Tipping may not be a required part of the restaurant experience, but local servers said that earning less than federal minimum wage means depending on gratuities for a good portion of their income.
The federal minimum hourly wage was raised on July 24, 2009, to $7.25, but employees who receive tips are defined as an exempted category of worker by the U.S. Department of Labor. Tipped employees’ sub-minimum wage of $2.13 an hour was not increased in 2009, as it was for nonexempt workers.
As a result, most servers said the standard 15 percent tip of old is now considered a minimum gratuity. Most said 18-20 percent is a more appropriate average, even for establishments that are not full-service.
Server at: McHale’s Brew-house, 724 Ashland Terrace.
Serving experience: About 10 years, off and on.
Expected tip percentage: “Normally, 10-20 percent. Some people don’t give us much, and some people don’t give us any, but you don’t serve them based on the tip. You have to serve everyone the same way and hope you get a tip.”
How much she tips: “Usually, about 20 percent, unless the service is not good. Then they get a very small tip.”
What she tips for/expects to be tipped for: “When they don’t come back and wait on you or they take forever and are rude, I don’t tip as well. I always try and care about who I’m working with. Some people don’t; they’re having a bad day, and they take it out on their customers.”
Server at: Table 2, 232 E. 11th St.
Serving experience: For five months, but he has worked in restaurants for seven years.
Expected tip percentage: “I expect at least 15 percent because ... we live off tips. You should be able to afford that, and I would say that 99 percent of people who come in can.”
How much he tips: “My base is 20 percent. For great service ... if i go out and the server really takes care of me and I spend $15, I will tip 100 percent because I can afford that and because they made it a great experience for me.”
What he tips for/expects to be tipped for: “It depends on where I go. I make concessions if they are completely swamped and a server forgets my drink but only does it once and apologizes and immediately fixes it. I can understand mistakes. I’m a sever, so I make them all the time, but once you realize you made a mistake, you fix it right away.”
Manager at: Table 2, 232 E. 11th St.
Managing/serving experience: Managing for one year and served for four years before that, including at Bluff View restaurants such as Rembrandt’s and Tony’s.
Expected tip percentage: “20 percent is the new 15 percent. At restaurants, 18 percent is what is expected, but ... if you get 20 percent, that’s a good tip.”
How much he tips: “I tip at least 20 percent. If it’s a lower-cost ticket, say if my meal is $7, I at least leave $5. That’s my rule of thumb. Anything under $10, you should at least leave $2, if not more.”
What he tips for/expects to be tipped for: “We always try to get them things before they have to ask for them. We always went by the philosophy that you shouldn’t have to tell them your name because they should never have to ask you for anything.”
Server at: Provino’s Italian Restaurant, 5084 South Terrace.
Serving experience: About 10 years, two at Provino’s.
Expected tip percentage: “15 to 20 percent.”
How much she tips: “Of course as a server, I overtip when I go out. You know, to keep my ‘tip karma’ up. I always tip at least 15 percent, but normally 20 [percent] to 30 percent.”
What she tips for/expects to be tipped for: “I would hope that they would base it on total bill, plus the things I have control over: drinks refilled, checking to see if they need anything, promptness of my service, courtesy. Unfortunately I know that some take into account length of cook time and quality of food and price. All those are things I have no control over.”
Assistant general manager at: Lupi’s Pizza, 406-A Broad St.
Serving experience: 8-10 years, off and on.
Expected tip percentage: “Anyone in the service industry is going to expect 15-20 percent. It’s the right thing to do, in my opinion, [but] whatever you can leave is fair.”
How much he tips: “Way more than I should. I typically tip upward of 30 [percent] to 50 percent. If I can do it, I tip 30 percent as a standard, especially if it’s a full-service restaurant and the service is good.”
What he tips for/expects to be tipped for: “Overall attention to detail. Do you walk in the place and is the server making you feel welcome? Are they taking it a little further than they need to? I think people can tell the difference between someone showing up for a shift and someone who genuinely cares for their experience when they come in the restaurant.”
Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...