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January 14, 1999

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: How to Tip & How I Tip



One of the best ways to get good service in a restaurant is to go there a lot in a short period of time. It also helps if you spread a fair amount of cash around. No matter what you read or hear, 15% is barely adequate at a nice restaurant with above-average service. Truly bad service deserves 10% or less. 20% on the total bill is an amount that will get you true appreciation from the staff. Some food writers say that 20% on the total food and beverage bill is excessive, especially if you order a very expensive bottle of wine. But I doubt that you need me to coach you on tipping if you are in the habit of ordering bottles of wine over $100. Cocktails are a different matter. $1 per drink per round is probably best at any upscale bar or restaurant. The all-you-can-drink beer crowd probably considers a buck per pitcher adequate, and so probably will the staff receiving it. Sommeliers and Maitre 'Ds present a special problem. If a wine steward has been especially helpful in choosing a bottle of wine for your table. $5 per bottle is minimum. And just how do you tip an especially helpful wine steward? Just hand it to him as you're leaving—yes, it's that simple. Likewise, any Maitre 'D who gives you the best seat in the house or doesn't confuse your wife and girlfriend on successive evenings, should be slipped a 20 at minimum. Depending on the alimony you may be facing—you might want to triple this sum.

The point of all of this is that if you want to be treated like a king then frequent a favorite place and handsomely reward the staff for those extra touches in food, service and compliments. Those who think that top-flight service just comes with the price of a meal, or that tips should be handed out begrudgingly, will always be on the short end of the high roller schtick. And if you think it's easy working in a restaurant or bar—just try it sometime.

This is John Curtas

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