6 Myths About Tipping in Restaurants

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Myth: Your tip goes directly to the server

Fact: Behind every great server is a support staff (food runners, bussers), and restaurants adopt different tipping systems to reward everyone. Some places are “pool houses,” where everyone’s tips are combined and the money is split among all the waitstaff. Others let servers keep their own tips and dole out the gratuity as they see fit. The servers take the largest cut in both scenarios, but your 20 percent is helping others as well.

Myth: You should exclude booze when tallying your tip.

Fact: Many restaurants—especially those with craft cocktails or fine wines—let the bar staff and sommeliers share in the gratuity.

Myth: The cooks get a cut.

Fact: The kitchen staff rarely sees a nickel from your pocket, because cooks are generally paid a higher by-the-hour salary than waiters. That’s often less than what servers take home, so how can you thank the kitchen for a great meal? A round of drinks is always appreciated, even sometimes recommended on the menu: At Daikaya, diners can send cooks post-shift Sapporos for $10.

Myth: Tips always have to be monetary.

Fact: No one argues with a generous tip, but there are other ways to express thanks, especially if you’re a regular. Buy the bartender a drink, give a pour of that rare wine you ordered to the sommelier, or bring the manager those wonderful homegrown tomatoes you’re always talking about. Small gestures rarely go unappreciated.

Myth: Always tip a buck per drink.

Fact: If the bartender is just uncapping a Bud, then $1 is acceptable. If he or she is slammed and you anticipate more rounds, a few extra dollars can’t hurt. But if the bar staff is carving ice, delicately placing garnishes, and taking more than three minutes to make a drink, then tip 20 percent.

Myth: It’s fine not to tip on takeout.

Fact: Sure, not a lot of “service” accompanies a to-go order. Still, someone took the order, relayed it to the kitchen, packed the bag, and processed your bill. (This person is likely the bartender.) We think a 10-percent thank-you is polite, and it gets you good service next time.

This article appears in our November 2014 issue of Washingtonian.

Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Logan Circle.

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.