Opinion: Tipping and restaurant etiquette from the perspective of a server

It’s generally a good idea to be kind to people who handle your food and compensate them appropriately.


Hamburg Inn waitress and UI freshman Isabelle Teduits refills a customers coffee at the Hamburg on Sunday, April 23, 2017. Teduits is per suing a business degree at the University of Iowa. (The Daily Iowan/James Year)

Jason O'Day, Columnist

During the last seven years, I have worked as a server at four different restaurants in two cities. During that time, I have encountered so many angry customers that I could write a book about it, but instead I’m writing this article.

I am continually stunned by the arrogance of customers who request their food come out faster because they’re in a hurry, as if no one else around them has anywhere they need to be. Sometimes a cook doesn’t show up for work, a server gets triple sat, or a botched order must be remade. Keep in mind these things are bound to happen occasionally and slow down the process.

When it’s time for the check, tipping food servers appropriately is not an act of generosity or kindness. It is payment for an experience not available at a fast-food restaurant (nothing against McDonald’s workers; be nice to them, too). So, please don’t as if you are Mother Theresa when handing a tip to a server, especially if it’s under 20 percent. Generous tips are sincerely appreciated — but they are not charitable donations.

Last Friday morning, I wasted six minutes listening to some Christian rocker dude drone on about his sick band and how they were playing downtown Iowa City the following night. He wrote, “God Bless!” on the credit card slip with a $5 tip for a bill that was $51.26. Those kind words are sure to prove valuable when my rent is due at the end of the month.

If you are obnoxiously loud or smell like you rode in on the Pineapple Express, that ruins the ambience and creates an uncomfortable situation for staff forced to confront such childish antics. Last year at Cheddar’s, a close friend of mine had a group start pounding the table as she walked by and chanted, “We want food!” If these were 7-year-old boys it might’ve been cute, but they were college frat bros.

He wrote, “God Bless!” on the credit card slip with a $5 tip for a bill that was $51.26. Those kind words are sure to prove valuable when my rent is due at the end of the month.

The tipped minimum wage in Iowa is $4.35 per hour, which is fine because decent tips more than make up for that — most of the time. Raising the server minimum wage would only disincentivize appropriate tipping, and mandatory gratuities would remove the incentive for servers to work hard.

Tipping 20 percent should be the norm, more if the service was exceptional, and 15 percent if service was insufficient. I think the only time it’s justified to tip 10 percent or below is if the server had an exceptionally bad attitude, and I can only recall doing that once as a customer.

Most restaurants limit servers to a few table sections, especially during peak hours. When customers stay for more than 45 minutes, they are keeping servers from turning tables and getting more tips or forcing them to stay late when all their other tables have already left.

When you go downtown, tip bartenders and baristas, too — $1 per drink or 20 percent, whichever is highest. Shortly after turning 21, I didn’t do this and wondered why bartenders and cocktail waitresses avoided me after serving my first drink.

Managing seven tables at once is often much more demanding than it might seem to an outside eye. I don’t mean for any of this to sound smug or self-righteous; dozens of other professions are just as difficult. 

The majority of guests I’ve served over the years were decent people who made my work rewarding, enjoyable experiences. It’s just the rude, entitled jerks who often stand out. Don’t be one of them.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.