In the United States, in at least some places (the ones where I've worked in restaurants) it is legal to pay waitresses and other restaurant staff less than minimum wage.

That's why I always tip. That and these additional reasons:

  • I like being served food. It's sooo much better than trying to make my own.
  • I like being cleaned up after. It's so much better than having to do my own dishes.
  • I know that, in most cases, the wait person is doing their best, with minimal rewards.
  • I've been a waitress - I know what it's like to have limited job options.
  • Generosity is the milk of human kindness. When I have the money, I share it.

So, tip those waiters and waitresses! Remember that they will split their tips with the kitchen staff and bartenders - they don't get to keep the whole tip.

Having worked several waitstaff jobs, I know for a fact that you can legally be paid below minimum wage. And although you rarely, if ever, make below that, they are not going to increase your pay to 3 bucks from the usual 2.50 on the nights when you don't make it. Trust me, they don't and they don't have to. There is a legal loophole here because some nights they will make below minimum wage. As long as it averages out over a pay period, then it is legal.

Ask a waiter sometime. They'll give you the scoop. If you, or someone else you know has gotten more salary on the nights when their tips didn't make it, it is the exception, not the rule.

Remember that wage laws are set by state, let alone being completely different outside your America. Living in Taiwan, tipping is almost completely unknown. We don't tip waiters, taxi drivers, or delivery men. The only places where tipping is really a practice are big international hotels. Some fancier restaurants add a service charge, but tips are not expected. This is particularly understandable when you realize that most small, relatively proletarian holes in the wall (and if you ever been to just about anywhere in Asia, cities have thousands and thousands of these) are family establishments, who hire little or no outside help.

This creates problems for me when I go to the States. I have inadvertantly been very rude to service people just because I forgot all about tipping and ignored their cues. I have to say that living in a society without tipping has not endeared me to the practice, however. It creates a situation where the consumer constantly has to decide how much reward the waiter or other service person gets, when the he naturally wants to pay as little as possible. Tips for exceptional service are great, but tipping as a practice seems so unfair and antiquated. Face it--tipping is just expected bribery after the fact. When there is a set price, there is no misunderstanding or animosity.

I dislike tipping. Please read why before you downvote on opinion.

I believe strongly that the compensation of a waiter, waitress, bartender or other personnel in a restaurant, is an agreement between the employer and the employee. There is no reason for me as a customer to be involved in payroll issues, especially not in a service establishment, since I'm very likely there to have a good time. Tips should be used as an incentive and reward for outstanding service, not as a part of compensation. I don't give money to lowly paid employees of Wal-Mart, and I don't want to give money to lowly paid employees of T.G.I. Fridays.

If the above is true (GangstaFeelsGood and Flip), that the restaurant will lower the pay so that salary + tips together make minimum wages, then I will definitely stop tipping. I have no interest of supporting a situation where the waiter is a hostage held by the restaurant, used as a mean to make me pay more to the restaurant. 

Luckily, most countries do not have the sick tipping culture of the United States. Unluckily, that's where I happen to live now.

Well, here's the way I see it, keeping in mind I did work as a waiter for about two years. I think it makes sense to tip your waiter/waitress and I think it's a better system than having them just be paid more with no tips. I look at it this way, when I go out to dinner, I want a pleasant experience. Now, when you go to McDonalds, you rarely get this because the people who work there have no incentive to give you good service. Really, they'll hire anyone at McDonalds and no matter how much they tell me they love to see me smile, we all know they don't give a flying fuck.

Now, when I go to a restaurant, on top of good food I want good service. If I didn't, I could just go to McDonald's. Tipping has the benefit of encouraging you waitperson to give you good service, and it also gives me the opportunity to decide how much to pay for my meal. Now, some people may argue that tipping is stupid and that wait staff should just be paid more. I disagree. If you did that, the cost of your meal would be greater, and then you would, in effect, be paying more money to your waitstaff with no choice. With the way most US restaurant's are, you essentially have the option of deciding the cost of your meal (to a certain degree) based on your overall experience.

To me, this makes a lot more sense and I'd rather have it this way. You don't like your service? Great, you don't have to pay as much for your meal. You really like your service and want to say thanks? Pay a little extra. I can't understand how anyone would rather pay the same amount regardless of their service than having the freedom to decide how much your dining experience was worth.

The reason that tipping has begun to become an obligation in America is that the servers are only paid $2.13 an hour in most states. Not to mention that fact that they are taxed automatically assuming a 10 or 15 percent tip on all of their sales. (This varies from place to place, and is not true everywhere). But basically that waitress is paying taxes on that tip even if you don't give it to her.

If you don't tip it actually can cost them money to wait on you. How would you feel if (say for instance), you were a programmer, and someone called you up and said this.

"Hey, I need you to write this program for me, and I am going to complain about every aspect of it, but I am not going to pay you, and the IRS is going to tax you as if I did!".

Would you be happy with that?

If you live in a country where tipping is expected, and you are being waited on by someone who depends on your tip to feed their family, then you really should be tipping. Otherwise you are theoretically depriving someone from the lower class from a bit of their weekly income. If you were not there, then they would have waited on someone else, that someone else would have probably tipped.

You don't have to worry about any crazy formulas or algorythms to determine how much to tip. Just tip whatever you want to give. Just make sure it is something, even fifty cents will at least cover the income tax that the server might be paying on your supposed tip. If anything I tend to tip higher at the cheaper restaurants. The servers at those places usually make about half of what the people at the fancy places make. The servers at the very best establishments may possibly make quite a bit more than you. But the ones who work at the cheap diners tend to make only slightly more than a fast food employee.

If you are a server I suggest getting to know your regular customers, trying not to make mistakes, and apologizing when you do. Save that brilliant "personality" for people who actually seem interested in speaking with you. Plenty of people just want to get their food, without having to put up with your amateur acting.

I stayed awake far too late one morning and created an algorithm that I would use to determine how much of a tip I should give. I'm generally a large tipper (30-100%, depending on the total cost of the meal, the quality and gender of my service and how long I stayed in the restuarant). Now, I've never actually used this system, but it sure seemed cool after being awake for thirty hours.
The natural logarithm of 42 is approximately 3.73766961828
Quality of service is determined by the customer.
Take the service level divided by ten and multiply the quotient by the logarithm of the answer to the ultimate question of life the universe and everything. (This idea was borrowed from the Linux kernel source code.)
The above action determines the value of the "s" variable used in the equation below.
Service scale:

        00 = Worst service
        01 = Poor service
        02 = Mediocre service
        03 = Average service
        04 = Good service
        05 = Great service
        06 = Grand service
        07 = Exceptional service
        08 = Fantastic service
        09 = Amazing service
        10 = Best service

tip = bill * 0.15 * s
totalbill = tip + bill
I later realized that in a restuarant, where a calculator isn't readily available, this method does not work very well and I end up tipping my regular fiver.

Like many others in America, many Casino workers rely on tips (known in the industry as tokes) to subsidize their very low hourly wage. Blackjack Dealers, Craps dealers, Roulette dealers, change carriers, cashiers, Cocktail waitresses, and bartenders all rely on tips to make a decent wage. Some wages become so decent that these workers become, in essence, trapped, unable to quit and get a "real job" that would pay much less than this surreal job pays. They put up with all kinds of abuse from drunk and mostly losing gamblers. And when a gambler gets really lucky and hits a winning streak, walking away with large sums of money, the dealer, waitress, etc., often goes untipped. Henceforth, the popularity of a name tag worn on the employees shirt that simply reads, Tipping is not a city in China. Unfortunately, these tags are not allowed by management, so are rarely seen, but the sentiment, none the less, is widespread.

A tip is a payment, usually in cash or change, left for a waiter or waitress to show gratitude for the service rendered. The tip you leave should be based off the quality of this service and not the cost of the meal. When it comes to tipping your server there are a few things to keep in mind to help influence the amount you leave.

Here are things to think about while tipping some one working in food service:
Time
This is not the time waiting for your food, your server has no control over how long the cook takes to prepare it.
When you sat down at your table, keep in mind how long it takes for you waiter or waitress to get with you. If they are rushed, give them a bit of extra time to help you.
If you can see your food when it is finished, watch how long it takes for it to be brought to you. A server's main duty is to do this.
How often does he check on how you are doing? When he passes by your table, even if he is doing something else, he can at least ask if you need something.
Talk
When the waiter or waitress talks to you is he or she about the sell, the service, or conversation?
A server's job is to sell, they must do this. If they fail to do this, there is no need for a tip.
Being polite is a key factor for any service job. When they serve you, a good waiter or waitress should make you feel good about being there.
A waiter or waitress that attempts actual conversation is a great thing to have. Telling jokes, giving personal views, and suggesting meal items is a very inviting way to wait a table. A server being honest and open helps also. If you ask how the soup is today, and he replies with something to the effect of "trust me you don't want it" they saved you from spending money on something that would upset you.
service
Servers should be able to distribute your food and create an enjoyable dining experience.
Does your server clean your table of dirty plates when you have finished? How about wiping up those spills?
When something is wrong, does your server fix it, or at least attempt to do so? If you order mustard on you burger, does he get it? Was it his fault that it wasn't there in the first place?
Does your waiter or waitress make you feel welcome? When you get your bill, do you get the impression you should leave or do you feel welcome to sit and chill for a bit?
What about the cost of the food? If you find certain item that you ordered off the bill, he may have not forgotten but instead given you free food. In this case, they has gone out of their way, risking their employment, to give you something extra. All such items should increase the service charge you give them. (I also suggest a thank you, but avoid saying anything about, their boss may be around.)
And remember, it takes just as much work to serve a $20 steak as it does a $1 sausage biscuit.

Tipping guidelines

I'm an American, so this is strongly biased towards American standards and guidelines—in fact, as Fruan and RPGeek have reminded me, it's pretty much only applicable in the U.S.1 I have very little experience elsewhere, although I recall in Paris my then-girlfriend and I left €1 each on top of the included gratuity. Moreover, I live in New York, so that may further skew the numbers here listed. Naturally, your mileage may vary.

EDIT 10/12/2005: Thomas Keller's Per Se in the Time-Warner Center in New York has recently abolished tipping and added a 20% service charge to all checks.

In all cases, of course, you can adjust these numbers up or down to reflect the quality of the service, but looking for problems in order to justify a lower tip makes baby Jesus cry.

Whatever the guidelines might say, avoid leaving coins, definitely avoid leaving only coins, and even if you're charging the tip, don't tip less than a dollar. If you're paying by credit card but tipping in cash, write "cash" in the line for the tip unless you don't mind getting dirty looks.

If you find yourself in a situation not listed here, 15% to 25% is probably about right.

Lastly, this is purely from the viewpoint of a customer; I've never depended on tips, nor have I held a job where tips were customary.


Dining out

  • At a full-service restaurant, tip about 15% to 20% of your total bill. In large cities, lean towards the 20% end of that range. Your total bill includes all food at all courses, all beverages for which you were charged, alcoholic or not, and all taxes.
    • In special cases, such as getting something comped or at a discount, tip as though you paid full price, particularly if it was for something that wasn't the fault of the restaurant or its personnel.
    • On which note, remember that many things are out of your waiter's control. A fight with your boyfriend or a fussy child, yours or someone else's, is probably out of the server's hands.
    • If you take up a relatively small percentage of the seats at the table, or are there an unusually long time, tip more. A party of three at a table for four is not obliged to tip a third more, and a person sitting alone at a table for two certainly doesn't need to tip twice as much, but bump it up a little.
    • Tipping anyone but the waiter and the coat-check person is optional2 except for a particular favor, but if you feel the need, $1 for the host and 15% of the wine bill for the sommelier are not unreasonable. If you're at the restaurant where my girlfriend's sister works, the hostess gets $3.
    • The coat-check person should get $1 to $2 per coat if it's free, $0 to $1 if it isn't. Many places where coat checking isn't free, it's because people don't tip -- it's essentially tipping made mandatory. Speking of mandatory, if the coat check is mandatory and not free I'd tip nothing.
    • Do not tip the waitress with your penis. If you're intellectually capable of reading this, of course, that probably doesn't need to be said.
  • At a buffet, where the waiter brings drinks and arranges for you to have the attention of the busing staff, tip 10%.
    • This applies to any other restaurant where the waiter does some but not all of relaying your food and drink orders to the kitchen and conveying your food to your table.
  • At a bar, I usually leave $1 per drink or 20%, whichever is more.
    • If I'm running a tab, it'll be $1 per drink plus $1 unless 20% of the bill comes to more than that.
  • At a carry-out restaurant (or "take-away"), I tend not to tip,3 but if it's a counter at which I regularly make an appearance, such as the Starbucks across the street from my office, I will, generally $1 per time for small orders, 10% to 15% for larger ones.
    • I've seen it suggested that you should tip more at the take-out counter of a restaurant that also offers sit-down service, but I don't see a reason for that.

Dining in

  • For pizza delivery, I've seen $1 per pie. This seems low to me. I generally tip 25% of the total order, as I do for other deliveries. However, I generally pay 125% of the total cost of the food, including tax—any delivery charge comes off the tip3.
  • For other food deliveries, again, 25% of the total, minus delivery fees. If the delivery charge is more than 25% of the total order, tip a dollar or two.
  • Hotel room service often includes a delivery charge and a gratuity on top of outrageously inflated prices to begin with, but it can't hurt to slip the guy 10% or so, at least a couple of bucks.

Transportation

  • The valet should get $1 to $5 if the service is free, $0 to $2 if it's not. Remember, you are giving your car keys to this person. However, as with the coat check, if you have to use the valet parking and you have to pay for it, feel free to not tip
  • A taxi or limo driver should get about 25%. If there's no charge for using the trunk (or boot), add something anyway if you do use it.
    • If you're someplace it's legal for taxis to pick up street hails, and you're going to a neighborhood where these are hard to come by, remember the price of gasoline.
  • Skycaps get about $1 per bag. This also applies to shuttle drivers and the like who help you with your bags.

Appearance

Hotels

  • Hotel porters get about $2 or $3 per bag delivered to or carried from your room and $1 to $2 each for getting them out of storage. If they perform special services, that should be further rewarded. Like with valets, remember these people have access to all your immediately available worldly possessions.
  • For room service, see above under "Dining in."
  • The doorman gets $1 each time he does something for you, like hails a cab or finds a hooker.
  • Leave the maid $1 to $5 (at a really upscale place) per person per night when you check out, more if you've been leaving used condoms in the trash, however well wrapped, or if one of your party got her period all of a sudden4.

Other

  • Someone delivering furniture should get $5 or more per item, and that's for going up the elevator and dumping everything in a pile. If there are stairs or setting up involved, tip more.
  • The tattoo artist may be an independent contractor who will simply ask for the amount of money he or she expects to receive. However, there are equipent and overhead costs. Tip 10% to 20%, according to the intricacy of the work.
  • A piercer should get 10%, more if you're getting a lot done at once.
  • A topless dancer or stripper should get $1 to $5 each time she comes around. If she has big tits or less body hair than you expected, tip more. Many work solely for tips.
  • Anyplace else where there's a little basket labeled "tips," it can be ignored. If the sign indicates anything more than that tips are to be deposited in that receptacle -- e.g., "tips please!" or "we're poor college students!" or, worst of all, "tipping is customary" when that simply isn't the case -- stifle any impulse you have to leave something, although try to avoid filching a dollar from the basket.

1And auduster strongly urges that you never ever ever do any of this in the U.K.

2That is, even more optional than tipping is generally.

3If you feel this is unfair, feel free to /msg me to explain why. I'll likely change the write-up. I may even change my practice.

4Er, I would imagine.

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