Tipping Properly in Every Food Scenario

Americans know that you are supposed to tip a waiter at a full-service restaurant 15-20% for good service. There is no obligation to tip at all unless the restaurant makes it mandatory, as they sometimes do for large groups. However, in the US, food servers are often paid below the minimum wages as tips are expected to make up the difference. What about outside the full-service restaurant? How much should you tip at bars or buffets or take out windows? This article at mintlife spells those out for you.
Whenever I go through the takeout dance with a host (she retrieves my food, I pay—inevitably with a credit card—and my eyes scan down to that darned gratuity line), I feel anxious. Am I rude if I don’t tip? A sucker if I do? What’s the proper percentage? (Surely not the full 15% to 20%.)

“I’ll leave a couple of dollars, maybe more if it’s a larger order and required more work by the host,” says Heather Chang, a former hostess at a San Diego gourmet pizza restaurant. What constitutes more work? “Things the host would’ve helped put together, like a salad or something that required fancy packaging.” If this turns out to be the case, 10% is plenty.

Link -via the Presurfer

(Image credit: Dave Dugdale)

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I doubt that this will be read now that it's dropped off the end of the front page, but it does seem that the last couple of commenters are missing the point somewhat.
Mitch - a tip is exactly a 'bonus or gift'. I just looked at the wiki page for 'tip' and it defines it as a voluntary extra payment.
When it comes to the US, I will happily concede that it's the custom to pay it, and when I finally get the chance to go back there I fully expect & intend to have to familiarise myself with how tipping works over on that side of the pond. However, that doesn't change the more general principle that tipping should not be considered an automatic - that negates the whole purpose of a tip. It's the employers job to pay their staff - if that means that prices go up, so be it - the staff are better looked after and I can happily expect service to be better, since the staff won't be able to just assume they'll get their tip.
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@Ben Eshbach: "There is no honor system in a situation where doing the 'honorable' thing is just a preventative measure."

True enough, and to be honest, when I'm leaving a tip I don't think of it as a "thank-you" to the server for not poisoning my cheeseburger. I personally think of tipping as a way to generate and spread goodwill, and to let the server know I appreciate the job they do. I also know what a server's actual wages look like, and I'm aware that if no one left voluntary tips, restaurants would have to raise wages, and their food would get more expensive and the service would get worse. Tipping is a collective benefit to society, but rarely a personal one to the tipper (unless the server remembers you next time you're in there).

However: After reading a bunch of the mean-spirited comments in this thread, it seemed that a "what's in it for me" explanation might be a litle more comprehensible to some of the previous posters.
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Tempscare, the tip is not a bonus or a gift. It is the equivalent of a wage for workers who earn less than minimum wage because the customers are expected to pay at least 15% of the bill for service. I will pay the minumum 15% if the service isn't great, because I have class, but I would never stiff a server. I even went back to a restaurant the next day to leave money for the waiter because I made a mistake doing the math in my head when I figured out the tip.
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I live in the UK. I get good service when I eat out anyway. The staff know they will get whatever rate they get according to the pay scale they are on. If people get bad service the manager gets a complaint and the member of staff is brought up sharply.

IE the same as every other industry...why should restuarants be any different to, say, buying a PC? It would be ludicrous to tip people in my local Tesco's for showing me where the cinnamon bagels are..thats their job.

Likewise, workers in the service industry know they provide a service and will be reprimanded if they dont.

Tipping is basically a good way for people managing food establishments to get out of paying their workers a decent wage and leaving the onus on to the guests who shouldnt have to be responsible for the welfare of the workers there.
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