Wednesday, May 7, 2008

To tip or not to tip? Here are some tips.

Check, please: A former waiter offers tips on tipping
By Todd South

A waiter or waitress is like the weather. When your meal goes well, you hardly notice them. But let one thing go wrong, and that person orchestrating your meal is the only thing you'll remember and about all you'll talk about with your friends.

Never mind that the server doesn't cook your food or decide how much it will cost — in most people's eyes the server is to blame.

I've been on both sides of the table with this one. Off and on for about five years I waited tables. So when I notice a newbie trying to figure out their steps I remember my sore feet and the smile I used to hide the mean thoughts running through my head about a picky customer who couldn't control her bratty children at the Sunday buffet. Which brings me to today's topic — tipping at a buffet. I know there are some of you out there who:
A — don't tip at all (may you suffer utter agony at some point in your life for your selfish ways.)
B — tip your server based on their performance, adjusting up and down accordingly (the only way to tip in my humble opinion).
C — tip the same amount, usually in spare change, no matter what the experience (old habit and just plain wrong).

I'm probably not going to change your habits in the space of a few hundred words, though I will say that I think how a person tips says a lot about character. But I want to touch on the little tread upon territory of buffet dining and how you should tip. I use some simple math.

Forget about the food, the server can't control it. Look at some basic practices. Did the server get your drink order correct? Did the server refill those drinks and take away dirty plates in a prompt fashion? Did the server check on you enough to notice if you had any requests or problems?

If those criteria are met then you need to tip.

While waiting tables at a buffet is less complicated than typical sit-down dining it is no less tiring. When I waited tables on Sunday mornings at my hometown country club a crew of four to five servers seated, fed and moved nearly 300 diners through our ballroom in about three hours. Without tips we would have made about $15 a piece.

Trust me there are hours of preparation and cleanup involved in the buffet process and servers deserve more compensation than the restaurant will ever give. You should still base the tip on a percentage, but around here with the median lunch buffet at about $7 that's not too much, in fact 15 percent (standard tip, by the way), would run you about $1.05.

I think $2 minimum is in order. Want to tip more than 15 percent, go ahead, that would be nice, but unnecessary, unless you know you're a hard customer and willing to admit it.