A tip-off on tips

by David Kitai

Maybe the most famous non-ear related scene in Quentin Tarantino’s 1992 thriller Reservoir Dogs comes when Steve Buscemi battles a table full of fellow diners over a fundamental tenet of his worldview: “I don’t tip.” He makes some good points, why do servers get tips when the guy at McDonald’s gets nothing? Is tipping how we really acknowledge quality service? How many times, when we tip, are we thinking: “Damn that waiter really took good care of me,” or are we just obeying another arbitrary social norm?

For students, tipping can be extra stressful. Sure, we live on tight budgets, but we’re also babies in the adult world. We don’t know how to communicate with servers who often, whatever the quality of their service, know how to make sure we leave an ‘appropriate’ tip. Suddenly the cheque becomes an anxiety-ridden battle of wills that we young’uns are ill-equipped to fight.

I’m personally torn about tips. I certainly have a few friends who live off them. I’ve also worked service industry jobs that involved busting my ass, physically and mentally, with absolutely no expectation of a tip. In the past few years I’ve developed a five rules to navigate the surprisingly complex world of tipping on a tight budget.

Rule One: Make sure you can afford at least a 15% gratuity. If you’re going out on a budget look at the menu ahead of time, if you can barely afford an entrée then you certainly can’t afford the full bill. Go find somewhere cheaper, there’s plenty of options.

Rule Two: If you like the place, tip. Tipping establishes rapport with a restaurant. Servers talk; they know who tips well and who doesn’t. Think of it as an investment. When you come back, odds are you’ll get even better service and have a better time. Consistent tipping, and friendly conversation with your server, is the fastest way to make yourself a regular.

Rule Three: If ncessary, do the opposite of Rule Two. If you didn’t enjoy yourself and couldn’t possibly see yourself eating or drinking at that place again, then don’t bother leaving a tip. You had a bad time and won’t be back, so the place doesn’t deserve any more of your money.

Rule Four: Always, and I mean ALWAYS, tip your bartender. Unlike a restaurant, bars involve repeated orders and repeated payments. Stick to the rule of a buck a beer and you’ll be shocked at how fast and friendly your service becomes. The right bars will start turning good tips into a few rounds on the house.

Rule Five: If you broke Rule One and genuinely can’t afford the tip, explain yourself. Leave whatever you can extra and tell your server that you appreciated the meal, but really can’t afford anything more. Odds are they’ve been in your shoes a few times before and will understand. When and if you come back make sure you bring enough to leave a proper tip.

My rules can be summed up thusly: know your budget, expect good service, let people know when you’ve enjoyed yourself and, perhaps most importantly, don’t be a dick.