For those who want to know everything.

Abolish Tipping! (No way!)

As you know, there is much debate over the tipping system in the U.S and beyond. The new theory is that deciding how much to tip is a hindrance.

I say it is a privilege.

On a daily basis, we as people, have little to no opportunity in deciding how much something is worth to us. We have to pay the wage set by someone else: the government, or the stock-exchange, or the local mechanic. Going out to dinner and deciding what the service is worth to us is an honor, and I would like to remind people of this perspective.


Tipping. It’s a Privilege.


So there you are. Sitting in the booth at the restaurant. You are full, ready to pay your tab and you feel… well, how do you feel?

If you remove the company that you are dining with, and the million things on your mind, you are left with how the dining experience has made you feel.

I probably don’t have to spend much time convincing you that the service you receive, impacts you.  Sometimes it’s a subtle impact, but most of the time it is a huge impact. I usually leave the restaurant thinking something like, “My service was horrible!” (For a number of reasons.) But luckily,  often I leave thinking something like, “My server rocked! She really made the experience great! I’ll be back.”

But now comes the tricky part. What do I leave for a tip!?!?


As a general rule, adequate service receives a 15% tip, great service receives 18% to 20% or higher. Horrible service is up to you. But remember, when you go out to eat, you pretty much turn into an employer. You can choose to be nice, fair, generous, rude, demanding or even choose not to pay at all.


There seems to be a lot of debate over the tipping structure that has been intact for as long as the restaurant model began.

The new way of thinking is, “It’s not up to me to pay the server, it’s up to the owner!”

But I must challenge you with a friendly reminder. Every transaction you make throughout your day, pays someone’s salary. Just because you don’t know exactly how much doesn’t mean it’s not true.

Just think about it. Grocery store employees, bank tellers, attorneys, auto-mechanics, road maintenance crews, the warriors who fight the “war on terror,” pet food factory workers, etc. You pay each and every one of their salaries.


I demand this privilege be taken away!  (???)

There is a growing campaign to alter the present tip system from the “customer chooses” over to the “owner chooses.”

What would that do? Basically, instead of you choosing to tip $4 on a $20 steak (if it is wrapped in great service) your steak will be $24.

In exchange for the helpful “gratuity included” you get, um, well, you don’t have to make any decisions at the end of the meal.

WHEW! (If there’s one thing that really pisses me off it’s deciding how to spend my own money!)

And that would be the big change some people are fighting for. Some people are campaigning for a “no choice policy.”

But do people really want that? Are people really begging for one less choice because math is so dang hard? Or because they don’t know how much to tip?

Come on!


Incentives are dumb!  (???)


When you remove the diners privilege of choice on how to reward their server, there are ramifications. You remove the server’s incentive to strive for excellence.

Why would your server re-fill your water? Or remember your drink? Or be there with a new linen a heartbeat after you drop yours on the floor? Or pay any special attention to you?

Why oh why?

I can hear some of you thinking that it should be incentive enough to do a great job. To that I say “HA!,” and, “I wish that were the case,” but the problem with that is this: servers are humans. I know, I know; it’s hard to believe that under all that black polyester blend and fancy apron lies a real human. But there is. And human nature screams, “take the path of least resistance!”

Currently servers try to wow you and impress you so you choose to happily reward them; it’s basically capitalism in a very personal transaction. But if we no longer have to go above average because we get our reward regardless, well, you probably won’t get service that is above average.

Granted, it might be a slow decline in hospitality, but the decline would come.

Now, don’t go and get all mad at servers. Think back on your own day at work. Chances are that you regularly choose the path of least resistance too. That is, unless there is something extra in it for you. A bonus perhaps? A new client to sign on? A promotion? The list goes on, but hopefully you catch my drift.

Would you put in extra effort at work if your were sent a paycheck even if you dicked around on Facebook all day?

If you said yes, you are either a liar or your income depends on your level of participation and excellence.


The Living Wage


Maybe some of you are concerned about this new term that is being slung around called a “living wage.” I have a few things to say about that.

My first restaurant job was at a corporate restaurant. I was an inexperienced server working with other inexperienced servers. No one helped each other out, and no one trained me exactly how to provide stellar service. (Instead of providing great service training, they lessoned my work load by giving me a maximum of three tables to manage. That basically ensured that I gave crappy service to only three tables at a time.) As you can probably deduce, I did not make the kind of money that made life easy to live.

So I chose to take the profession seriously. I studied wine, spirits, and food. I got a job at a better restaurant where they spent the time training me (for months) on how to provide an excellent experience to the guests. And really, the training never stopped. And guess what? I began earning a “living wage.” The verb in the previous sentence is key: earned.

As a society, we don’t freak out over commissioned sales people, do we? Generally we do not. Most of us understand that the level of effort a sales person showcases is equals to their level of earnings. A great sales person may begin their career selling a cheap product, but the good ones either:

  1. become excellent at selling the crap out of that cheap product and make a killing, or
  2. strive to become better, move one and sell better and more expensive products.

When a sales person is really good at their job, you are okay with parting with your money. You may even recommend them to a friend!

The service profession is very similar.

Some servers don’t really want to wait on you, or do a good job, or go above and beyond. Some servers just don’t give a shit. But then again, there are people in every profession that just don’t give a shit.  The difference is that today you can choose how to compensate your server, but not your deli guy, governor, cable provider, etc.

The terrific news is that most servers genuinely want to wait on you, and enhance your experience, and are thinking of ways to go above and beyond because they give a shit!…about YOU!


Own it!


We servers are here, at your service. And currently, you can choose what that means to you via a tip of your choice. I don’t believe that people really want to give up another freedom and have someone else choose what something is worth to them just because math is hard.

I challenge everyone to take charge. Embrace the opportunity to make your own decision.

Be a boss. Make a choice. Spend your money how you wish.

When you go out to eat, you turn into someone’s employer.

You can choose to be a great and giving employer and tip generously, or you can be difficult and high maintenance and choose to pay a lower wage. Today the choice is yours– let’s keep it that way!


Follow the iamWaitress hospitality blogumentary. This year Jennifer is spending one shift with the top 100+ best restaurant service teams in the United States. Follow along and learn from the best! And if you want to become an even better server, check out her Spirits & Wine course. It’s 100% Money Back Guaranteed to make you better!

  1. I appreciate your blog and your web site very much; I purchased your hiring guide and have found it very useful. This position is maybe the only thing that I’ve found we disagree on. I’ve been in the business for twenty years, having previously worked as a server and bartender in mostly corporate restaurants.
    I currently am an owner at a worker-owned restaurant and bar cooperative. We stopped accepting tips two years ago due to changes/enforcement of the FLSA. We pay all shift workers a base wage ($4.75/hour) plus an hourly revenue share based on sales (20% of gross sales over the two-week pay period divided by shift hours). We get tenure raises on our base wage; every shift worker receives the same revenue share for that pay period. This system works extremely well for us. There are no-tipping models that work well.
    I have enjoyed the comments to this post and love positive debate about the subject. I’m sharing a link to a recent article about the subject and look forward to hearing any thoughts or comments you or your followers have.

  2. A great article. I have trained servers to think of themselves as commissioned salespersons. They can give themselves a raise! OK, now what about tip pooling/sharing? It’s a hot topic here in the Northwest.

    • Hi Cathy. Thanks for commenting. I am one of the few who are strongly for team service and tip pooling, IF IT’S DONE RIGHT. First, it takes the right management (hands off, trusting of the team, and supportive of team decisions). And it takes the right team (strong, and I mean STRONG, highly communicative, demanding of excellence of themselves and others). No server on the planet is born to be on a team. It takes major training and a lot of figuring it out. You can’t be sensitive because there is always someone saying, “no, wrong, wrong bad, bad, stop it, slow down, hurry up, do it like this, watch that guest, what’s going on at table 11” until one day you hear, “yes, good job, awesome, nice pace, great, how’d you do that?” No one likes the beginning stages of the team because every server thinks they are strong, so strong in fact that theirs not any room to get better. But once you become strong, and see that there was a lot of growth to be had, you inherently find yourself being the one that tells the new person, “no, wrong, wrong, bad, bad, stop it, slow down, hurry up.” My goal is to show restaurants how to convert to team by showing them WHY it’s better and HOW to do it successfully. I intend to document the difference between the two, via video and money stats, which should leave little room for debate. Whew!

    • Cathy – that is a great way to think of it! “Commissioned salespeople.” Thank you for that!

  3. I choose to be a server because I set my own earning potential. Living Wage is not sufficient to live off from and to raise a family or put away for retirement.

    Thank you for your articiles, Jennifer.

    • Hello Laura! I agree. If I want one person setting my wage I have a whole array of professions to choose from already. No need to taint this profession.

  4. I am not sure that we can reach a happy medium no matter what we do. As a business owner of a family restaurant I look at my menu prices and try to figure out how we can keep our Bacon and Egg Breakfast around $4, our hamburgers under $7 if we had a $30 Server wage (or even at 1/2 that rate).

    To keep the percentages the same and still make a 5% profit, if I do make a profit. I would have to charge 600% more for our menu items or $24 for a Bacon and Egg Breakfast and $180 for a burger.

    Show of hands, how many customers would be willing to pay that? Not many I guess, but many do know how to place an order on an I-Pad.

    For the small restaurateur it looks like IPAD City is in everyone’s future and the noble profession of Serving will have gone the way of the blacksmith. (A once indispenceable profession that is no longer around–done away with because of advances in Technology)

    Where will all the new employees get their first job? Over 50% of our population had their first job in a restaurant.

    I enjoy reading your post and frequently post them in my restaurant for our employees to review. Like I always say “See a good idea–Make it yours!” Joey

    • Joey, thanks for taking the time to include your perspective. As a real restaurant owner, you give the hard math angle and that’s hard to argue with. It’s great to get all sides. Maybe I am old fashioned (or hopeful), but I don’t believe our charisma, or knowledge shared in a unique way, or human-ness will easily be sourced to iPads. Or maybe that’s another reason why we as server need to always be stepping up our game, and never rest on our laurels! But even so, this is my take on robots/computers as servers: Remember when Watson was on Jeopardy? He won, but honestly I don’t want to watch him play ever again because “ya, ya, ya, I know you’re smart, but are you weird, annoying, funny, handsome, fat, skinny, weird, HUMAN–relatable! I say, “Give me some humans to root for or boo against!” Humans! — Humans! — Humans! — Humans!

  5. I think servers should make there own tips and not depend on the owners to pay there salary. I think owners should have to pay the normal minimum wage and not $2.13 an hour in Georgia. I make $30-$50 an hour most nights and I know an owner will not pay that amount to there employees. I don’t even think employees should not be given an automatic 15%-20% of there sales if that is the way the owner decides to do it. As a server you will make more and more with experience.

    • Thanks James. You hit the nail on the head: “As a server you will make more and more with experience.” Wjile I don’t think experience is the only tool, I do agree with your point (I think), which is (I assume) the more you know, the more you care, the better you get, the more money you are WORTH. Thanks for the comment James!

  6. I love the challenge of taking care of a table as if they were the greatest human beings that I ever serviced! Yes, you are correct, they are our bosses. That being said, these bosses will pay us more than any “living wage” boss. If we had to rely on our bosses to pay us a living wage, then I agree with Joni…$30.00 an hour…and will that include insurance, sick days and vacation time?

    • Ya. I agree. The wage thing bothers me because one human would choose my worth, and I doubt it would be as much as my guests choose to compensate me. Thanks Kathy.

  7. Wow, you made it a privilege! I’m always impressed by your genuine understanding of service. I come across people regularly who have no concept of what a tip represents. You tip people who provide you with a professional service as a measure of their unique something they bring to the table.

    Its like makeup artistry and hairstylists. They have different eyes, different visions and different ways of executing the service. Anyone who comes back to see you and tips less than 18% doesn’t get it.

    I couldn’t imagine serving for an hourly wage and no tips. Service would decline immensely. Some servers are lazy now! That would just kill everything about the little dance we do! The guest would lose because they would no longer be the boss! I always tell people, I have my restaurant managers and then every table is like an employer/boss I have to please, they all want something different, I do hard work! I can say right now, I wouldn’t continue to do it for less than $30/hr.

    I highly doubt that’s what they plan on paying me!

    • Hey Joni, thanks for the comment. I totally agree with everything you’ve said. It bums me out that there are so many restaurants that run themselves in a way that no one makes money (owner and staff) and no one is trained how to be great, knowledgeable and anticipational (I made up that last word). And I also agree with your $30 an hour theory… no, I don’t think they would pay you that much an hour. *sigh*

  8. Jennifer I love your advice…Thank you for all that you are trying to do for servers and our profession. If you make it to Idaho come see us at the McCall Brewing Company!

    • Thanks Nancy! It is my pleasure. I truly feel that someone needs to bring awareness to what we do. We need to start becoming a team, like the culinary world has. We can do it!

  9. Perfect. Just perfect. I think some servers neglect to think this issue all the way through, especially my newbies. All we vets can do is keep showing them the error of their ways. Lol

    • Yes. Mentor, introduce new concepts and help them become mo-betta! Thank you Debbie. For bringing your unique self to the profession of hospitality! (And for the comment.)

  10. Wow, I cannot disagree with you more on this. When I go out to eat, I shouldn’t have to “become an employer” and worry about making sure my server is getting paid adequately (and I know they’re not, because I am one). That’s a completely ridiculous assumption. I have become increasingly disappointed with this blog and will probably be unsubscribing. I don’t have time to compose a proper response (in the middle of moving, stopped to check my email and saw this), so I’ll just link a few articles that basically sum up my feelings.

    • Lindsay, I appreciate your passion! Thanks for sharing it. Although we disagree I am always happy to hear the flip side of an argument. As for unsubscribing, I think it’s a great idea–if you are not getting anything out of it. I stand for a lot of things that a lot of servers don’t. I’d rather have you disengage from my thoughts and views rather than have them irritate you. I hate to lose you but my intention is to help and unify, not piss off or irritate. Thanks for trying though. I can’t ask for more.
      I would like to take the opportunity to counter something you said. When you go out to eat, or get your nails done, get a facial, take a taxi, order a drink at a bar, hire a caddy, use a bellhop, or utilize any other first world luxury, you should be paying for the service. Service is not free… well, I guess the whole point of this post is to remind you that it can be free), but just because you can’t hold service, or eat it or wrap a ribbon around it doesn’t mean that it is not worth something to you. Whatever that worth is… it’s up to you. And I would like to reiterate, you have a restaurant in your town, or the one you are moving to, where you will make money. Good money. From earning it. From guests who appreciate you and show it. I would not have stayed in the industry for 10 years if I wasn’t earning good money and making people genuinely happy.
      Thanks for the links Lindsay. Good luck on the move!

    • Yikes. Of course we should take the time to consider how much to tip! It’s common courtesy; it’s saying “hey, I appreciate you”, or ” maybe you need to realize you could improve”. Of course we will always have those exceptions to the rule, sometimes you just get crummy tips. However for the most part I take my tip as a reflection of my services given, as do most professional servers. I’m offended that a fellow server finds it too time consuming to perform basic math. If someone can’t find the time to figure a tip, perhaps they should try a drive-thru. When the tip becomes included, the quality of service will suffer as well as the quality of the restaurant as a whole. Can you imagine the sheer vast lack of teamwork, side work? Not to mention the loss of repeat guests. In life, you make time for the things that are important to you.

      • Thanks for the comment Jolene. I agree. I love that I can tip my excellent server, excellently. It’s personal and it feels great–for both of us! I absolutely agree with you about the quality going down if we were waged, not tipped. I already have seen servers that know a big top is auto-gratted, so they let their service slip.

  11. Perfect. Just perfect. I don’t think some servers think this issue all the way through, especially my newbies. All we vets can do is keep showing them the error of their ways. Lol

  12. Great article…welcome back 🙂

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