Ask The Salty Waitress: How Much Spectacle Should I Make Of Putting Money In A Tip Jar?

Hey Salty, I have a tipping question. When I order at a restaurant that has a tip jar on a counter, I try and tip when the server is facing me rather than when their back is turned (i.e. when they're pouring a drink or getting something from out of a case). I figure that tipping is a way of expressing thanks, a gesture of appreciation, and if I make it when someone can't see, it doesn't really achieve that purpose. From a self-serving standpoint, if I'm a repeat customer, I want to build a relationship, I'm a thankful and polite customer and want them to remember me.

BUT, I worry a bit that it seems like demanding attention or thanks for the tip. Is there some way to tip in a tip jar that both indicates my thanks and doesn't come across as insisting on attention?

Thanks, Ben from Chicago


Dear Ben,

Couple things going on here. First, I want to acknowledge that this is obviously a Curb Your Enthusiasm plot line that got left on the cutting room floor. Maybe Larry David puts a tip in the jar, the server doesn't see it, so he fishes it out to put it back in, and now the server thinks he's stealing? I don't know, someone work with that.

[Editor's note: Oh, it actually exists! But for a different Larry David project...]

Back to the real world. While it is good manners and right and proper to tip at counter-service places—even on take out, even on a cup of coffee—do you really feel like it gets you better service in the future? I mean, most of these places are fairly wham-bam affairs. What are you fishing for with wanting to be remembered as a good tipper? A nice smile? Some extra napkins with your egg salad sandwich? It's good to tip, but I'm just saying I don't know how much it's really going to get you, tangibly, in the long run.


But there's a desire to be acknowledged for our goodness, right? It's not enough to do the right thing, we want to be seen doing the right thing. Your letter couches this in "I just want to show appreciation," but what you really want is to have the server see you showing appreciation, right? Doesn't make you a bad person—it makes you human. A human who needs validation.

Here's the thing, and I'm beating all of the commenters to it: This isn't that hard. Put the tip in the jar when the server is facing you, if you want, and leave it at that. You don't have to struggle to make eye contact (unnecessary) or put the money in with some flourish and an overly sincere thank you (even less necessary, downright loony). You can tuck the dollar or two in there, say "thanks" if you want, and leave it at that. If the server misses it, really, they're not losing sleep over your perceived lack of gratitude, or something. And if the server doesn't say thank you or acknowledge the tip, don't hold that against them either.

In short, sweet pea, I think you're overthinking this whole interaction, and now you've made me write 400 words doing the same.

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