Tip Gyp

Troy Tilley, a bartender at Sneaky Pete's in Lewisville, states flatly that patrons running a tab should pay a tip of 20 percent of the tab. Of course, he prefers that they pay cash.

"Your higher-paying bar positions are when people buy one drink at a time," he says. "They tend to drop a dollar a drink. But if they order a $2.75 beer and give you $3, you're a little miffed." And, he adds ominously, "You remember faces." Matthew at the Samba Room in Dallas agrees. "If you want to be recognized next time, you'll tip 20 to 25 percent. I want someone I know I can make volume off of. In this business you have to apportion your labor appropriately."

Tipping properly is important--nobody wants a mildly ticked-off bartender or waitperson making life miserable.

Doling out gratuities seemed easier in the old days. You left any spare change on the table at a diner, tipped 15 percent for service at restaurants, and offered your favorite bartender a Christmas gift. But this is Dallas, where money buys stature, and improper tipping earns the scorn not only of food servers but of friends and colleagues as well. Instead of the old-fashioned 10-15-20 rule--tip 10 percent for service, 15 for good service, and 20 percent if the waitperson finds a cure for your bald spot or performs sexual favors--diners in Dallas tip 20 percent or more, whatever the level of service received.

Welcome to the new economy, where patrons mistreat wait staff at their peril, and servers can't distinguish between rich and poor. "The old stereotypes just don't hold up anymore," says Francis Luttmer at Houston's on Preston Road. According to Luttmer, in the old days, men tipped better than women, businessmen better than families, and guys in suits better than guys in T-shirts. Wait staff in today's market, however, know to avoid costly assumptions. "Frankly, it would be dangerous to assume," Luttmer adds, "because you'll be surprised." Sure, some traditions remain sacred. For example, Martin Gonzalez, assistant manager at Don Pablo's on Northwest Highway, explains that the after-church crowd on Sundays tip poorly. Very poorly. He forgets that Christians give God only 10 percent. But Houston's claims that three out of every four patrons lay down 20 percent or more when tipping.

"I always tip well," confirms James Howard, hanging out at the Samba Room. "Fifteen percent is bad. Good service gets 20 to 25 percent, but I waited tables at one time." According to the Texas Restaurant Association, waitpersons earn meager wages, averaging $2.92 an hour. Bartenders ($5.56), hosts and hostesses ($5.67), and buspersons ($5) fare a bit better on average. Fail to tip according to the rules, and you risk upsetting the delicate economics of the food-service industry. No wonder everybody at a bar or restaurant has a hand out.

Following a few basic guidelines--as suggested by Dallas restaurant staff, so you know they're fair--will ensure a smooth evening, improve your social standing, keep the people who serve from doing God knows what to your food, and perhaps improve your sex life.

Rule 1: For good service, tip 20 percent. It's Dallas, so try to fit in. Hand the valet $3 to $5--even if the restaurant charges for valet service. Tip the coat-check person anywhere from $1 to $2 per coat, or more if you hand in a wrap scraped from the carcass of some endangered species. If the sommelier provides some insight or selects a wine (successfully), tip 20 percent of the bottle price.

Rule 2: So they burnt your steak; you still gotta tip. "Remember, you're tipping the server for service," says Luttmer. "If something goes wrong with the meal, it's not the server's fault."

Rule 3: Restaurants may or may not employ a tip-sharing plan, so keep everyone in mind. "Our wait staff share tips with the service bar, the busboys, and the food runners," Gonzalez points out. That measly 15 percent dwindles considerably when others grab a cut. Where no tip-sharing exists, adds David, a bartender at the Samba Room, "Remember to take care of the bar if you are dining."

Rule 4: Play it cool. "Attitude is part of tipping," says Tilley, "so don't make a big show of it. Those guys who want to show off, well, they can keep the money." He will remember you next time.

Rule 5: Discounts only apply to the meal. A number of restaurants offer discount coupons, and according to deWit, "a lot of Dallasites tip on the amount after the discount." Unless the wait staff discounts their service level, don't discount the tip.

Rule 6: Tip at parties, even if someone else pays the bill. "If a wedding party or company is paying for a party, people tend not to tip as much," Tilley reports. Well, cut it out, you cheap bastards. Tip 20 percent.

Rule 7: If you have specific requirements, tip more. That's just common sense.

Rule 8: If you run a bar tab, tip at the end. If you want special treatment at the bar, pay cash and drop a buck or two per drink. "I'm always looking for the cash customer," admits Matthew. "I don't care about interesting conversation--you bring in a beautiful girl or throw me some money, and I'll find you."

Tip well and suddenly everything seems to fall into place. "If a guy comes in with a first date, and I recognize him and have his drink waiting, women eat that stuff up," says Matthew.

And just how much is something like that worth?


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