

    France: See the comment about why French waiters hate tourists. 5% to 10% is a reasonable guideline.

    Germany: Not tipping owners must be before my time. Also, if the service was bad you want to be rude, so I don’t see the problem with giving low tips.

    Italy: Same thing as in France applies.

    The Netherlands: No one ever tips a newspaper delivery boy.

  35. Chris says:

    This is a big discussion point in the UK at the moment. If you pay a tip with your credit card then there is no guarantee that it will go to the people who served you (or even to any of the staff at all), so it’s become fairly common to leave a tip in cash. Some chains now have a policy of instructing staff that they must not tell customers this! So you have a situation where the tip may actually have nothing to do with the service you get and just go back to the owners. In this case what is the point of the "service charge" from the customer’s perspective?

  36. -dan says:

    @ DWalker59  – When did you become "evil"?

    When you are serving pre-made food that is mostly chemicals loaded with extra fat & cholesterol put together by people who have no idea how to really cook.

    I’m talking about places like TGI Fridays, Olive Garden, and all those type places, not places with actual cooks who actually create a menu and serve food they make right there, not just defrosted.

    Once a corporation starts making the menu and cooking the food, to me it’s no longer a restaurant, it’s a food mill.  And I believe most people don’t realize how unhealthy the crap they are serving is.

  37. I consider myself happy never to have encountered a waiter as obnoxiously obsequious as dg (who seems to be speaking to somebody with a name vaguely resembling mine) apparently prefers it.

    When I go to a restaurant, my goal is to transition from hungry to full. I prefer if the food tastes good, but that’s about it.

    Not among my priorities is holding conversations with strangers — usually in a foreign language — about wine (which I don’t drink), appetizers (which I’ll order from the card if I want them and ignore if I don’t), ground pepper, or desserts (unless I explicitly order them), or how well I enjoy the meal (especially in the common case when it’s so-so but I have to feign enthusiasm in order not to be drawn into a difficult conversation — in a foreign language! — about what makes it so-so rather than excellent).

    Yes, someday I would like to encounter a waiter who would volunteer the bill when I’m done eating. In reality, however, most seem singularly disinterested in collecting payment. I would also really like the waiter, after delivering bill, to stick around for the four or five seconds it takes me to produce my wallet and count out money, instead of immediately disappearing and leave me stranded for several more minutes at a time when all I want to do is get back to my hotel and hit the bed.

    But even if the waiter does do this, I would not consider it a form of "excellence". Rather, it’s a minimum service that is just sadly not met by most places.

    Quickness is nice, but if the owner of the restaurant has hired to few waitstaff to meet demand without delays, that is not the individual waiter’s fault.

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