We don’t eat out much, and when we do we often order the lower-priced entrees (unless it’s something we’ve really been wanting). However, I feel very strongly about tipping properly.
Some people don’t tip very much, but I see the tip as part of the cost of the food. Restaurants don’t have to pay their workers the average minimum wage (though there is a minimum wage for restaurants too) because we’re expected to pay part of the wage directly. While it started out as something voluntary, the minimum wage requirements make it an part of life, of being a decent person who pays for things.
When I read about frugal dining on blogs, I often see at least one ranting comment from a disgruntled server who’s angry with cheap people.
What I tip tends to depend on the service, but I don’t think I’ve ever tipped less than 15%. For me, that’s mediocre/bad service. Because the person still brought me my food, right? (if wrong, feel free to adjust that) And the food’s price doesn’t include their basic wages.
Anyway, I’ve come up with a strategy which lets me tip generously without spending more. It’s all in budgeting ahead of time.
When I go out, I come up with a specific number we’re going to spend. For the PF blogger get-togethers, for instance, I budget about $10. As a general rule, I order something that comes to $4-6. Sodas are free, since it’s happy hour. But I tip based on what I might otherwise have ordered…or what the soda would have cost.
So my tip is that remaining $4-6.
To figure it out ahead of time you need to have a good idea of the average price of whatever it is you’re ordering. And what you really will order. Then budget at least 20% of that for the tip. If the service is good, give the remainder of your budgeted amount…whether it comes to exactly 20% or 25% or even 40%.
If you can’t afford the 20%, then figure out what you can do to change it. Maybe plan to get something less expensive. Maybe put it off.
Now getting into my own philosophy: Beyond the basic 20%, I think that when you’re ordering something particularly cheap, you should tip based on the average price (if possible). Like getting water and the cheapest entree…then tip based on a slightly more expensive entree and perhaps a soda. They’re still putting in the same effort as they would with something more expensive.
This philosophy has some pitfalls…particularly if your server treats you poorly because they figure you’re cheap (less expensive meal) and therefore you’re not going to tip them. Still, you could always still tip them and challenge their assumptions.
Of course, this is just my philosophy. It’s more about creating some good in the world than strict economics. But what’s wrong with being a good human?
No matter how you handle eating out, just remember to plan for a 20% tip. If you can’t afford it, then you can’t afford to eat there. Pick someplace cheaper or get fast food instead. Or put it off until you can snowflake in a little more money.