My Server Spilled Coffee On Me. Do I Still Have To Tip?

The Salty Waitress chimes in on tipping etiquette after a coffee crisis.

I'm a chef, and have dozens of friends in the service industry. Here's an interesting question that I'd love to hear your take on: an otherwise good server accidentally spills coffee on your lap. Based solely on that information, would you deliver no tip, a regular tip, or a greater tip?

—Coffee In My Lap, Love In My Heart

Dear Coffee Lap,

First, c'mere for a second. C'mere, doll. Closer. A liiiiiittle closer. There—lemme lovingly pinch that cheek of yours. You deserve a squeeze 'cause as someone in the industry, you're likely a great tipper. In fact, it sounds like you know this business almost as well as I do—and, as you know, hon, anything can happen when you've got a Blue Plate Special in one hand and a Shingle With a Shimmy and a Shake in the other. Coffee spills are a fact of life, just like the corns on my barkin' dogs and the permanent bacon grease stain on my left hooter. When you've been working in the industry as long as I have, these things happen.

I'll give you an example. A few weeks ago, I was training a new server. Cute thing; looked like a young Goldie Hawn, bless her. We were hustling around working the brunch shift, doing our best to cater to a gaggle of gals wearing those big trendy brunch hats. You know the ones; they've got brims big enough to accommodate a goddamn spaceship, and they make you look like a cross between an ostrich and my Aunt Tat's preacher husband. Anyway, the poor new girl gets a little flustered, accidentally bumps the brim of one of those god-awful toppers, and splashes a bit of coffee onto this lady's True Religion jeans.

Sweet thing, all hell broke loose. You'd have thought the new server called up a deranged PETA representative to douse this customer's heirloom furs in red paint. The guest was not happy, and she wanted to make sure we all knew it. Meanwhile, the server is perfectly aware that she flubbed up. She's teary-eyed; she's apologizing profusely; she's offering to comp the meal. In the end, the server got no tip, and the guest flagged down the manager in an attempt to get her in trouble for accidentally spilling a liquid. Talk about having your eggs over hard.

My point is: to err is human, but to tip generously is divine, especially when you can go home, change your pants, and continue about your day. Withholding a tip is your right, of course—but are you really teaching your server anything valuable, or are you just being an asshole?

That said, I don't think a huge tip (like 50-100%) is necessary in these situations, although it'll certainly make somebody's day. If you can afford it and feel like reassuring your server, go ahead and lay down that sweet cheddar. Otherwise, stick to a standard tip amount. Just don't act like a big, pancake-snarfin' jerk, sweet pea. Chances are your server is embarrassed enough already about the snafu. No need to add insult to ever-loving injury.

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