Lesson #5: Always Tip Your Waiter Well

Alway tip your waiter well.What follows is the fifth (and long overdue) installment in a series I started late last summer called “7 Life Lessons I’ve Learned from my Husband.” It’s an important one, so take notes!

My husband and I entered marriage with very disparate attitudes toward tipping.

I had always calculated my tips according to exact (minimum recommended) percentages, with a little extra thrown in if the service exceeded my expectations (which were admittedly high, so it rarely did). My goal was to spend as little as possible, which explains why I also ordered only water to drink and steered clear of exotic (read “expensive”) menu offerings.

My husband tips generously regardless.

I’ve even seen him leave a 25% tip at a self-service buffet for a waitress who was blatantly rude to us, took our receipt and never returned it, and didn’t refill our drink glasses a single time throughout our meal.

If you were to question him about it, he’d explain the rationale behind this practice:

  1. Servers Depend on Good Tips –
  2. People don’t just wait tables because they enjoy getting chewed out when the steak’s overcooked. More often than not, they are waiting tables to make ends meet. What’s more, they only get paid $2.13 an hour to do it — the rest is (theoretically) made up in tips.

    Servers depend on the generosity of their customers to make a living wage. They need tips to pay the rent, to put food in their children’s mouths, or to cover their college tuition. Additionally, many waiters are required to share a fixed percentage of their tips with bussers, runners, and hosts. When a customer stiffs them, they must pay the difference out of their own pocket.

  3. Good Service Deserves Good Tips –
  4. Waiting tables is grueling work. Servers are on their feet all day. They must multitask continually. And they have to bust tail to keep up with all the demands, especially during busy times, like the lunch hour rush, Friday nights, and Sunday mornings. And they do it all with a smile on their face.

    There are orders to be taken (while patiently waiting as 4-year-olds deliberate indecisively between chicken strips and grilled cheese), drink glasses to fill (and refill and refill), piping hot plates to serve up promptly, bread baskets (or chips and salsa bowls) to replenish, desserts to proffer, tickets to tally, to-go boxes to fetch, and change to be made.

    Most servers work hard to earn their tips, so leave them a nice one.

  5. Bad Service is Improved by Good Tips –
  6. Servers are only human. Your waiter has bad days, just like everybody else: His car breaks down. His girlfriend dumps him. His bills come due. His last customer sends her order back to the kitchen three times before she is satisfied.

    The discouragement, distraction, and/or despair that accompanies such stressers can adversely affect his job performance. Of course, you are in no way obligated to reward lousy service with a large tip, but if you choose to do so anyway — to extend grace where it is so obviously and desperately needed – you might just turn a server’s crummy day (and attitude) into a great one.

    Your tip will be appreciated and remembered, guaranteeing you better service next time, should the same server be assigned to you again. But it will also give him hope, which in turn will lead him to render better service to all the customers who come after you.

  7. It Reflects Well on You to Leave Good Tips –
  8. Successful CEO’s know something obnoxious restaurant patrons don’t: The way you treat (or mistreat) your waitress says a lot more about you than it does about her.

    This fact, commonly known as “The Waiter Rule,” is what leads savvy business owners to conduct luncheon interviews of potential hires in a restaurant setting. That a prospective employee is courteous to the person conducting the interview — the one who will determine whether or not he gets the job — says very little. That he is patient with a waitress who gets his order wrong or spills ice water in his lap speaks volumes.

    More revealing still is how a person treats his server when he thinks no one is watching — including (and perhaps especially) when it comes time to sign the check.

  9. You Share God’s Blessings When You Leave Good Tips –
  10. It is common knowledge in the service industry that Sunday morning shifts are the absolute worst. The Sunday lunch hour is insanely busy as restaurants fill to bursting with church-going folks fresh from worship, and tips are minimal or non-existent.

    This may be, as one sweet waitress conjectured, because those customers gave all their money to the church and have nothing left for leaving a nice tip, but such reasoning fails to account for why they’d be eating out in the first place, and it certainly doesn’t explain why so many of them treat the waitstaff with frequent and unjustifiable rudeness while they’re there.

    “Out of the same mouth come both blessings and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not be so.” (James 3:9-10)

    We who name the name of Christ should demonstrate His character in how we treat others, including our waiters and waitresses. The fruit of His Spirit — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control — should be evident in our every interaction (Galatians 5:22).

    Surely those of us who have been forgiven so much should be willing to overlook the offenses of others (Matthew 6:14), especially such minor mistakes as a server’s filling our glass with sweet tea rather than unsweet or forgetting that we ordered our salad dressing on the side.

    And we who know personally the Creator of the universe should be able to look past a waitress’s tattoos (or body piercings or unconventional hairstyle or the fact that she is working on Sunday), and see a person created in the image of God — one who deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, especially by those of us who call ourselves Christians, and especially if we are to have any hope of sharing the love of Jesus with her in a way that rings true.

    Yes, Christ’s redeeming love is the best gift anybody will ever receive, and yes, those of us who have experienced that love firsthand should share it with others at every opportunity, but if you want your server to actually read that gospel tract you’re leaving behind on the table, you should first slip between its pages the most generous tip you can muster.

So there they are in a nutshell: The reasons my husband insists that we always tip our waiter well. It’s a philosophy forged while he was waiting tables himself through high school and college.

He has always maintained that his experience waiting tables during that season of life makes him a better physician during this one. Doctors, like waiters, must be willing to get their hands dirty; they need to know how to multitask, how to interact with a variety of cultures, personalities and backgrounds, and how to deal with an oftentimes demanding and unreasonable public (whether they’re sick or they’re hungry, people want to be taken care of fast and can be downright difficult until their physical needs have been addressed and their pain or hunger alleviated).

Also in medicine, as in the food industry, one’s success or failure depends on a combination of both skill and personality. One must be both competent and courteous to do well. These lessons are best learned early in one’s career, which is why our son Samuel, who’ll be starting medical school this fall, is spending his last semester at home waiting tables (parttime, at least, when he’s not teaching biology labs at the junior college). He hopes to follow in his father’s footsteps.

Tip WellAnd, just in case you’re wondering about my own current tipping practices, my husband has completely won me over to his way of thinking. Now, on the rare occasion that I dine out without him, I never scrimp on the tip or try to see how little I can leave without feeling guilty. Neither do I calculate a fixed 20% and leave it at that.

Instead, I think to myself, “How much would my husband tip on this tab?” Then I leave that amount, plus a little bit more — just to be safe.

15 thoughts on “Lesson #5: Always Tip Your Waiter Well

  1. Jennifer, I found your blog posting most insightful, and after reading/seeing it from both your eyes, and Doug’s, I, too, must change how much I offer the waitstaff. I would usually figure on a percent and round to an even amount. If the service provided wasn’t to my liking, the tip would lean negatively; conversely, good service would earn the server a larger amount. I had not thought of Doug’s perspective that maybe the person was having a bad day, for whatever reason, and that I might be the one to cheer them up with a nice tip. Thank you for opening my eyes!


  2. This is so good! When I was in college (a Christian college), a professor confronted us about it. He recognized that college students would go to restaurants in large groups, order the cheapest thing on the menu, and water. Then they’d ask for the free bread or chips/salsa, and plenty of refills. Which he didn’t have a problem with. But when the bill came and our receipt was only $3.50, a 15-20% tip is just not enough! Our waiter had served us as much (or more) as they’d served those who spent $50 on food, and they deserved just as good of a tip. He said we could skimp on the food, but never the tip.

    AND said that if we couldn’t afford to tip well, we should keep our eating out to fast food locations. Some students thought he was harsh, but it always stuck with me.


  3. I am so moved by this article. I think of my precious son-in-love, Troy and how he put himself through med school managing Pappadeaux on 1960. From that difficult job straight into dentistry. I don’t think any of his patrons or his patients have seen him anything but gracious and kind, regardless of what they sent his way. I have also seen him leave gracious tips regardless of the service. Now, my Ethan is following in his daddy’s footsteps. I am praying his customers will see the kind, cheerful young man who is serving them and will bless him.


    • What a precious testimony, Martha! I pray your Ethan will be blessed, too, and that he will continue to be a blessing to the customers he serves. I am happy to report that our Samuel worked his first Sunday morning shift this week, and he told us it was his best yet, both in terms of tips and of friendly patrons. And that is exactly as it should be, don’t you think?


  4. I love this post, and I agree with every word of it. I often like to leave a gospel tract with my tip, and it’s imperative to be generous when doing that. I do tend to be a bit of a tightwad, but when tipping, I like to be generous. Thanks for a great post!


  5. Giving a generous tip for lousy service only encourages them to continue performing in such an incompetent manner.

    Moreover, the onus of ensuring that these people get a living wage should be on their employers, not on customers who have no obligation to pay more than what they are billed.


    • Reminds me of an old story about a man who went to the baths…

      He was looking dusty and ragged, so the attendants gave him the worst service, the most worn towel and the smallest bit of soap – but, upon washing, he gave them a gold coin each.
      Naturally, when he came back a day or two later, the attendants thought: “A gold coin for bad service – how will he reward us for good service?!” and lavished him with the best service, the fluffiest towel, most splendid bathrobe and a massage. Eager, they awaited payment… to receive the smallest copper coin each for their efforts.
      To their puzzled enquiry the man replied: “Those gold coins were for today’s service. This is for the last time’s”.

      So, depending on the person’s upbringing, it might encourage them for better or worse. Like everything in life. Of course, if the bad service is consistent, one might re-think one’s policy (on a case-by-case basis), but why not spread cheer instead of misery as your default modus operandi?


      • I see the point you are making – better to be a cause of cheer than of despair.

        However, we do not always get to go back to these servers or these places in order to determine how they respond (based on their upbringing) to my tipping (or lack thereof). Sometimes, we pass by them just once.

        What is consistent though – whether we encounter a server once or regularly – is that this culture of “obligatory tipping” prevalent in some countries encourages employers to not give their employees a living wage, giving the excuse that people will tip them anyway. Subjecting these servers’ welfare to the whims of people and depriving them of the security normal employed people get seem to be too high a cost to pay for the perpetuation of this obligatory tipping culture that allows some people to feel better about themselves.


  6. I’d just like to pass on another way to help spread the gospel and it’s simply this:-

    Include a link to an online gospel tract (e.g. http://www.freecartoontract.com/animation) as part of your email signature.

    An email signature is a piece of customizable HTML or text that most email applications will allow you to add to all your outgoing emails. For example, it commonly contains name and contact details – but it could also (of course) contain a link to a gospel tract.

    For example, it might say something like, “p.s. you might like this gospel cartoon …” or “p.s. have you seen this?”.

    Liked by 1 person

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