I recently had the opportunity to dine out at a few different restaurants in San Francisco over the holidays with my grandma and wife. Overall, the experiences varied quite a bit and I found myself using different tipping percentages at each place based on the level of service I received. In the past, I would have been guilted into a standardized tip suggestion of 18-20% or more, but I am no longer conforming to this standard.
At the first restaurant, a very famous and notable seafood place, the wait staff was very slow and the food we had was mediocre. The clam chowder, in particular, was watery and lacking in flavor. To make matters worse, the staff didn't tell us that they were cash only and didn't have an ATM, causing further delays and inconvenience. To wait for a table, we had to stand in line for over one hour, and the line was so long that they refused to serve many people behind us. Given the slow and mismanaged service and subpar food, I felt justified in leaving a one dollar tip. It was clear that this restaurant was more focused on its reputation and attracting a high volume of customers, rather than providing a high-quality dining experience. It was a disappointing visit and one that I would not recommend to others.
At the second restaurant, another famous and highly rated place, we had to wait in a long line and when we tried to sit at the bar, the bartender wouldn't let us order food and the hostess was crabby when we asked to put our name on a list. Despite the fact that my grandma is unable to stand in line for hours, the hostess refused to accommodate us and instead snapped at me when I asked if we could put our name on a list while we waited at the bar. Given the poor service and the hostess' unprofessional behavior, I left a one dollar tip for the two drinks we had. It was clear that the staff at this restaurant were more concerned with turning over tables and getting people in and out as quickly as possible, rather than providing good customer service. It was a regretful experience and one that I would not want to repeat.
The third restaurant was a local chain place that I had often overlooked due to my assumption that it would be touristy and overpriced. However, we were pleasantly surprised. While the restaurant wasn't cheap, it was priced well for the neighborhood we were in and the staff handled the crowds with ease. We were able to sit at the bar while we waited for a table, and the bartender was extremely kind. Given the exceptional service, we decided to leave a 20% tip – higher than the standard tip but justified given the great experience.
At the last restaurant, we had to wait in line for a table and the waitstaff seemed busy, avoiding eye contact with the customers as they rushed around trying to appear busy. Despite the wait, we eventually got a table and the waitress took our order without any mistakes. However, the service was only standard and the food was not great. Given the overall experience, I left a 15% tip before tax – the standard tip for standard service, despite their suggestion starting at 18% after tax. While the service wasn't necessarily poor, it also wasn't exceptional and therefore warranted a standard tip.
In conclusion, it's important to base your tip on the level of service you received. While the standard tip in the USA is 15% before tax, it's important to deviate from this if the service was exceptionally good or poor. In the cases of the first and second restaurants, the service was not up to par and I left virtually no tips accordingly. In the case of the third restaurant, the service was exceptional and I left a higher tip to reflect this. And in the case of the final restaurant, the service was standard and I left the standard tip. Do not be swayed by tip suggestions on your check and tip according to the service and overall experience you receive. Even during the holiday season, no one is entitled to a tip for a bad experience.
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