The Tipping Point: How Much is Appropriate?

In late January, a small debate started brewing about what a standard restaurant tip in the city was. Is it still 15%, or is 20% now a la mode? Whatever you decide is fair for service is up to you – based of course on whether you were treated well, great, or poorly. But before you toss on your tip at the end of a meal, you should likely know a little more about the service industry, because there’s more than meets the eye at these here restaurants.

‘Tipping Out’ has been common practice for years, with servers sending a portion of their tips through to the assisting staff – like bussers, bartenders, hosts/hostesses and the like. It sat around anywhere from about 2 to 3.5%. But in late 2009 and early 2010, more restaurants started adopting a higher tip-out, now ranging anywhere from 4 to 6% on a server’s total sales. These extra percentage points usually make their way to the house, to pay for incidentals like broken dishes, etc. 

To give you some context, here’s a little bit of late-week math for you…

Say a server’s bills tally $1,000 in a shift, and they’re tipped an average of 15%, $150 would be the tip total. Now say their restaurant’s tip-out is 5% on total sales, then $50 goes to the house for disbursal amongst the assisting front-line staff and the restaurant itself. In this instance, 30% of the server’s tips are gone, meaning that they walk away with only $100 at the end of their shift. Quite a hit, no? 

There are other oddities when it comes to restaurants, like some – not a lot, but a handful – taking 1% from a server’s tips to cover the charges incurred by using Moneris (Visa, Interac, etc.) machines. Some places have ‘dine and dash’ funds wherein a server might be required to toss in $2 a shift in case some nasty diners decide to haul out before paying their bill. Some restaurants require the pooling of tips (a practice where all servers put their combined tips together and then are all given equal share), meaning that if a fantastic server is averaging 20% gratuity, and a terrible one 10%, then the upstanding waiter or waitress takes more of a hit. 

All of this of course amounts to little except that tipping should be treated as an ethical practice. If you’re treated with exceptional service, tip accordingly. If you’re given terrible service, then you’ll likely leave a much smaller gratuity. 

Of course, there are some tips to tipping. Many servers will agree that average service should be given a 15% grat, and that you can work your way up or down from there. Others think that a 20% tip should be standard…but if you’re given lacklustre service that likely won’t the case. If a server’s shift ends in the middle of your meal or while you’re lounging around having drinks, common courtesy dictates to close the bill. Some servers may ask if you’d be alright settling and reopening with a new server, others will politely hint that there will be a new server taking care of you. In either case, you should probably close the bill and start anew with the fresh bringer of booze and grub.

We’ll see how far this tipping war rages in the city, but if you stick to some guidelines, know better about how the industry works, and assist your server with politeness and posh, then all ends win. Next time you go to toss down those few extra bucks, just be mindful, and of course, always stay notably classy when dining out.