Customer Confession: What Is the Best Way to Tip a Server If You Are a Camper?

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!)

 
Sincerely,
Happy Camper!
 
 

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!
 

Tell Us What You Think!

 

 
 
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Dear Waitress Confessions : Applying for a Job as a Waitress Without Experience

Dear Waitress Confessions…

“Hi there!

I decided to contact you because I am looking to start waitressing. I read some of your posts and found your stories really  interesting. I just moved to a new city (Calgary Alberta) and was wanting to try out something I would not back home, waitressing.

I’m not someone that goes to the bar often but would to get more comfortable to the restaurant environment. Can you give me some recommendations how I can start? My previous experience was in customer service. This would be a part time opportunity for me.

How should I approach or find an opportunity? Should my resume be different than my bank opportunity? How should I dress for an interview? How do I know if a restaurant want me to wear a certain type of clothing I’m not comfortable with, example Moxies. Thank you so much for your time, hope you can help me with overcoming this experience.”  ~Kitty

 

Dear Kitty…

First off, thank you so much for taking the time to write!

Part time waitressing is great, especially if you are just looking for make some extra cash on the side.  Since this would be your first experience waitressing, you may have to opt for “less fancier” restaurants.  Higher end restaurants ask for years of experience and it is very competitive.

The best approach, in my own opinion, would be to look for places that are willing to hire based on your experience working in customer service.  Even if you have no servingg experience, they may be just dying to find someone who excels in that area.  That, in my opinion, is definitely worth a shot.

Your resume should reflect exactly who you are and what skills you believe you have in order to convince them to give you a chance.  Are you a good multitasker?  Are you active? Do you learn quickly? Are you great with people?  Take the time to think of the great qualities it takes to be a waitress.

As for the interview process, it could depend a lot on what type of restaurant, but I would always for for the professional look.  Wear your hair up in a very professional, clean cut way if you have long hair.  Working in the restaurant business, you always need to have your hair tied up.  It will give them the chance to see what you would look like that way.

Upon entering a restaurant, have a pen ready, ask to speak with the manager and be really nice to the hostess since they will be the one who is going between you and the manager.  If you’re rude to her and if she is very close and open with the manager, she may tell him that you aren’t worth his time and miss out.  Find out when the quiet hours are to go in order to meet the manager/owner face to face, because there is nothing worse to a manager than having someone come in during a rush. Do NOT be that person…shows you don’t know how the restaurant business works.  Call in advance to find out when the best time would be.

Smile…..A LOT!  But, you know, not in a scary way.  Ask questions and be honest.  If you’re concerned about what a restaurant would want you to wear, then ask them what the dress code is and if there are any ways around that.  If you’re not comfortable with the dress code then move on to another restaurant.  You’ll be saving yourself the trouble and won’t be wasting their time either.

Also, there is nothing that people in the restaurant hate more (ok—im exaggerating just a bit) than someone who says that they have more experience than they do.  Because they will be able to tell right away.  It’s just the way it is.

I wish you all the luck in the world!

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Applying for a Job at a Restaurant: When To Bring Your Resume
Tip of the Day: Looking to Work in a Restaurant

Dear Waitress…

Dear Readers,

I recently received an email from a new server looking for any help they could get while in the “rush”.  We’ve all been there and no matter how many years experience you have under your belt it doesn’t save your from those random times where you are just completely slammed with tables.  I thought it would be interesting to share this email with you, along with my response, and look forward to any tips you may have of your own.

Please feel free to leave a comment at the end of the post with any advice you may have for this new server.

Thank you!

The Waitress

_________________________________________________________________________________________________

QUESTION

“Hi!  I was hoping you could share your expertise on dealing with the “rush.” I’m new to serving and get overwhelmed a bit more than most. However, I really enjoy serving and want to know how to better take care of my customers during a rush. How do I best serve all my tables when I’m bombarded by tables? Is it better to wait a few minutes to greet a table so I can immediately serve than their drinks, or take their order immediately and have them wait several minutes until I arrive with their order? Any help and tips would be greatly appreciated!!”

– The Frazzled Waitress

ANSWER

Dear Frazzled Waitress,

Thank you so much for writing to us! We greatly appreciate all comments and questions.

Something to keep in mind when you’re in the “rush” is to remember to keep your cool.  Most importantly keep your cool around your customers.  The more they see you running around like a chicken with its head cut off, the more they’ll feel stressed about their service and wonder whether or not you forgot their order or not.  Remember to smile even when concentrating on the million things you have to do at once.  If the customers see that you’re busy, but it looks like you’ve got everything under control they’ll be impressed.

Now, I know you want to do a good job, so while looking all fine and dandy on the outside is great, you also want to feel good knowing that you’re doing the best you can with the situation you’re in. Plus, you want to know you’re doing your job well.  So…

Tables are being seated at an alarming speed and you’re having a hard time getting to them all.  Make sure you greet people in the order that they came in.  There’s nothing worse when you’re a customer and another table that came in after you gets to order first.  Mistakes do happen and sometimes you don’t see a table, but make that extreme effort to make sure that doesn’t happen.  Always be aware of what is happening in your section.

Think about what you need to do first.  What would that be?  The greeting and drink orders (most likely).  That’s something that can also buy you some time when you see other tables being seated as you’re at a table.  Ask them “Would you like something to drink to start?” and if they start to look at the menu, unsure of what to have, let them know that you’ll give them a few moments to look through the wine and/or cocktail list.  Not only does it help up-sell (they may not have taken a drink to start  if you hadn’t mentioned it), but helps buy you time to greet the new tables.  So, be sure that while those customers are busy picking a fantastic drink, you’re off greeting the new customers that just sat down.

If they’re ready to order drinks right away…well all the better!  Inform them that you’ll be right back with their drinks and head off to your other tables.  The place where it gets tricky is when they are ready to order at the same time.  Then you are at the table for a lot longer than expected and your other tables are starting to wonder where their waiter is.  That will stress you out, but try not to rush through the order.  That table deserves your utmost attention so keep eye contact and remember to write everything down and repeat the order to avoid mistakes.  Also, this is where knowing your menu 100% comes in handy.  The last thing you want to do is waste time taking an order, so when the customers have questions about the menu you should know the answers.  Memorize your dressings, toppings, sides, extras, etc.  It will help you to take orders quickly and accurately.

Something you can try is if you’re in the rush and walking away from a table with your hands full of plates, is approaching a new table and saying “Hello! I’ll be right with you” (or something around those lines).  It lets the new customers know that you are aware that they are there and that you haven’t forgotten about them.  Most customers will appreciate the gesture and tell you it’s no problem, but if you say you’ll be right with them, you’d better make it as quick as possible.  Don’t hold off on them for 10 minutes or else you’ll start to lose their respect.

Be organized!  Minimize your trips and maximize your steps (meaning don’t go back and forth for nothing and do as much as you can while walking through your section) The last thing you want to do is keep going back and forth for things that you’ve forgotten.  Use both your hands and carry as many plates as you can when clearing tables.  Use trays to pick up empty glasses and don’t forget to ask for refills while you’re at it.  Multitasking is key here.  You want to be as efficient as possible.

Something I’ve always asked servers-in-training over and over again is “What’s happening in your section?”  I’d literally get them in mid “rush” to stop and tell me exactly what was happening.  “Table 1 is eating, table 2 needs the dessert menu, I need to do a check back on table 3 and 6, table 5 is ready to pay, and we need to order table 7”.  Now, that’s something that every server should stop and do.  If you don’t take that second, you may forget to order a table’s appetizers or print another table’s bill.  Every now and then just take a deep breath and ask yourself “What’s happening in my section?” and go through all your tables.

Please know, when I give my advice it is solely on what I have learned as a waitress.  You may work in a larger or smaller restaurant than I do, so the way the restaurant’s system works may be different than mine.  The restaurant I work in is quite big and takes a lot of time to walk from the back to the front so the “going back and forth” system doesn’t work.  We need to be efficient.  Also, some restaurants have runners, a teamwork environment, and bigger sections so it’s difficult to say what the best procedure for you would be.  I’m lucky to work in a teamwork environment where if I get slammed other waiters will notice and come help me, everyone runs everyone’s drinks and food, and anyone guest can stop any waiter if they are ready to order.  In other restaurants, though, you have to do everything yourself and I  can see how difficult that can be.

All I can really say is keep calm, smile, be patient, be focused, and know your menu inside out.

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