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Tipping While Dining on a Budget

Dining Out on a Budget

by David Jones, Assistant Editor

We all want to eat good food without breaking the bank while doing so. It is a recurring challenge for many families to enjoy a pleasant dining experience without the stress of tight money. This is a very real situation, and we shouldn’t be embarrassed by our budget. There are many ways to enjoy eating out on your own, or with your family, at a low cost.

(Note: This article draws from the most typical server experience for reference, but it should be noted that there are various other ways restaurants pay their employees. It can vary by region and/or company.)

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The restaurant experience, while seemingly simple, is an integral part of our daily lives. The United States restaurant industry produced a staggering 745.61 billion dollars in sales (Statista). Needless to say, we like to eat out. In my five plus years working in the restaurant industry I noticed a very common trend when it comes to people with low income, the food they order, and the tip that they leave.

I’m sure most of you tip well, and I’m sure that most of you know by now that servers only make $2.13 an hour. In the entire five plus years I worked in restaurants I saw maybe two or three paychecks, because the servers’ reported tips are still taxed and they take that tax out of the measly $2.13 an hour.

On top of that, servers have to pay the hostess, bartender, bussers, etc. a small percentage of their sales at the end of the night (usually about 2.5-5%, so if a server had $500 in sales for the night and they were tipped 20% by every table then they would make $100 minus the amount that they have to “tip out”).

The distinction here between sales and tips is important, because the server pays that percentage of the guest’s bill even if the guest didn’t tip. So, after that long-winded explanation, if the guest doesn’t tip at all then the server actually paid money to serve that table. If you didn’t know all of that then I’m glad I still have your attention.

Eating out is a wonderful experience, and we should all be able to enjoy it whatever our budget might be. It is imperative that when you take your family out to eat, that you include the server’s tip in your budget. Oftentimes, I would see people order drinks, an appetizer, and some of the more expensive items on the menu, and then not include a tip. Eating out can be very expensive, I get that, but if you feel like you don’t have enough money to tip then order less so you can.

Servers are people, most of whom hate their jobs, and not leaving a tip ruins their entire day. There are other ways to eat on a budget if you can’t afford restaurants, many tips for this are available here at BetterBudgeting.org. If you are eating out on a tight budget, you can do so more affordably without sacrificing the tip. Go to restaurants on days where they have specials, order water, skip the appetizer, and much more. Most restaurants offer fairly large portions, sometimes enough to feed two people, so eating affordably is very doable.

Most people tip well, and you should be proud of yourselves if you are one of them. Tipping is unfortunately optional and taking unnecessary money out of your pocket can be difficult sometimes. It is important to remember that tipping isn’t actually optional. In America’s system of tipping, it is assumed that you will tip at least 15% for average service (unless your server is incredibly rude and awful then you should never leave less than 15%).

This can be a weird concept for foreigners especially, because most other countries don’t have America’s dreadful system of tipping, and they actually pay their waitstaff. In America’s dining culture, it should be standard to tip 20% for good service, and more for incredible service.

The restaurant industry can be brutal to its employees (any customer service really) and I was no exception. Everyone wants to eat out and have a good time. Doing so on a budget, without sacrificing the tip, is possible. Just never forget that the people who serve you are likely in similar, or even worse, financial positions as you are.

Ideally, restaurants will start paying their servers an actual wage, but until then the responsibility falls to the customers. I would genuinely like to believe that the people who don’t tip do so because they simply don’t understand the system. If I have enlightened even a single person with this article, then I would consider it a success. If I simply reiterated what you already knew, then I hope you continue tipping your servers well while eating good food with people that you love.

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Copyright © 2018 by David Jones. All rights reserved.

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