Only Tools Don’t Tip on Takeout, and Other Rules of Gratuity You Should Know

Who knew there was a 300-plus-page book on the subject of tipping? Steve Dublanica (pictured), the guy behind Waiter Rant, has a new book, Keep the Change: A Clueless Tipper's Quest to Become the Guru of the Gratuity, that shows the historical underpinnings of the practice, as well as how tipping plays out in milieus from restaurants to strip clubs. Dublanica took the time to answer some commonly asked questions about tipping for CHOW.com.

Tipping is a subject that makes people nervous, and the first chapter of your book explains why this is so: that tipping is traditionally money that flows from a social superior to an inferior.

Yes, and this attitude is still very prevalent today. All the motivations for tipping are very human, and one of them is proving that you're one rung up the social ladder from the next guy. Funny enough, the people who make the biggest deal about handing out tips are usually the worst tippers. And also, service quality has almost no effect on tips.

People tip regardless of the type of service they get?

Yes, they do. There's social pressure to tip; it's expected of you. I know I've done it, tipped 20 percent even when I got terrible service. What people do is just tip and never come back.

So is there ever a valid reason to reduce a tip?

Oh sure. If you get a crazy horrible waiter, what you do is give him 10 percent, which tells him "you suck," and then you hand the busboy the other 10 percent and say thanks. You don't want to penalize the busboy, who has nothing to do with the fact that the waiter's hung over or coming down off his coke. This only works when you have cash to tip, though.

The book mentions that waiters prefer cash tips because they're easier to hide from the IRS.

That's true. If you work at a place that does both cash and credit card transactions, there's no way to hide the tip you got on the credit card. So most waiters will report those and then not report the cash tips. Also, sometimes management passes the credit card processing fee off on the waiter; they reduce your tip by $2 or $3 or whatever it is.

Of course, I always made sure to grab my money before people left, and I know people say not to do that, but if you didn't, sometimes they left without paying.

Dining and dashing? Does that happen a lot?

No, but it does happen, and also people will do things like not leaving enough money to cover the whole check. So dining and dashing, no, not that common, but stiffing waiters, it happens.

No tip at all?

Or a ridiculously small one. When I was new and aggressive, I confronted people a couple of times. One guy, I went to him and said, "Was there a problem with the food or the service?" And he said "No, why would you ask?" And I explained that the traditional gratuity is 15 to 20 percent and he'd left me, like, 6 percent. So he gave me a little more, I think he went up to 12 percent, and he left.

The next day the manager got an email [from the man] saying that he'd been embarrassed in front of his family; his daughter was mortified. Well, maybe the daughter was mortified because you're a cheap bastard! But I've come to realize that confronting people isn't the thing to do. In this business you can't live or die with any one tip, you have to take the bad ones in order to get to the good ones.

Let's talk about some situations where people do leave bad tips, because they're not sure what the etiquette is. For instance, should you tip on takeout?

Ten percent! At least! If people knew how much it interrupted the flow of what you're doing, they'd tip more. First you're on the phone telling people about the specials and taking orders when you have a section full of people wondering where their martinis are. And then you have to pack the order up in the containers and then in the bags, make sure nothing shifts, balance, balance ... it's more labor-intensive than taking the order to the table.

Gift certificates?

Tip on the whole amount of the dinner, no matter how much is covered by the certificate; otherwise you're penalizing the waiter.

Do you tip on tax?

No.

On wine and drinks?

Yes. If it's a party of six people, there'd be an 18 percent gratuity on the whole check. Why should it be different if there are two people?

What if someone else has paid the check and left a bad tip?

If you're out with a known offender, like, you know Dad's a cheap tipper, you can work it out ahead of time: "Dad, you pick up the check and I'll get the tip." If you don't know ahead of time and you don't want to pull the old "Oh, I forgot my hat!" and go in and slip another twenty on the table, what you can do is say, "Oh waiter, come back, I wanted a cappuccino to go," and have it rung up on your credit card. Then you can tip $20 on a $4 cappuccino.

That waiter's going to be mentally cursing you out while you're asking for a coffee on your credit card.

True, but there's a happy ending.

Image source: Annie Schussler