Every so often the subject of tipping etiquette comes up, and the "experts" who respond always seem to be members of the service industry. So of course they tell you to tip a minimum of 20%. You can ask a hooker what they think is fair for a dry hand job and they're gonna tell you $20. But you could probably negotiate a wet one at last call in exchange for a $6 Long Island Iced Tea!
And don't even get me started on all the well paid folks out there who think they deserve a tip. I will never tip salon employees, clerks, or cabbies. These jerks make plenty of money, and shouldn't be demanding a handout for the job they were paid to do! Bartenders and servers, on the other hand, make like $2 per hour, and therefor deserve some consideration.
Still, some servers deserve absolutely nothing. But rather than stiff them I think you're better off leaving them an insulting amount. Like this one steak place we visited in downtown Richmond. My family walked in and were seated quickly. I had to make an trip to the bathroom, so I broke off from the group on the way to our table. On my way back I happened to overhear two waiters talking at the back.
One of them said that he recognized "that bitch". Another one said "Ugh, I know. She's worse than the Canadians!" Which I thought was weird because we don't get a lot of Canadian tourists around here. Then a waitress, who had also overheard them, said, "That's what you guys get for expecting the worst!" and she offered to take our table.
I walked around the dining room so as not to be seen, and the waitress arrived to take our drink orders. She was smiling, but I detected some sort of contempt in her eyes. I admit that she kept up with our constant demands for more water and lemons (to make our own lemonade!) and tarter sauce. But somehow I just knew that she was condescending me, if only on a subconscious level.
I didn't want her to think that I was too dense to notice, so when we were done I left her a dime as a tip. Then we walked out nice and slow so I could see her face. She picked it up off the table and stormed off. Apparently the manager decided to take up for her, because he chased us out into the parking lot yelling, "Excuse me! You forgot your dime!". I faked surprise and embarrassment, then slapped him on his mouth when he got close.
Of course sometimes you get really good service, like a bartender who slips you free drinks, or a waitress who forgets to charge you for something. In that case I'll tip as much as 10%, plus I'll leave them a little treat, like a Ricola lozenge, or an old lighter that still has some juice in it. If the waiter is fun and has a good personality I might even play a silly trick by laying their tip in something wet, or hiding it in the salt shaker.
When it comes to actual tipping amounts, here are my own guidelines:
Food: 50 cents per person. Subtract 10 cents for every item that isn't as good as you could have made at home, and another 20 cents for every minute you have to wait for something that you spontaneously desire at any given moment.
Drinks: 10 cents for opening a bottle or pouring a draft. 25 cents for mixed drinks, a pitcher of beer, or a bucket of bottles.
Takeout: Nothing. In fact, go ahead and swipe a buck or two from the tip jar when the cashier has her back turned to bag up your order from the kitchen.
There's one last thing to do before you lay that tip money down. You might not know that servers are allowed to claim whatever they want to the IRS, so they only claim a fraction of their actual tips! That's why I suggest you tip a pretax amount. Figure out the tip they deserve, then deduct around 30% from it. That way it's fair for everybody.
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