Member Rara Avis
Until I managed to sequester myself in a land without restaurants, I ate out a LOT. Probably 15 to 20 times a week. For about 15 years. Practice may not make perfect, but it certainly does make for established routine. Here are the "rules" I've acquired over those thousands of meals.
1. Never leave 15 percent. The whole idea of tipping is to insure that a return visit will find as good or better service, and that means being memorable. People don't remember "average."
2. Good service is defined as much by the circumstances as by the actual service. As many of you have mentioned, being unusually busy or short-handed can be forgiven. Intent and effort should be rewarded. I consider 20 percent a minimum for good service, but don't always go by percentages if the cost of the meal is relatively small. A quick sandwich and drink might only cost five bucks, but good service is usually worth more than a dollar. I rarely leave less than three dollars.
3. I try very hard to separate service and food. Food servers don't always have control over the quality of the food and should only be accountable for what they can control.
4. Poor service will earn, at best, a 10 percent tip. Strangely, I would say that most of the times I've had bad service was during the slowest hours, not the busiest. When it's slow, the servers either get side-tracked having fun or busy with sidework and ignore the customers. That's when I get irritated. There's an old code most food servers know, where a single penny denotes displeasure. So I usually leave a buck or two, something close to ten percent, along with a lone penny.
5. Really bad service get the single penny, without any accompanying real tip. That hasn't happened more than three or four times in twenty years, and I have never gone back to the restaurant. There have been more than those three or four times, however, when I've left the restaurant without waiting for the meal, invariably because of bad attitude rather than bad service. Haven't returned to those restaurant, either.
6. Only once in twenty years have I actually called a manager to the table and complained. Flirting is okay, I guess, but this particular waiter just took it way too far.
Common Server Mistakes
* When you get ready for work, please remember it's not a date. That hit of perfume or cologne is great for the dance floor, but not what I want to smell at dinner.
* I'm often watching even when you're not standing next to my table, and my appetite can fluctuate a great deal depending on where you are placing your hands.
* If I overhear you dissing your last customer, I'm going to assume I'm next.
* Burn my steak, drop my bread, but please don't ever let me see the bottom of my coffee cup.