I work two jobs. As my second I wait tables at a local restaurant. I know it isn't glamorous, but I really like it. I get to work in a fast-paced environment with fun people and great food. Plus I get to walk away at the end of the night with cold hard cash, always a bonus.
I am going to give you tipping advice - those of you who have been servers can vouch for what I'll say.
If you go to a restaurant and you are satisfied with the outcome - food, service, etc. You should leave 20%. If you feel like your server was awesome, leave a couple extra bucks. Last night we went to Applebee's (I know, fancy shmancy huh??! -sarcasm-) and our bill only came to $29. Our waitress was awesome. So I left $8 - and I wrote on the ticket: "You were Awesome!" Too often all the server hears is negative, so if I felt they were great, I'll tell them and so should you. - But don't just tell them, show them in the form of a healthy tip!!
Tipping etiquette dictates that you should NEVER leave less than 10%. I would disagree, but only in certain circumstances. If the server verbally insults you or one of your guests, or if they throw food at you, or if you place you order and then never see anyone again. In instances such as these you should contact the manager. If a server has behaved this way to you, chances are they have behaved that way to someone else and they should no longer be working there. If you just leave a cheap tip or leave no tip, they will just think you were there the problem, not them. We as servers don't know if the 10% tip is because we totally forgot to get you something or if you are just plain cheap.
I often feel like patrons at our restaurant (which is defiantly a step - if not many - above Applebees btw) are looking for reasons to lower their server's tip. One of my brothers has so wisely put it: My glass is their tip gauge, if it gets empty, they get no tip. Not refilling drinks is a horrible thing, as is forgetting customer requests, bad food, slow service, etc...but you as a guest need to look a bit further than your overly tight wallet when deciding what to tip.
When you don't get that refill right away, is it because your server is lazy or because you gulped it down in 20 seconds. Is it your first refill or your twelfth? (we have more to do than to be soley responsible for you draining the world's supply of Mountain Dew) And often, some specialty drinks (flavored lemonades for example) are not refillable, or get only one refill. When in doubt - ask.
If your food was bad, chances are your server will have no fault. Yes, we do occasionally put in the wrong order, but if your steak wasn't cooked right, we aren't the ones over the grill, and we don't cut into it before we bring it to you to check it's doneness... That is why we check back to see if it's ok. Don't hesitate to tell us it is wrong...well, maybe hesitate. If you ordered it Medium Rare and you're mad it is red in the middle, that's not anyone's fault but yours. If we walk back to the kitchen with a Medium Rare steak and tell them you want it well done, you can bet the cooks will be pissed. And pissed off cooks are NEVER good...trust me. If we do something wrong with the food we should catch it right away...I do...and fix it before you ever even see it.
A server should make their table feel like they are the only table in the restaurant, but sometimes this is just logistically impossible. On Thursday I got double-sat. Hostesses are supposed to sit you one table at a time to ensure good service, but sometimes they don't, for whatever reason (some of them are just retarded). If you get more than one table at a time it is called getting double- or triple-sat. So back to Thursday, I was taking the order from my first table as I noticed I was getting a second one sat. I smiled at the second table with a 'Be there in one minute look' and finished the first. I went to the second table and greeted them. They had lots of questions about menu items, and they wanted to order right then. It took about 7-8 minutes. When I walked away from their table a guy at table one (they are right next to each other) flagged me and said "Excuse me mam, where are our drinks?" I wanted to STRANGLE him...I had been standing not 3 feet from him for that ENTIRE 8 minutes taking an order...and he had seen me because I had made eye contact with him several times. I hurried to the bar and grabbed their drinks and took them out. He was ticked for the rest of the night and only left me $5 on an $80 bill. The motto? If you don't get something right away - look around. Is your server taking an order? carrying out food to another table? (in the land of a server, hot food take priority above EVERYTHING...because we don't want the cooks pissed at us either) And if you can't see them, it doesn't mean they are in the back playing poker...we are probably refilling your drinks, cutting bread, traying food, making salads or chasing down some ridiculous request of another guest (or maybe even your ridiculous request)
As a server, once all my tables have gone for the night I am assigned SideWork (SW) to do before I can go home. SW varies from restaurant to restaurant but every place has it. We have to polish all the silverware before we go home. This may not seem like much until you think that each restaurant guest uses at a minimum 3 pieces of silverware: Salad fork/soup spoon, dinner fork and butter knife. You add into that steak knives, crab forks & crackers, bread knives, pasta spoons, dessert forks/spoons, etc. Times that by hundreds of guests and you have a whole boatload of silverware. We also must fold 100 napkins each...not just any fold either, a cute little silverware envelope contraption. The rest of the SW includes: taking out the trash, taking out the linen bags, sweeping, mopping, cutting lemons & limes and wrapping them for the next day, cleaning breadboards, wiping down large and small trays, disassembling the soda fountain and cleaning all nozzles, refilling ketchups, steak sauces, salt & pepper shakers and oil & vinegar bottles. Refilling sweetner caddies, consolidating water/soda glasses, filling trays of ramekins with butter & sour cream, organizing and putting away all the polished silverware, wiping down countless walls, counters, racks, etc. The kicker is that while we do this we are getting paid $2.13 an hour.
My philosophy on tipping is this: If you are ever debating on how much to leave. ROUND UP. The extra $1-2 won't break you, but it will make the server's night. Also, when you are factoring the tip, think of all the special requests you and members of your group made. Did you require things that were not on the menu? extra sauces? an exorbitant amount of refills on your soda? special things for your kids? - make sure you compensate your server. Oh, and just a friendly piece of advice, you get the best service and food outside the dinner rush (6pm-8pm).
As far as takeout goes, I think it doesn't hurt to leave $1-2 bucks if the order is for a few entrees - especially if you asked for things on the side or extra anything. Once again, the extra $1-2 won't break you but it will make their night.
Bag boys are another story. Those of you on military bases (at least the ones in VA and RI) should tip your baggers because they are not paid a wage. But here in 'civilian-land' they are paid...so I wouldn't tip them - except if it is pouring rain or snowing and you want them to come cram 2 carts of groceries into your car...or right before Christmas, slip the kid a $5...make his day.
Bottom line: Don't be cheap. And maybe even cheesier...think What Would Jesus Do and leave the extra $2.