Life lesson: over-tip breakfast waitresses.

January 30th, 2010


In fact, over-tip them handsomely. If you’re dining alone and paying diner prices, it’s not amiss to tip them as much as your meal cost.

My father taught me this when I was young. He also taught me to make steady eye contact with breakfast servers, and to strike up friendly conversation with them when they have the time.

Why go to this trouble?

  • They don’t make much money. Their wages are low, and — unlike your server when you sit down to a fancy dinner — they can’t expect a lot of large tickets that will call for large tips at 15%.
  • It’s often the best job they can get. Think about how you’d make ends meet if you lived off of tips from breakfast patrons.
  • They get up early. By the time you roll into the diner, they’ve already gotten up, maybe taken care of their kids, cleaned up, traveled to work, and served however many patrons got there before you.
  • You’re a perfect sweetheart, but some of their patrons aren’t.

When I was traveling earlier this week, I had a kind waitress who kept a smile on her face while she did the work of a couple of people. I had the cashier add a $10.00 tip to the cost of my food.

I’m hoping it put a smile on her face when she found out. She deserved it.

(Photo by Sarah Gilbert, used under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license.)

5 Responses to “Life lesson: over-tip breakfast waitresses.”

  1. Glenda Spain Says:

    You learned well from your father!

  2. Barbara Says:

    It’s driving me crazy, trying to remember the title of the book where Barbara Ehrenreich makes a similar point, saying that she /always/ tips. I can’t find it on my bookshelves, either mental or physical. Anyway, she says she doesn’t like the idea of tipping itself, but that she tips regardless of service: “On principle, I don’t like tipping—it’s undignified and sort of feudal. But since my principles do not prevail, I tip as generously as I can—the surly as well as the servile.”

    Speaking for myself, I tip a basic 15%, using the mental formula (10% of total) + (half of 10 %) = tip. And I always round up, knowing that I am not blessed with stellar math skills. If rounding up results in a 20% tip, so much the better.

    Money aside, I know for a fact that I could never wait tables with any semblance of efficiency or grace, so when I meet someone who does it well, I accord them much respect. They’re doing work that I don’t want to do, that I have no talent for, and they’re doing it with a smile. They get their 15-20-25 (finances permitting) percent–and they get as much pleasantness and appreciation as I can muster. God knows those aren’t things you can spend, but surely they can’t hurt.

  3. Tim Walker Says:

    Thanks for the comment, Barbara. The book you’re talking about is, I think, “Nickel and Dimed,” and Ehrenreich’s work in this vein is indeed sobering.

    Speaking as someone who has worked in various customer service roles, I can tell you that being treated with a little bit of respect and appreciation *does* make a huge difference.

    I use the same formula that you do for calculating tips, by the way.

  4. Meg Says:

    This is soo true! I waitressed and bartended my way through college (and recently through an unemployed bout) and one generous tip could totally negate a slew of nasty customers. For some reason people think they can treat their servers like slaves. They’re trying to make a living too and for many it’s a second or third job. A lot of my customers were often amazed to hear that I was college educated – and their treatment of me definitely changed after they found that out.
    As Tim said – Nickle and Dimed is an amazing read if you haven’t already checked it out. Very telling of what it’s like to try and make a living in this country.

    Thanks for the post,

  5. Rusty Says:


    I was just talking about this with a friend of mine. Not so much in the food setting – although having been a waiter myself back in the day, I know how hard of a job it is so I’m also a big tipper most of the time.

    But I do the same with the girl that cuts my hair – although she might see steady tips from the usual crowd, after getting to know her (I now call ahead and request her) I learned that her husband left her with three kids and that she loves her job, etc, etc. Right before the Christmas holiday I went to get my mane trimmed before I headed home to see family. I dropped her a $50 tip for $12.95 haircut – It was in an envelope and I didn’t stick around for the surprise but I hope it made her day too.

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