Keeping with the theme of Valentine’s Day, there is a good chance that many couples went out for a nice, romantic dinner. You’ve had a great time together and it’s a nice break from cooking your own dinners, but then comes the most complex decision of the night. What do you tip your waiter or waitress?

I certainly can tell you some horror stories of dining out. For example, I had a waitress spill steak au jus onto my suit as they attempted to serve my food to me. Another time I had a waiter who brought the completely wrong meal out to me (it’s a pet peeve of mine when server’s try and memorize your order, ugh). Knowing how little they do make, what exactly did they deserve as a tip, if anything?

Being that I had no experience in the food service industry, I admit that I was a very stingy tipper when it came to dining out. I always felt that if they go above and beyond service, they may get the typical 15% tip from me. Since I’ve been with my wife, who has had experience as a waitress, I changed my tune a little bit.

I have read several articles over the years that I definitely have to disagree with when it comes to appropriate tipping etiquette. Many people in the ‘biz’ claim that the appropriate tip at a fine restaurant is at least 30% and should be no less than 20%, even if you had poor service. I can’t fathom tipping someone over 30% for their service unless you had a $5 meal and gave $2 tip.

Hear are some of the things that are in the back of our minds when we decipher the tip:

Was the waiter or waitress friendly? Not everyone is going to like their job day to day, but if they are having a bad day, they need to fake it. Being cheery always makes the meal go better.

Do they know the menu well? It’s important as a server to know the meals and what they consist of. Having a quick answer is always a plus, but having them peak at the menu and read the description is not the path to a proper tip.

Bringing refills is a major plus. It’s always great when a waiter or waitress is attentive enough where they bring you a refill when your drink is low. Asking is good too, but not asking if you want a refill is the worst.

Did they do something extra? I always like to ask for extra pickles with my meals (if appropriate). Typically, I won’t get charged, but when they forget the request, it always weighs on my decision. One time I asked several times, but still never got them.

How often do they stop in and check on you. Maybe I’m picky, but it’s always annoying when I didn’t even take a bite of my food and they ask how it is. Asking every 2 minutes and not letting me enjoy the meal bugs me as well.

Was what you ordered right? I would never cut a servers tip is the food is bad since it is not their fault. There have been times though that I ordered a medium well steak and get a medium rare steak. To me, I felt that the server wasn’t listening close enough. Along those lines, if you make special requests like no mushrooms, do they follow through?

Maybe giving a poor tip would send a discrete message that they need to improve their service skills and make it an incentive for them in the future. Again, it’s rare that we ever give less than 15% now, even if they have shortcomings (hey, it could be there first day!)

We have a 5.5% tax rate, so a quick method is to multiply the tax times 3 and round up if everything went smoothly! If the server was just horrendous, maybe 10%, but we’ve never stiffed a server and never plan to.

I’d like to hear your tip strategies and about your dining experiences (good or bad)!

Don’t forget to order water!

Stupidly Yours,

Matt