Ask The Salty Waitress: What Should I Say To My Friend Who's A Terrible Tipper?

Dear Salty: My friends and I go out quite a bit and most of us are solid 20-percent tippers, often more if our server is fun or we're really drunk (we are always sober enough to err on the side of too much rather than too little, I promise).

One particular member of the group is not a solid tipper, however. When we're splitting tabs or doing separate checks and she's along for the ride, a couple of us have gotten in the habit of majorly over-tipping to make up for her shortfall. Or, sometimes one of us will just pick up the entire tab so we don't need to figure out percentages or deal with the lousy tipper.

The other day, out with just me, my bad tipper friend decided to pick up the tab... and left 10 bucks on an $84 total. On similar previous occasions, I've been able to slip extra cash directly to the server or onto the table as we were leaving, but this time the situation didn't offer any such opportunity.

I don't feel too bad about this particular situation. It was a restaurant I go to a fair amount, and I have no problem explaining the situation and giving the server the rest of her tip the next time I'm there. What I'm wondering is if there's a better way for our group to correct this behavior than just laying into the cheapskate and making her feel terrible about herself.

(I don't know if this is weird or surprising or not, but the woman in question comes from more money than any of the rest of us, and the rest of her family is equally stingy when it comes to servers.)

I appreciate any help or thoughts you can offer.

Thanks, Tired of Making Up the Difference

Dear Tired,

I have three major pet peeves in life: Bunions, no-chip manicures that chip, and cheap people. Obviously, in my career as a salty waitress, one of those affects my life more regularly than the others. But I can't tell you the number of 10-percent tips I've received that have left me baffled: Was the food bad? Did I offend them in some way? Are they just unaware of tipping etiquette? (Yes, I know that the system in antiquated and I should be receiving a fair living wage—again, no one is more aware of this than I am.)

More likely, those particular 10-percent customers just might be cheap. There's some sort of concept behind it—I can't prove this or anything, this is just my theory after years of serving—that they're getting away with something? Less money for me means more money for them. And yes, this concept ironically seems strongest among a particular brand of well-off people. Go figure. I once dated an heir to a tobacco fortune whose father was one of the worst tippers I've ever come across. My then-boyfriend constantly tried to add an extra $20 or two to the tip plate when the two went out to dinner, only to get busted once when his dad forgot his scarf at the table and turned around on his way out. It made for an extremely awkward public confrontation, but did it change the ways of a middle-aged man who'd been tipping on the low end for years? Nope.

That leaves me puzzled about your friend. I'm sure she has many fine qualities, otherwise you wouldn't be friends with her, even though I personally regard low tippers as a particularly lame set of people. Try this line of dialogue the next time you're out and the bill comes: "Ugh, I can't do math tonight. Karen, what are you leaving for a tip?" When she replies, "Two dollars," that's a good opportunity to open up this particular conversation: "Really? I usually do 20 percent at the minimum." Then you might hear her reasons for tipping down there in the shallow water. And, brace yourself, you may not like them, as they could indicate that your well-off friend is a bit more classist than you might have realized. I'm guessing she's never worked in food service herself, or else she'd have more generosity toward those of us who spend our days on our feet schlepping plates and glasses.

Or, your friend may not realize how off she's been with her tips, and this conversation could open her eyes. If so, good on you! Be the change, etc.! But if it doesn't, you have a few options. Keep your nights out with her to girls' nights in someone's living room watching The Bachelor (it's Colton season!). While it's commendable of you and your friends to cover Karen's tip shortcomings, that's not really fair to you all. So if you must go out, I have two words for you: separate checks. Also, do me a favor and please keep your pal away from my restaurant. I'm saving up for bunion surgery.

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