Tipping might be one of the most socially accepted forms of etiquette, but it is often the most confusing. When dining out with family and friends, it is often the topic at the end of the meal. Should we tip for buffet service? How much should we give at a formal meal?
The typical standard for tipping when dining out at a traditional restaurant is 15 to 20 percent of the pre-tax amount of the bill, not the total bill with taxes included. But some dining patrons need some guidance for tipping in nontraditional settings.
In self-service restaurants, like buffet or cafeteria-style, it is acceptable to tip 10 percent of the bill for table services, and an extra $5 in any dining setting for extra accommodations or an extra 10 percent if your table receives extra attention on a particularly busy night at the restaurant.
Hostess and Maitre d’
Unless you are a frequent patron, it is not necessary to tip the maitre d’. If you are a regular, you may want to give the host $10 to $20 every once in a while to cultivate your relationship and to say “thank you” for special services. A tip may be appropriate if the maitre d’ has gone out of his way to find a table for you on a busy night. If your dining party is large, double or triple the tip, depending on the number of people.
How much you tip a bartender depends in part on whether you’re waiting at the bar for a table in the adjoining restaurant or you’re at a bar for its own sake. As you wait for a table, you can either pay for drinks as you order or run a tab, which will be added to your dinner bill. Leave a tip for the bartender before you leave the bar. One dollar per drink is standard. If you’re at a bar simply to have a drink, tip between 15 and 20 percent of the total. If the bartender has given you a free drink or two, add a couple of extra dollars to the tip.
Tip washroom attendants at least one dollar for handing you a towel. A small dish of coins is usually on display and the tip is placed there instead of in the attendant’s hand. If attendants do nothing but stand there, no tip is necessary.
Tip the parking attendant at least $2. Give the tip when the car is brought to you, not when you arrive.
Busboys are usually not tipped, with two exceptions: you spill something and the busboy cleans it up, and in that case give a dollar or two as you leave; or if a busboy in a cafeteria carries your tray to the table, then a dollar or two is also appropriate.
In nicer restaurants with piano entertainment, do not tip the piano player unless you see a tip jar. You may tip musicians in more casual restaurants, $2 to $5 when you leave, even if you have not made a request. If you have made requests, add an extra dollar or more for each song. For strolling musicians, the basic tip is $1 per musician and $2 for a party of two; a total of $5 is enough for a group. If you make a special request, add an extra dollar to each musician’s tip. You needn’t stop eating when musicians perform table side. Just smile and thank them as you tip when the musicians finish.
If something goes wrong during your ordering or meal, your tip depends on how well the waitstaff addresses the problem. If there was a successful resolution, tip the full amount. If your waiter did not get adequate results but doesn’t deserve all the blame, reduce the tip to 10 percent. If the problem wasn’t taken care of or your waiter was surly, tip eight percent.
Other tipping tips:
• Tip discreetly. Tipping is a private matter, so don’t play the big spender who likes to flash bills.
• Money is the tip of choice in most cases, but sometimes a small gift, usually given during the holidays, can be substituted.
• Check the bill to see if a gratuity (or a service charge) is included. Gratuities are typically included when a table has been booked for groups of more than six people. If you think it is deserved, you can leave an additional tip.
• If you eat light or use a coupon, it is thoughtful to leave a tip commensurate with a full-priced meal.
Mike Lininger contributed to this article. He is the editor of Etiquette Scholar (www.etiquettescholar.com).