Friday, June 17, 2011

Tipping at Buffets

Through observation I have found that many people at buffet restaurants do not leave a tip on their table when they leave. These are people that would not think twice about tipping the waitress at a menu restaurant, tipping a cab driver, or tipping the guy who wheels your suitcases up to your room at a hotel. For some reason they do not think that they should leave a tip at a buffet.

Some buffets add the tip to the bill automatically and usually that is around 12%. Our favorite buffet - Shady Maple - does this. When you pay for your meal in advance the tip is included. This is not only because you are paying in advance, but because they are making sure that their service staff are getting a tip.

Why don't people leave a tip at a buffet? The most common answer that I hear is that because you are serving yourself, why should you leave a tip for the person who is assigned to your table - "they are not doing anything".

Actually, the wait person at your table is doing a lot - and generally much more than the waiter or waitress at the menu restaurant. Not saying anything about the job of waiters and waitresses - as I know this can be a very hard job (according to Woody Allen it is the worst job in the world). However, where the waiter or waitress comes to your table to take your order and then comes back and serves the plates to your table, the service person for your table at the buffet must come to your table regularly and take away your empty plates. In many buffets that person also must come and check on your drinks and bring you refills when you want them. They are actually working for you a lot more - AS LONG AS THEY ARE DOING THEIR JOB.

Hey - why did you just say that? I want to make it very clear that tips should not be just expected. They are not a given. Though many just expect that they will be given the full tip no matter what the quality of the service. Your tip is supposed to be your reward to the server for good service. Unfortunately, restaurants including buffets have made tips a part of salary and pay a lower salary with the expectation that a more compensating salary will be reached with the addition of tips - and frankly, between you and me - this is not right. This has also led to pooling of tips so that an equal distribution of wages can be made to the employees - and for some this is necessary to bring them to or just above the minimum wage requirements. But still - if you feel that you did not receive good service - or service at the level that was expected by you - you should either not leave a tip or leave less of a tip. (I tend to leave less of a tip in these infrequent situations - to indicate that I did not "forget" to leave a tip, but I was not satisfied with the service that I received - and then also let a manager know how the service was.

So, how much of a tip should you leave at a buffet? This can vary by the type of buffet. If you are at a high end buffet - one at a fancy hotel or at a restaurant that is considered "a cut above" you might leave a higher percentage than you might at one of the chain buffets. Generally, 12% is a fair tip at most buffets. I take this number as it is the same percentage that is most often added on when the tip is included when you pay. At some buffets I leave a little less and at others I leave more. If I feel that the service was very good I leave more. And if I feel that the service was not good at all - well, I told you what I do then above.

Bottom line - you should be tipping the server at your table at a buffet. Whether that tip is pooled or not - and that, as I said, is generally what is going to happen, that server represented the others working there for that meal for you.


brian said...

Totally agree that a tip is a must if the service is decent. We've seen quite a few people leave without giving a tip. The waiters / waitresses work hard too and if they do, then they deserve a tip.

We've seen a large table at a buffet once make a mess. There were at least 10 people and when they left, they left without leaving a tip. Understandably the waitress was upset. The words I would use to describe those people wouldn't be able to be published here.

If service is decent and it's an under $20pp type buffet then we usually leave $3-4.

Meadowjack said...

I really can't stand it when they automatically add the tip. It removes the incentive for the server. I'd rather they raise the price and leave the tip to the patron. When the tip is paid in advance, the customer has no clout. Just my opinion.

Writer said...

Some buffets feel that they need to include the tip in the price because just too many people do not leave a tip - even when the service is exceptionally good. This also occurs more in buffets that have you pay when you enter rather than have you pay after the meal.

Yes, it can take away the incentive for the server to do a good job - but if you get poor service let the manager know before you leave.

Jessamime said...

It works the other way, also. When the restaurant "pre-bills" the tip, it probably dissuades diners from tipping more for really good service. We have had cases in which we would have tipped 15%-20% for great service, however, the bill was already paid with a 12% tip. We hesitated to leave more because we weren't sure if the server would really get it, or would have to share it, or what. Charging the tip in advance is a bad idea for all concerned and goes against the idea of a tip, which stands for "To INSURE proper service."

dave1973 said...

I don't like the pre-tip thing that some restaurants (buffets or menu restaurants) put in place. If you have to pay before you eat, & the tip is automatically added, it's not a guarantee that you're gonna have good service. I hate it even more when I want to use my Visa debit card, that I'm asked if I want to have the tip placed on my card. I always say no, I never pre-tip. The one time I did do that, the tip was immediately handed to the server. From that point on, I keep enough cash with me to tip. If it's a buffet that I pay after I eat, then I'll tip with my card if I don't have cash on hand (only if service is good). If I refuse to pay the tip that's included on the receipt, then I hope that restaurant doesn't make the mistake that a restaurant in Philadelphia did (was a bar style restaurant & not a buffet). That restaurant had a couple arrested because they refused to pay the tip included on the receipt. That restaurant lost lots of business when the couple went to the media about that. People felt that if a restaurant can have people arrested for refusing to pay the tip for bad service, then they don't want to patronize that establishment.

I usually find that people with the most money are least likely to tip well, or not tip at all. I tip generously if service is good. If not as good, then less. If it's bad enough, then no tip at all.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to preface this with...This is coming from someone who is not, nor have been in the food industry.

I hate how people don't leave a tip for servers at buffets. I always hear "They're just doing their job" "I make my own food" etc. Servers in these restaurants work very hard. Do you not realize that they're removing your dishes that you constantly pile up with food? Instead of bringing you your plate of food and removing that one plate of food, they're easily doing that 4x per person. Not to mention, people at buffets tend to be messy and careless with their food because its all-you-can eat. And don't forget that server is also your 'bus boy'.

Servers in buffets are expected to get tips. They earn minimum wage with the typical 4 hour shifts. People need to stop trying to justify why not to tip when they're busting their butts more than they would a typical restaurant.

Anonymous said...

I think this whole system in America is stupid. As long as we continue to tip and expect to be tipped, service workers are not going to be paid fairly. Why are we letting the employers get away with the bare minimal compensation? I'm not rich and it really isn't my responsibility to supplement other people's wages when I already pay for my stuff. It should be the responsibilty of the boss (who make a profit off me) to ensure they're paid adequately.

Writer said...

Whether the system is good or bad, by not tipping at a buffet the only one you are hurting is the server - not the boss or the system as a whole. These people are trying to earn a living and part of that depends on tips. If you choose not to tip, that is up to you - but by not tipping you are not making any "statement" about how you don't like the tipping system that is common in this country - in other countries they just add the tip on top of your bill automatically- good service or poor, and at the percentage they decide. Here at least you determine how much.

Big Guy said...

The minimum wage for waiters in 23 states is just the federal minimum wage for service workers which hasn't been raised in over 30 years. $2.13 an hour is not very much.

Writer said...

Per the US Dept. of Labor (2012) - the combined minimum wage which includes tips and what the employer must contribute to meet this minimum is $7.25 per hour.

Anonymous said...

I always tip. My mom was a waitress for many years, they work for their tips their hourly pay is a joke! There are exceptions if the service sucks then of course take that into consideration. I tend to tip 15% at a buffet 15-%20 at a restaurant. I don't think tip should be added or mandatory if the service stinks why tip but I do think their hourly pay should be min wage not 2 something an hr

Anonymous said...

How many tables/customers can a single server handle at a buffet and how many at at "sit-down" restaurant? That difference should factor into the tip rate.