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Q: What’s a Good Tip for Each Restaurant Staffer?

The Main Line hospitality expert has tipping guidelines for the whole staff, from valet to sommelier.

“Tipping Ignorant” in Edgemont writes: I’m new to dining out at high-end restaurants. I know 15-20 percent is the average tip, but how do I know when to leave the right amount? And what about a coat check person and the car parker?

Hi “Tipping Ignorant,”

Tipping can be confusing—and expensive! What about a sommelier, a wine steward and your bartender? Don’t forget the occasional rest room attendant, either. Suddenly, a nice meal out has turned into a line-itemed affair!

Rule No. 1: Make like a Boy Scout and be prepared, with enough spare bills in your wallet. You don’t want to find yourself in an embarrassing situation, like asking a first-date to front you a few bucks.

Here are a few other guidelines. Hopefully, they’ll make you less “tipping ignorant” in Edgemont—and beyond.

Tip $1 per garment or parcel, $2 if you have an umbrella, and up to $5 for a valuable item like a laptop.

Pat English, managing partner at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar in Radnor, says it’s proper to leave $1-$2 when the valet retrieves your vehicle.

“Door openings, umbrella openings, addressing guests by name—these are all reasons why guests might tip more in the range of $5,” English says.
What about that shiny car you always see parked by the entrance? “When guests want the valet to leave their cars out by the front door, they usually seem to tip $10 or $20.”

Levee 15-20 percent on a subtotaled check; don’t tip on tax.

When buffet dining, tip as you would for regular table service, taking into account the staff’s continual plate clearing and beverage replenishment. Remember, too, that they’ve performed the setup and will break down the buffet once you’ve departed. Also, the server must claim taxes on your check, so regular compensation is a common courtesy.

What warrants an extra-special tip: being addressed as Mr./Mrs. Smith; when ladies are served first; being served from the left and cleared from the right; continual replenishment of plates, silverware and beverages; when a server checks back within two minutes of serving a course; proper engagement without being overbearing; and intangible, special touches that all great waiters perform.

If you get poor service, don’t instinctively go for the low-percentage tip. Rather, discern what was lacking and why. If food arrived late or cold, was it the server’s fault or the kitchen’s? If the server was “in the weeds” (too many tables at once), might the management be more to blame? If a staffer is surly or indifferent, though, you can reflect that demeanor in your tip. Even better, tell the management in person or on a comment card.

If you’re out with friends and don’t order alcohol, bring this point up before being seated. Diners shouldn’t get stuck tipping on booze they haven’t consumed.

For those who think like Europeans that the tip should be included in the check, remember we’re in the U.S. and your server is pulling in a paltry $2.82 an hour, so pay up.

There are so many opinions on tipping a bottle of wine. I’ve spoken with several sommeliers and wine stewards, and they agree the tip should not be predicated on the cost of the bottle alone. Servers spend up to several hours polishing glasses, plus they keep glasses full, may open a second or third bottle, and often decant. The industry standard is 15 percent on a bottle of wine, 20 percent for exceptional service. The same holds true for glasses of wine and wine flights.

Remember: The server must declare tips on the total check, which includes wine.

At BYOBs, a sizable portion of diners doesn’t take into account that the servers are performing the same actions as they would in a full-service restaurant. If you don’t tip, you’re getting something for nothing—and that’s not fair, is it?

There’s a bartender, and then there’s your bartender. One slings drinks and turns on the big game; the other can be a marriage counselor, a comedian or that special savior who will get you home safely—all while making a bourbon Manhattan like nobody’s business. Tip what you will. I’ll never get between you and your bartender.

Tip your chef $1 or $2 per order, and give the server who’s replenishing your beverages and plates a 12- to 15-percent gratuity. They usually split their tips, anyway.

Remember the maître d’? He—and it always was a “he”—was that tuxedoed stalwart who, with the wave of a tailored wrist and the snap of well-manicured fingers, could make open tables magically appear. But time has marched on, and, with the exception of one or two ultra-haute places in town, the maître d’ has disappeared.

Today, most restaurants employ floor managers. “Tipping someone in that position is discouraged,” advises Pat English. “We are supposed to cater to everyone.”

You’re washing up in the restroom at a fancy restaurant, nightclub or casino, and there’s the attendant, standing at the ready with a smile and a hand towel. You accept it. Then what? For some, it’s a helping hand; for others, it’s an awkward moment. To tip or not to tip?

If you’ve engaged in some nice conversation, feel free to slip a buck.

It’s good form to leave a little something in the tip jar if the attendant runs the water for you and puts soap on your hands, or if you utilize any of the complimentary accoutrements: perfume/cologne, needle and thread, mints/gum, candy, dental floss or a cigarette.

When simply accepting a towel to dry off your hands, well, don’t feel that you have to provide compensation. The call of nature is just that—natural. It shouldn’t have to cost you anything.

Hospitably Yours,
Ken Alan

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