Ask The Salty Waitress: Should I Pre-Tip Before A Meal?

Hello, Salty Waitress. I haven't dined in person for quite a while but with the anticipation of getting vaccinated in the not-too-distant future, I am looking ahead to future outings. I don't know if this is new ground (probably not), but I had an idea during the pandemic, something I haven't done before, and I want to make sure I do it right.

What is the etiquette for tipping before the meal, say, when being seated or ordering? It wouldn't necessarily be a complete tip, of course, not knowing what the final bill will be. But I could see it being interpreted negatively, as a presumption that the server would otherwise provide bad service or something like that. I am thinking of it as a down payment, trying to put them at ease and let them know that I/we are aware of the importance of tips for their income, that their job has been dangerous and precarious for the last year and that for this meal, at this table, right here and now, you will not be stiffed. Every time you come by to bring us something or to check on us, you don't have to wonder how this one is going to turn out and if we're just another bunch of cheap jerks.

I was thinking about handing the server a $20 bill with a small business card sized note explaining things as concisely as possible. Any advice?

Down Payment

Down Payment, sweetie,

It's so nice that you took some of your pandemic time away from restaurants to think about ways you can make servers' lives better. It truly brings a tear to my eye. (And since I haven't needed mascara for months now, I'm gonna let it fall.)

Your plan is a bit unusual, hon, but I can tell you that no server—or service worker—ever said no to a tip, whether it was paid out in advance or at the end of the meal. The customer is always right, after all, especially when he's handing out money. Just as long as you're not the asshole who puts out some bills and then takes one away for every mistake, but I can tell you're not that kind of guy.

I'll tell you a secret, though: most of us are still gonna work hard to give you good service, whether you put down the down payment or not. That's what we do, first of all, and second, we not only want the tip at the end of the night, we want you to come back. It's not just good for us, it's good for the restaurant, too.

If you're really concerned about how tips make our incomes precarious, you could do a little research and start eating out at restaurants that have cut out tipping altogether in favor of service fees that allow the owners to pay out hourly salaries to both servers and kitchen staff. Some of these joints even offer benefits. Yeah, I know not everybody's into it, but I personally am not getting any younger or cuter or willing to put up with shit from customers just to add a few more bucks to my below-minimum-wage "salary." Which, by the way, is something almost no other workers in this country have to deal with. (Here's a list of other people who depend on tip money.)

Still, that's the system most of us live under, sugar, and we all do the best we can. If it makes you feel better to slip me a twenty after I take your order and whisper "Here's your tip in advance," then I'm happy to take it—as long as it comes out to around 20%. (C'mon, you knew I was gonna add that. Did you miss me?)

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