Overtip Breakfast Servers

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Personal Pet Peeves

Posted: 01/18/2010

Before I start a new post, I wanted to give you an update on the 98 housekeepers fired by Hyatt. I attended a demonstration on Friday at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Boston. I spoke with several of the fired housekeepers and confirmed that their managers told them that they were training the people who eventually replaced them, only to cover for them if they went on vacation. I also confirmed that Boston Hyatt hotels have lost at least $2 million from groups who cancelled their reservations and/or events due to the firings. What a bad business decision all around. Hyatt has already lost a couple of years worth of ‘savings’ that they thought they would realize as a result of the firings and out-sourcing. The battle continues. Please stay tuned for additional updates.

Long before bartenders were called mixologists, stewardesses became flight attendants, and secretaries insisted on administrative assistant, I received a book called, Life’s Little Instruction Book as a stocking stuffer from my mom. I can still remember the plaid jacket on the book H. Jackson Brown, Jr. wrote for his son who was leaving home to begin his freshman year in college. One of the many instructions that resonated with me was Overtip breakfast waitresses.

When I came from breakfast this morning, I decided to follow through on an idea I had over the weekend about starting a facebook group called, Overtip Breakfast Servers. It amazes me that there are so many people who are adamant about not tipping, or undertipping, especially breakfast servers at inexpensive diners. It’s not required by law, It’s an outdated custom, If you don’t like it, get another job, Go back to school and get an education, and Get a real job, are common refrains from boorish cheapskates. I’d love to see these people try to work as a breakfast server for one week. I guarantee it would be life-changing.

This morning I ordered the $5.95 “Weekday Special,” which consisted of 2 cups of tea, 3 eggs, 3 sausages, 2 full pieces of toast(not 2 halves), and more homefries than I could eat. I could have substituted bacon for the sausage, or grits for the homefries, and also could have had a few more cups of tea for the same price. I enjoyed the “house” newspaper($1 on news stands), and had a nice conversation with Crystal, my waitress.

The breakfast came exactly as advertised on the menu. No extra charges for anything. Great service, no cooking, no clean-up, and a great deal.

How much of the $3.63 change would you have left for a tip and why?

Here are  a few of the things I think about when tipping at breakfast:

  • Serving breakfast is a REAL (sometimes real hard) job.
  • Many servers wake up at 4 am and have to be at work at 5:30.
  • Most MA servers make a little more than $2/hour, and usually never more than $3.
  • Servers often get stiffed. Yes, some people leave nothing (more often than you know).
  • A lot of city servers take cabs to and from work ($$$).
  • Servers who drive often have to feed the meter and move their cars every 2 hours, and pay parking tickets routinely.
  • Some customers are brutal beyond belief.
  • Breakfast checks are so much smaller than other meals.
  • The 20% standard on the taxed amount goes out the window when it comes to tipping breakfast servers.
  • 40% minimum at breakfast is a good rule of thumb, especially for very inexpensive “specials.” ($2.55 in the example above.)
  • I read a newspaper for free that usually costs $1.
  • A lot of people are grouchy and in a big rush in the morning.

I was at a diner one morning and a guy on the stool next to me left eleven pennies for a tip. When I asked the server about him, she said that he was a local preacher and he does that all the time. She insisted that I resist the impulse to chase him down the sidewalk and ask him what he was thinking. The war stories are endless.

Please share your thoughts and stories. Thank you.

37 Responses to “Overtip Breakfast Servers”

  1. Buddy says:

    I throw down a ten not thinking at all how the math works…
    I just want to get the day going !!!!

  2. Hank says:

    I’d leave all the change. When I go to O’Lacy’s in Batavia, NY, I leave tips on this schedule:

    1 Guinness = $4.50, tip = $5.50 (friendly, kind, funny, tenders/servers w/great atmosphere!)

    Round-off to $10

    2 Guinness = $9.00. tip = $6.00

    Round-off to $15.00

    When times are tight I tell them and resort to about 20% tip, or don’t go to pub!

    Dr. Hank

  3. Taxi says:

    For all of those reasons you listed I try to tip at least 25-30% if not more. Hell, I tip on takeout (10%).

    And with all due respect to the waitress: I would have chased that preacher down and let him know that (my) God doesn’t approve…

  4. Ginger D says:

    I would have left a 10 and wished her a good day.

    I was a waitress for years and once had a man leave me 3 pennies as a tip, lined up in a perfectly neat row. A gang of my regulars were watching to see how I’d react.
    “I can tell a lot about a person by their tip!” I announced loudly, leaning on the counter.
    “First, this gentleman is a perfectionist” I flicked one penny off the counter and onto the floor.
    “Next, this gentleman is a bachelor” Flick.
    “Lastly, so was his father….” Flick.
    Applause and many large tips from my regulars for the show. 🙂

  5. tim h says:

    i would have left $10 and told her to keep the change. Serving breakfast sucks.

  6. Kelly says:

    I thank you for writing this piece, as a diner waitress who loves her job, works for a couple of great guys, and for the most part has great regular customers. I wake up daily at 4:40, put on a clean uniform, make myself presentable, and go to work with a smile on my face. I pretty much don’t take home a paycheck after taxes and my only income is my tips, which I work very hard for. I agree with you about people first thing in the morning sometimes very crabby, or very cheery like myself, but I never take anything personally and the crabby ones were that way long before they came to see me for their eggs and coffee. I always provide a paper for my customers to pass around, and sometimes never even get tipped $1, the cost of that newspaper they just read!! I have a customer similiar to the local preacher at your breakfast, but he’s a rabbi. He has about 4 or 5 cups of decaf and an english muffin and leaves me coins. I thank him every time. Again you are right, the stories are endless! I wish I could have working-class customers everyday, people who really understand how hard we work for our $$$$$$$$. I think everyone should wait tables at some point, then maybe people would understand and rethink being rude to waitstaff, not tipping, undertipping, and learn some humility .

  7. Danielle says:

    My husband and I own a restaurant, so we are all about tipping– ESPECIALLY at breakfast. The server has to practically tell us to f-off for us NOT to leave a good tip.
    Breakfast serving can be a thankless job…let’s face it, they have to get up early to serve (at worst) stinky, hungover, unshowered patrons…can’t be pretty! AND the chances that Nicholas Cage will come by and split a winning lottery ticket with them is sadly only in the movies!

  8. Laurie says:

    Having worked my way through college, I can empathize. I remember once waiting on a table of 4 guys. They left me a dime. I was livid! I ran out of the restaurant and threw the dime at them. Of course, I was 18 years old at the time. Now, I suppose I would suck it up. Waiting tables is a thankless job.

  9. Kathi says:

    I was a breakfast waitress for many years (I am now a bartender) I always over tip the breakfast waitress because, as you stated, 20% just isn’t reasonable. It’s hard work, I remember (and I was much younger then) my feet and back killing me when I got done a shift! Payday was irrelevant by the time they took taxes out of my $2.15 an hour (in NH it’s still only $3, and $2.15 was 1985-1990!) I currently work in an American Legion hall, where most of my customers are “blue collar” and make decent money. I have worked in much fancier places, and made half the money. People who “work” for a living understand that I work for a living, too.

  10. Marianna says:

    Breakfast servers are expected to remember so much more than any other shift, especially when it comes to the regulars and their preferences. Some people don’t want their coffee filled until it’s almost empty so as not to upset the Sweet n Lo balance and there’s a million other equally bizarre habits they think you need to care about.
    Possibly the clergy-folk are tithers, (10% of their income needs to be given to their house of worship), so why should a lowly server get 15%? I’ve actually heard that excuse, as well as a local tax collector who was so sure we were cheating the government by not claiming all our income, he withheld his tips.
    Thanks for writing about us!

  11. Darci says:

    I would have left the change from the ten. I have been in the serving business for 12 years now and started out at a breakfast joint like you mention…granted i was a high school student…but do you know how hard it is for a high schooler to drag themselves out of bed at 4AM to make it to work by five on a saturday and sunday and still smile and be hospitable? I often was left only the coin change that was received by the customer. 32 cents here 12 there 68 here. I always tip 30% of my bill at least… in this particular case it would have been a waste of time to wait for my change.

  12. Chris says:

    I would have left $5. That is my minimum tip for two of us eating a meal. For meals that cost more, 20% is the minimum. Years ago, I was visiting an aunt in Buffalo, NY. She was separated from her husband and money was tight. We were having lunch in a cafe and she tipped big. She said at various times in the past, each of my cousins had waited tables and she knew what it was like. That has resonated with me throughout my life. My in-laws are 10 percenters. I always linger to leave more money or even hand it directly to the wait person if the coast is clear.

  13. Jill says:

    breakfast servers are akin to bartenders. They have to deal with people at their worst (i.e. without coffee, hungover, still drunk, just nasty….). I tip them HARD. I think that percentages are irrelevant–I tip a minimum of $1 for how many times I need something (more coffee, hot sauce for my eggs, re-fill on the H20, another napkin, etc.). I mean…..you tip a bartender $1 for opening a Bud bottle at happy hour…..where is the fairness in stiffing the brave soul who gets up at an ungodly hour to race around making sure YOUR day starts great?

  14. I agree with the blog:
    A breakfast tip with fast, courteous service is on a sliding scale from 20% to 40%.
    As a restaurant owner I hope the server is also focused on courteous, fast, familiar (when appropriate) service that increases sales for the house so they can make money too. Believe me you can barely cook breakfast at home for $6.50 and that restaurant has to pay their “unlocking the door and switching on the lights” fee which is only supported by volume.
    Thanks for the conversation.

  15. Tony D says:

    I love the morning ladies at my local diner. I leave 30-50%, and if it is just a coffee and a muffin add a little more. They work thier bacon bits off, and a lot of people stiff them.

  16. Gaga says:

    I would just leave the $10.

  17. Ms. Starr says:

    Echoing most folks above – I definitely just leave the 10. And look forward to doing it again the next week and being greeted by a smiling and familiar face (I usually just do brunch/breakfast once a week in my ‘hood).

  18. Alex says:

    as long as the service is good, and at Mike’s City it always is. Id leave 50% on that check. Its so little in comparison to what they do and for how much. Its earned!

  19. Mary says:

    I will never understand why people don’t know how to tip. It was one of the first things both my parents taught all of us. I have only worked once at a catering gig years ago, its not something I wished to ever do again. So to say I leave a good tip because I know what its like is not true. I leave a minimum of 25% always, but my standard tip is 30%. If I couldn’t leave that – then I don’t go. For the most part most good tippers are average working people and they understand and appreciate good service. Breakfast tips are no brainers. Its an inexpensive meal and the servers have to hustle a lot of meals to earn a decent amount of tips. People know this and shouldn’t pretend otherwise.

  20. Brenda says:

    I *always* overtip at breakfast – at least 50% and if it’s under $5, 100% Why?

    1. I am not the friendliest person until I have had enough coffee. Polite, yes; friendly, not so much. Given that most servers are cheerful and friendly at that hour and I CANNOT be, I value those qualities all that much more.
    2. Breakfast items tend to be cheaper, thus not yielding a high enough ticket. The servers are doing the same amount of work (well, maybe no bottle service at that hour) and I think their effort should be recognized.
    3. I tend to have breakfast at the same places since I don’t crave as much variety with my first meal of the day as I do for others. When a server remembers that I like my scrambled eggs dry and my bacon well done, when they know that I don’t want butter on my pancakes or when they know that I don’t want my coffee cup filled until it’s all the way empty, that goes a LONG way and MUST be recognized.
    4. I can’t say it enough – if they can do something that I can’t do, ever, then they need to be compensated.

  21. CD Berkeley says:

    What a great post. Breakfast is definitely the hardest meal to tip for b/c it is typically so cheap. And most people aren’t that thoughtful with tipping anyway, as we’ve noted in this blog. So with those two things, coupled with the fact that most people are’t functioning properly in the morning anyway, I’m sure most breakfast servers get royally screwed. I tend to overtip with most meals but I’m sure for some breakfast meals it hasn’t been enough. This post reminds me to pay better attention EVERY time. BTW, Patrick, what did you end of tipping on the above check?

  22. CD Berkely- I didn’t think anyone was going to ask! In fact, I got a few emails scolding me for only leaving $2.55. I guess that amount was implied in my post. I ended up leaving $3.50. I usually don’t like to leave change, but while I was eating at the counter I heard Crystal, my waitress, mention that she liked getting quarters for her laundry. I didn’t leave the rest of the small change, especially the pennies, because I never liked getting change when I used to bartend. Thanks to everyone for reading and commenting.

  23. kate says:

    I agree, servers are definitely under-appreciated and under-paid for the most part. I was a waittress/bartender for many years, but what I don’t understand is why their minimum wage is so little outside of California.

    I do my part to tip fairly and generously, but isn’t the onus on the owner as well? They’re basically getting free employees. And great service is just as good (if not better) reason for return business as good food is. Servers should be paid accordingly. Just sayin.

  24. Nicole says:

    I am so happy to read this!! I am a breakfast waitress and it is just as hard as serving dinner. It is even harder to act cheery so early every morning. Alot of people don’t think about this, they just automatically tip a percentage, even though breakfast is so cheap. Thank you for bringing attention to this, I don’t think people even realize what they are doing. We work very hard to start your day off right, tip the waitress/waiter on quality of service, not quantity of check.

  25. Gigi says:

    I didn’t ever work breakfast but I used to work brunch. Not as early but certainly not any less of a challenge. The general manager was very vindictive with the scheduling and she would often have me closing on a Saturday night (out by about 1:00 a.m.) and then opening in the morning (say 9:30 a.m.). Of course there were drinks after the night shift, and then maybe a party at a co-worker’s place. You have to have time to decompress after all!

    Brunch was a really good buffet but for some reason the a la carte menu was available as well – imagine trying to time the food. Some people would be eating while others were waiting for their made-to-order meal, giving me evils. There was one couple who always seemed to end up in my section & we did not get along. Their empty coffee cups would result in my attempt to refill them, but I’d always get a “not right now…,” which translates to “not right now…I’ll wait until you’re on the other side of the dining room and then I’ll call out for more coffee as though you’ve not been near the table for half an hour!” Even better if the GM is within earshot. 😉 Other than those two it was generally a fun place to work. After that job I vowed never to do brunch again. If I GO for breakfast or brunch I am always super friendly and tip big.

  26. butterbuall says:

    I never tip at breakfast or any meal unless I have had exceptional service,
    I live in New Zealand minimum wage here is $12.50 = to around US$8.80, so a living wage, and as we a are social welfare country if you earn under a certain amount and have kids you get extra money from the government, and of course all medical services are subsidized if you go to the doctor here it will cost around NZ$40.00,= US$28.00 prescriptions are NZ$5.50 = US$3.80, if you have a accident (car, work sport doesn’t matter) all your ongoing health costs are paid for and you receive 80% of your earnings while you are unable to work, the diner style breakfasts that you get in the states just don’t exist here, I was out to breakfast at a cafe last Friday, one toasted bacon and egg croissant and a flat white coffee( no refills) NZ$10.00, glad I don’t have to wait tables in the states for a living.

  27. bean says:

    There isn’t a tipping culture in NZ, because there is a reasonable minimum wage. In cafes it tends to be an optional extra, in restaurants probably the same, although it would be more common to tip in a restaurant. As a waitress I get paid a reasonable amount (which equates to $10.30USD/hour) and our tips are divided between the staff on that day, generally something like $3NZ each. Pays the bus fare, right? Tipping just isn’t necessary or expected here – small business owners make their money not by screwing over their staff, but by charging a reasonable price for the food and the mark-up on drinks – an espresso coffee costs around fifty cents to make and is sold for $3-$4, and there is a minumum of 100% markup on alcohol.

  28. Mel says:

    I’m in Oregon, and servers out here (unlike, it seems, the rest of the country) get paid minimum wage of $8.40/hour. In Portland, it seems like half the population is servers, so it’s impossible not to overhear at one point or another people talking about how much they make. They make BANK out here on tips, because people are accustomed to servers not making anything else. A friend of mine in high school (high school!) was making over $200 a night at her first serving job at a diner.

    So, knowing this, I stick at 20% if the service is good (though in the case of your example I’d probably have just left the whole $10 and not bothered with change), but I have zero qualms about undertipping if the service stinks since I know that when it comes down to it, they’re still making the same base hourly wage that so many other people in the state make without the benefit of tips.

  29. Lisa says:

    My husband and I are restaurant owners for 12 years now. Our place has become a local favorite and we look forward to seeing just about everyone who walks through our doors. Our staff is loyal and willing to bear the brunt of those that are rude or cheap..we often resort to humor and have nicknamed our favorite rude regulars, and for fun, try to guide that loyal patron into each other’s section(fun for the lucky ones!)…humor helps but a 40% tip makes it all the more bearable…Thanks for your blog…it’s about time someone did this!!

  30. Mr.Steve says:

    I’d leave a ten. I’ve waited tables for a few decades, and I love getting left the extra coins(along with a decent paper money tip, too, let’s not forget). It all goes onto a jar and after a couple of months, I exchange it at TD Bank for free, and I’ve got fifty or so “found” dollars. Leave me the coins, guys!

  31. Walt says:

    I also overtip the servers at Cracker Barrel–breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The other night I based the tip on the rainbow trout, not on the menu price of $9.25, but on how much that dinner would have cost in the upscale restaurant where I work, $28. It’s a nice rule of thumb. Except for a salad course and wine service, the server did everything one of our servers do. She shouldn’t get a paltry tip just because CB purchases trout in such volume that they can afford to offer it at $9.

  32. Ariane says:

    I worked at a sushi bar through part of college and yeah, I know how hard it is to get 3 tables all at once about 2 minutes after you open the place. One thing I noticed was that my tipping went from about a 12%-18% range before I waited tables to a 5%-50% range after. I am so much more willing to tip on good service, but will tip poorly (and occasionally leave notes on the receipts) for bad service. I also tip as if I had ordered a soda- water is usually just as much work to fill as a coke.

  33. The Famous Teddy Z says:

    If I got change, I probably would have left $9 total. If it was really busy, after thinking about it for a minute, I might just leave the $10 and go. But I’d be inclined to leave $9. (44%)

  34. mandy says:

    I always leave a good tip no matter what. I remember days of waiting tables and here’s what I know as wait staff…
    1. If the food isn’t good remember the cook made it not me… I’m just a server.
    2.when service is slow one of 2 things… the cooks are backed up or we are just understaffed… not to mention some days just flow that way.
    3. Remember time is needed to cook ur food… you want fast food then hit burger king.
    4. Just because you see open tables doesn’t promise there’s a server to wait them.
    5. Remember when u walk away… for a whopping $2.13/hr I’m gonna refill ketchup, salt, pepper, sweep, mop, and break down soda machines, put dishes away, restock…. all the things people think housekeeping does… waiting ur table is the easy part so don’t assume that when the restaurant closes I’ll just be walking out cash in hand… its manual labor that depends on the tip you leave as payment for a very small portion of the work actually done.

  35. I totally agreed with you, Patrick. Breakfast servers do have a tough job. I generally tip 20% for dinner. As for breakfast check, I usually tip 40-50% of the check total if I am a lone diner. If I go with two or more people, I do leave 30% or more.

    I think children should be taught about public manner and tipping at early age or automatic 20% GRATUITY should be added to the bill on every service establishment. If you have money to eat out, you should have money to pay for tips.

  36. candace says:

    I am a breakfast server and to be honest most of us are not looking for a huge tip at all! Maybe 2-4 bucks depending on how big the bill is and were happy ! And when we get those 5 our days are made well mine is ! But its just those people who come in huge parties and have over 50 dollars over breakfast bill and leave maybe 2 bucks its just can get frustrating we aren’t asking for much but maybe a 5 if you have over a 5o buck bill thats only 10 precent but anyways us servers appreciate the tips very much and most of us are not looking for huge tips just a happy customer

  37. Skye says:

    I work multiple shifts at a 24hr diner with a large gravel lot (read “not an official truckstop but they’re always stopping”). I’m usually on the bar counter so get many of the solo diners. One breakfast shift a guy comes in, business attire and only ordered a coffee. Figured I’m going to get stuffed on a tip, but he ended up paying for the coffee and leaving me a $10 tip. Next morning he was back said the first day he had to stop because he was early for a meeting, so he’d had to rush out. Day 2 he offered me the choice of another $10 tip for a coffee, or $100 tip for my phone number. 10 months later we’re still dating.
    Absolute worst, Sunday after church crowds. Being on the counter though, I don’t get burned by them like our other servers. Boss ended up making a new Sunday menu with higher prices so he could offer us higher wages to work that day

Leave a Reply

Permalink | Posted in Personal Pet Peeves | 37 Comments »