Six months waiting tables at the local Red Lobster when I was in college turned me from “Black people do tip! Don’t spread those stereotypes about our people!” to “Please don’t seat anymore Black folks in my section. My rent is due this week.” We weren’t the only ones to violate the unofficial tipping laws, but over time, I found that it seems many of our folks simply don’t understand why they are expected to tip. And there were some noteworthy infractions that found me quitting the job altogether during the hellish promotion that is “Endless Shrimp” (more on that later).

In most restauraunts, from your local cheapie Thai spot to the casual (i.e. Red Lobster or TGI Friday’s) and the casual plus (think places with white tablecloths that still aren’t “fancy”, but a cut above Applebees), the waitstaff is paid well under the national or local minimum wage rate per hour. In fact, the hourly rate (as low as $2.00 in some places) is designed to cover the taxes on the tips that the waiter earns, not to be paid as a salary. The restaurant culture of this country is ordered in a way that patrons, not owners, pay the waitstaff.

While the system sucks, it is what it is. If waiters don’t make 15-20 percent on their tables, they aren’t bringing much home. And as waiting tables is physical and sometimes difficult work, it’s not fair for someone to go home with $6 for an hour’s work because you didn’t like the chicken. Unfortunately, many people simply don’t know that tipping is part of the cost of going out to eat, not simply something you do out of the kindness of your heart.

Also: sometimes you need to do a bit more than 15%. Back to my Endless Shrimp story. Red Lobster has a yearly all-you-can-eat shrimp promo so that we can all get our UGK on and enjoy iodine poisonin’. It costs somewhere around $15 and you get a salad, a side dish and an initial plate of two shrimp offerings, after which you can order as many small plates of shrimp as you’d like- one at a time. When I worked this promotion, people came in, ordered the special and a water (with lemon!) and nothing else. No Lobsteritas or sodas to make the check any higher. So two people could literally park their as$es at one of my tables for hours, have me constantly refilling both their water and their shrimp plates and have a final check of about $34.00. Now, one would think that folks would know to tip based on the fact that they ran me ragged for a long period of time AND prevented me from taking new tables, right? Hell no. I was getting tips of $4-6 dollars on a lot of those two party checks. No bueno.

If you have $20 in your pocket and your friends invite you out to dinner, make sure that your meal is no more than $14-15 before tax and tip. There is nothing that says “I have no class” like going out to eat and claming to be too broke to pay the tip. If you can’t afford to tip, stay at home and cook. Otherwise, tip at least 15% for average service, 20% for good service and no less than 10% for marginal service. If you had some sort of serious issue with the waiter (out and out disrespect, for example), speak to a manager.

When at the bar, tip about 15-20% on your check or at least $1 per drink.

What about ordering delivery? Do you have to tip then? Yes. While drivers tend to make a slightly higher wage than waiters, they also have to use their own car, gas and insurance to get you that pizza piping hot in 20 minutes or less. The delivery fee charged by restaurants does not go directly to them. Tip a driver 10% of the pretax bill, no less than $1.

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  • marais morris

    i heard this story about black people long ago as a broke college student when i did not go out to eat or do anything much that required tipping because of aforesaid lack of money. however, the older i got, the more money i accumulated so i have ALWAYS tipped accordingly. i never tip less than 20% and, quite often will give a little more depending on the service. and it annoys me when other blacks will sit down with me for a meal and not only will leave a very PALTRY tip, but will often have the nerve to comment on whatever i am leaving as a tip telling me that that is too much. but i realized a long, long time ago that i excessively tip for one reason only and that is in order to try to do something AGAINST that black STEREOTYPE since i understand very much why some people do not tip because i, too, really do not believe in the concept of tipping anyway. MOST PEOPLE DO NOT REALIZE THAT THEY ARE BEING TAKEN ADVANTAGE OF BY THE VARIOUS ENTERPRISES THAT REQUIRE TIPPING. BECAUSE THESE ESTABLISHMENTS DO NOT PAY WORKERS AN ADEQUATE SALARY, THE ESTABLISHMENT ITSELF IS HOPING THAT THE EMPLOYEE WILL MAKE UP THE company’s OWN SORRY DIFFERENCE through the TIP. THE owners WILL PAY THESE WORKERS SOMETIMES LESS THAN MINIMUM WAGE WHILE MAKING THEIR OWN BIG SALARIES BECAUSE THEY KNOW THAT PATRONS WILL TIP AND MAKE UP THE DIFFERENCE. THEY DO NOT EVEN HAVE TO TELL THEIR WAIT STAFF HOW TO TREAT CUSTOMERS BECAUSE THEY KNOW THAT CUSTOMERS WILL BE TREATED ROYALLY IN THE HOPE OF THEIR LEAVING A LARGE TIP. enterprises should pay their staff enough to obviate the need for tips because not everyone else is tipped for their service. PEOPLE DO NOT TIP NURSES; THEY DO NOT TIP TEACHERS, ETC. and SHOULDN’T THESE SERVICES BE TIPPED.ALSO?

  • ThisIshRightHereNinja

    I spent the weekend at a resort and because I was using my corporate account they automatically tacked on a 20% tip for everything. It was very eye-opening for me. It’s not that I wouldn’t have tipped well, were I left to my own devices, but certain ish is just difficult for me to wrap my mind around. The dude who brought out my beach chair? I’m totally not clear on why he needs a mandatory $5 tip. Even if he receives NO salary at all from the hotel, there are at least 200 chairs in use at any given time. You’re telling me he needs to make $1000 a day for dragging chairs across the beach? Ok. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to “count his money” as it were, but a tip is gratuity, right? What if I’m not $5 worth of grateful for the run-of-the-mill service (that, might I add, I could clearly have performed for myself) he provided?

    The jawn who rang up my key lime tart? No really, I pointed to the tart, she grabbed it out of the refrigerated case (already plated) and handed it to me. She needs a tip for below barista-level service? I don’t get it.

    Because even I don’t like my money counted, I’m not impressed by the argument that “if you chose to come to a fancy resort, clearly you can afford to tip.” Maybe I can. But I’m slow to understand why that entitles anyone else to my money. I still say: charge the price you want. Based on that, I’ll consume the service or not.

    • Evonn

      “But I’m slow to understand why that entitles anyone else to my money.”

      Didn’t you you state that that the company paid for it, and it was on the corporate account? So it was their money? Generally, when it seems like you’re getting charged too much for something on a corporate card, companies are getting discounts elsewhere with whatever kind of deal they negotiated with the travel service, the hotel, the rental car company, the airliner, etc., and the overall deal is still better for them.

      As an example, I used to work for Exxon and the employess were always saying, “Hell, I can go on Orbitz right now and get that same airline ticket for 1/3 the price! Why is this company so stupid with their money?” Which was true, but that was a non-refundable ticket that could not be changed in any way – departure date, time, etc. We frequently had to add another stop, or leave a day later, or whatever, and in that case, the pre-negotiated ticket price that Exxon had with that airline was a much better deal.

      If the company negotiated a deal with that hotel/hotel chain for a standing discount, maybe part of that deal was that gratuities would automatically be added, It happens like that sometimes.

      Regardless, I’m thinking the focus of this post is about individuals tipping for drinks or dinner, not what companies negotiate in their discount packages for their travel departments. I think everybody (no matter what race or gender) tips OK when it’s the company’s money – the proof of the pudding (no bad pun intended) is when you’re spending your own money on dinner and drinks.

  • CJ

    I am on the fence with this. A part of me is like just don’t go out if you cant afford to/don’t want to leave an adequate tip. But I feel like 9/10 these arguments only come from ppl who have been restaurant servers or people who depended on tips. The other part of me agrees with African mami, like don’t tell me not to go out. I will say that I do not agree with not tipping at all. Buuut I most certainly do not believe there should be some required percentage because I am not tipping anyone based off percentage who does not deserve it. Reading yalls comments makes me want to do better though, i will admit. In my head I tell myself I’ll become a better tipper when I start making more money(broke college student) Does this mean I need to stay my broke black ass at home? Idc what yall say If want to go out to eat and I have enough for my meal and a decent tip, im going!
    People say “if you cant tip well enough, dont go out!” but get mad when others say “If you cant take the ways of the industry, dont work there!”
    I used to wait tables, I am not swayed an either direction.

  • ThisIshRightHereNinja

    @Evonn — no, in that situation. I used a corporate account to book my stay but it was MY personal expense account. I’m responsible for all those charges, not like it was a vacay on the company dime, lol. At any rate, the comment was a general one. If you feel entitled to it, charge for it. If you say it’s optional, then it’s optional. I’ll state again that I AM a good tipper and intend to continue to tip for services.

    I’m sure you’re right about the quid-pro-quo arrangements that the two companies have with each other. And yes, the standing discount/automatic gratuity thing is something contractual. Obviously, I wasn’t thinking about all that when I was reluctantly initial-ing for the dessert-passer-outer to get an automatic gratuity, lol.

  • Howard

    When I was a teenager 50 years ago, the tip percentage was fixed at 10%, and no waiter complained. Now they complain if it’s not at least 20%. I remember when I first saw it move to 15%, and I wondered who decided that it should change, and why the customer just didn’t say NO. After all, service didn’t get suddenly better. There was absolutely no reason that the waiters should get an immediate raise, when the cost of the meal, and the profit for the restaurant hadn’t changed at all. And as inflation has increased prices, EVERYONE has seen an increase in their revenue, waiters included. After all, 50 years ago gasoline was $.29 a gallon, and a candy bar was $.05, and larger. So I don’t buy that the percentage of tips has to be larger, even if employer wages have remained steady. I work on commission, not for wages, and I’m not starving. Last, if a waiter, or anyone else, doesn’t like their employment, they are free to find something else to do.