Dear Waitress Confessions…
I have a diner question, well a camper diner question. A friend of mine and I only see each other a couple of times a year. We meet at a Cheesecake Factory typically on a Friday night around 5pm and leave around 10pm. We let our server know that we are gabbers, will be staying long and will tip accordingly. That being said I want to know if there is a proper way to calculate a tip for camping. I’ve been searching and searching and only find, “don’t do it – the server isn’t making the right amount” or “tip accordingly”.
We know we are taking a really long time. We know we are coming on one of the worst nights and times to do this. We order throughout the visit – generally putting in our dessert order and hour or so before we’re officially done. We know we are potential PIA’s so we want to make sure that the servers leave feeling as happy with their campers as we, their campers, are!
We keep an eye out on a neighboring table and keep tabs on how many times the table was turned. We calculate a 20% tip on our bill (tipping on the total amount after tax), then multiply that by the number of times the nearby table turned and round up to an even number.
For example, tonight we had a bill of $86 (it was about double what we typically spend because another person joined us for a while). I noted the nearby table turned four times (for at least the last hour, the table was empty as were quite a few in the section). We tipped $17.20 (20%), multiplied by 4 for a total tip of $70 ($50 in cash and $20 on a credit card). The server seemed put out.
On our previous visit, the bill was $45 and the nearby tables turned three times. We left the server, who was wonderful, $40 but then we lingered about an hour longer and left an additional $5 cash on the table. The server was thrilled and let us know.
I generally feel that the tip is appropriate but by the time I get home I start to worry!
We are going to camp so I want to make sure that the server is compensated fairly from us. What is the right formula for campers to tip so that the server is compensated properly?
(p.s. please don’t hold back – if this formula is stupid and we’re not doing it right, I’d much rather know than continue to do short change servers!)
Dear Happy Camper…
Seems to me like you are a very considerate customer!
Most people don’t realize that staying for hours and hours at a restaurant could be ruining someone’s night financially. Although paying customers do have a right to enjoy their night as they want, they also need to understand that it is a business and yes – people are there to make money. Waiters and waitresses mostly rely on their tips as their income, so having a table of two people where their bill is $40.00 for over the span of 5 hours is not going to give them the income they rely on to get by…because let’s face it – on a $40.00 bill even if you leave %20 that means a tip of $8.00 (divided by 5 hours…well…it’s really not a lot).
Unfortunately there is no rule or formula for this sort of situation, but I have to say – you may be on to something. In all honesty, if I had a customer like you who took the time to notice how often my other tables turned and tipped accordingly…well I would be as happy as a clam!
First of all, letting your server know that you will be staying for a long time is a great way to start out. That way the server can mentally prepare themselves for how they will be serving you…and give them time to accept the idea that they have “lost” a table for the night. Starting out with that, you may see the disappointment in their face, so following up with the fact that you will try to tip accordingly will lessen the blow a bit.
Second, I think keeping track of the tables turning beside you is a great way to somewhat judge how many times the table you’re seated at could have been turned throughout the night.
That being said, I’d like to give you a few pointers on how to use your formula a little bit better (if you would permit me to do so). Keep in mind, I am in no way saying that “This is the way it should be!” I am merely suggesting other angles that you may not have considered.
#1. When you’re seated at a table and you know who your server is, ask them if the table next to you is theirs as well. Some restaurants have the sections for their servers spread out so it creates more movement within the restaurant. So, if you’re judging the amount of times a table turns next to you in order to gauge how many times you should multiply you tip…well be sure that table belongs to your server. Why? Because if that table you’re basing your math on belongs to another server who slacks off and doesn’t care about turning their tables then you may only see it turn over once, whereas if your own server is a great server who can turn it 5 times then in reality your math would be off. Ask your server if the table next to you theirs and if it is, use it to count the turns.
#2. If you are going out with one other person, upon entering the restaurant I would suggest asking the host/hostess for a table made for two people. If you’re really worried about being fair and not “screwing” a server over then this would be an important point. If you don’t mention it, the host/hostess may seat you at a table with a maximum capacity of 4 people. If you take that table all night, then the server is missing out on getting bigger tables (tables of 3 or 4 people) with bigger bills. All that they’ll see are groups of 4 people being seated elsewhere and it may put them out that their table of 4 is taken by a table of two. That way, you can also watch other tables of two and how many times they turn in order to calculate the appropriate tip.
#3. After you have received your dessert and coffee, feel free to ask for the bill right away. Some servers have to stick around until their customers have paid and even though their shift is over they are not supposed to force you to pay. So they will wait and wait until you are done so they can finally go home. Paying doesn’t necessarily mean you have to leave! Ask your server if it’s alright that you pay them right away and if you stay a while longer. They will be thrilled!
#4. Don’t be taken advantage of! If you let a server know that you are a “camper”, but will try to tip accordingly and they DO NOT server you properly…I say screw it. As servers we are supposed to serve everyone equally, whether you stay for half an hour or five hours. You want to be served by someone who is a good sport and who deserves that fact that you take all these things into consideration when going out to eat. Because, let’s face it…you don’t HAVE to do this, but it’s amazing that you do. Don’t let a server’s bad attitude make you tip more because you feel bad. Do it because a good waiter or waitress deserves it.
#5. Point #4 being said, if you find a server who is thrilled by your tipping formula…stick with them. Always ask to be served by them. That way they start to know you as a customer. They know your likes, dislikes, the pace that you like to be served at, etc. That way when they see you, they know what to expect for their evening. You’ll be comfortable knowing that your server knows how to serve you.
#6. If you are at a fancy, expensive restaurant spending only $50.00 when the average bill is $100.00 then yes – you are kinda being “cheap” with the tipping. If a server would normally be making $80.00 off a a table turning 4 times and you use your formula of %20 tip times 4 turns then the server is making half of what they should be making. If you are just dining at good places where the average joe goes out for a meal…then don’t worry about it. Fancier, high end restaurants would be different though.
#7. A point made by Bubba Aldridge on this post shared by The Service Industry on Facebook brought up a very good idea. “There are some restaurants who make their servers stay until all their tables have left. So, for anyone who knows they may stay an extended amount of time, when you arrive, ask for a closer’s section.” A very good suggestion! One to definitely take into consideration.
#8. A recent email from Lauren wrote that she would like to just add that “if you are dining at a restaurant that accepts reservations and want to camp that you should inform the person taking the reservation that you plan on spending a long time at your table. This is because those restaurants will plan on re-booking the table after a set time from your seating. Just remember that if you are in a restaurant on a busy night that you will cost the business a loss of revenues as every table is expected to generate a certain amount of income for the night.” Now, that being said don’t worry about having to spend more because the restaurant will be at a loss of income. It happens all the time. But if a restaurant is based on taking a lot of reservations and double/triple booking tables in an evening it would be a great idea to let them know you will be staying a long time so as not to affect another reservation.
Anyways, I hope this helped you out, but in all honesty (and in my opinion) you can just keep going the way you are. I wish more people took the time to think about these things and I would be happy with someone just trying to take the server into consideration while “camping”. I hoped this helped, and thank you for writing!
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