First, my disclaimer: Nine times out of ten, the servers who griped the loudest about poor tippers were also the poorest servers. The ones who, if you had more than enough servers, you'd be happy to lay off.

That said, there are folks who tip poorly. They're the ones who come in with coupons, or for the early bird specials. If you're lucky, they'll give you 10%. So what? They really don't consume a lot of time - odds are, they aren't drinking alcohol, or having appetizers.

How do you deal with "bad tippers"? Easy - give better service. Here are some tips for you:

  • Never let a water glass be empty.
  • If people are drinking wine by the glass, make sure that they have fresh glasses before the entree is served.
  • Communicate. It's okay if the kitchen is running behind or you're swamped. Stop by the table, spend 20 seconds saying, "I haven't forgotten about you, don't worry, can I get you anything while you're waiting?"
  • Cultivate your bussers. Your bussers are one of the largest contributors to your tip. If the house policy is to give them 10% of your tips, give them more. Especially if you are sharing the bussers with other waitstaff; this gives the busser incentive to work harder at your tables.
  • Cultivate the host/hostess. Especially if you are in a tourist area - having the host(ess) drop by a table for some chit-chat can buy you invaluable time.
  • Smile.
No promises. When I waited tables, I averaged about 23% gratuities. As a bartender, I averaged 35%.

As a diner, here is my policy:

  • If the service was poor, 10% (you still need to eat).
  • If the service was decent, 15%.
  • If the service was good, anywhere between 20% and 40%, depending on how good it was. Good luck.

    And for the self-righteous: in America, waitstaff are usually paid the minimum wage, which was $2.30 for waitstaff last I checked. They are required by law to claim 8% of their sales as gratuity, unless they can document receiving something else. The money is not tax free. Most of the people who are waiting tables are doing it as a second job; you'll find quite a few well-educated teachers who are waiting tables to earn a decent salary, because they love to teach, but it doesn't help them send their own children to a nice college. So get off your high horse. It is not in a restaurant's best interest to include the gratuity on all bills; it makes the bill look larger, and dissuades repeat customers.