Tupelo residents have a dark underside when they go out to eat, according to the people who serve them.
Too often, diners don’t tip enough, if they tip at all.
One server at Logan’s Roadhouse said she had a table last week rack up a $100 bill and the diners left her a tip of $1.
Unfortunately for her and her colleagues, it is not a rare story in the restaurant industry.
Fregerald “Fre” King has been a server for 10 years and has seen his share of bad tips. King, who has been at O’Charley’s for two years, said he’s seen tips drop off during the last year.
People frequently cite the country’s financial problems, but King won’t accept that excuse.
“Don’t blame it on the economy, because if you don’t have money, go to the grocery store or someplace like McDonald’s with a dollar menu,” he said. “But if you go to a dining establishment and want that dining experience, you need to pay the person who took care of you.”
Good as well as bad
King, like the majority of servers in Mississippi, gets paid $2.13 an hour, plus any tips he makes.
Tips for the majority of his serving career have been enough to cover his bills. But a few months ago, the downward decline took a toll.
King went from making $500-$700 on a good week to $300-$400.
It wasn’t enough to pay his bills, which include student loans for his college education. King took a job at the BP gas station on North Gloster Street in Tupelo. He now works at the station five days a week and typically is at O’Charley’s twice a week.
King and other servers acknowledge that not everyone is a bad tipper.
“I have a lot of regulars and they tip me well,” said April Sims, a server at Logan’s. “It makes up for the non-tippers.”
Servers and management at O’Charley’s, Logan’s, Atlanta Bread Co., Newk’s Deli, Ryan’s Buffet, New China Buffet and Sweet Peppers Deli report the same situation.
In general, servers say:
• Men are better tippers than women.
• Middle-age customers are better tippers than younger or older diners.
• Businessmen in suits typically are good tippers.
• And people who order alcoholic beverages usually are better tippers than nondrinkers.
Surprisingly, most of the servers singled out nurses and medical professionals as bad tippers, especially for takeout orders.
“Most people who don’t tip don’t realize that servers communicate,” King said. “Tipping makes your service better next time.”
Added Sims, “We don’t forget faces.”
The servers also confirmed the widely circulated rumor that Sundays are the worst day of the week for tips.
Tipping advice from servers
The servers varied on their expectations of tips, depending on what type of restaurant.
For full-service restaurants, such as Vanelli’s or Park Heights, servers say 15 percent is the bare minimum. A 15 percent tip tells the server that he or she did an average job.
To reward a good server for keeping your drinks filled or for friendly service, an 18 percent or 20 percent tip is appropriate.
“A little extra to me says, ‘Hey, you did a good job. I really appreciate you,’” King said.
Servers at buffets varied greatly. Some said a tip of $1 per person is good, while others said the tip should be at least 15 percent, considering that many of the servers work for the $2.13-per-hour tip wage.
Shane Harrison, the assistant manager at Newk’s, has his own rule of thumb: If someone brings him a drink and handles the refills, he tips at least 15 percent. If he is responsible for his own drink, the tip is optional.
At fast-casual places like Newk’s, the tip expectation varies greatly. Harrison said his servers are paid more than the $2.13 wage, so tips are not expected. Yet, sometimes people leave a few dollars on the table, especially if children diners have made a mess.
“Money covers a multitude of sins,” said Richmond Culp, a server at Sweet Peppers Deli on East Main Street.
Harrison said the busboys keep the tips at Newk’s.
At Atlanta Bread Co. and McAlister’s Deli, tips aren’t expected either, because the servers aren’t paid the tip wage.
“It’s not expected, but it’s really nice to see the green on the table,” said Suzanna Campbell, a cashier and server at Atlanta Bread.
Atlanta Bread owner Kip Tigrett added that tips were much better when the restaurant opened in 2008.
“The last year they’ve gone backward,” he said.
Cashiers at the restaurant double as servers, so the tips usually are pooled and then divided among the cashiers.
It’s an entirely different story at Sweet Peppers Deli, where servers get paid the $2.13 hourly tip wage.
The servers rely on tips, but Culp said customers often get confused about tipping at Peppers because they order and pay at the register.
But once the order is placed, servers like Culp do everything else, from getting refills to bringing the food and desserts to bussing the tables.
On average, diners usually leave about $1 per person at the table. Culp thinks customers would be better tippers if they understood that the servers get paid below minimum wage.
Back at O’Charley’s, King said that his friends tell him that his career choice – and the associated pay – is his choice so he shouldn’t complain.
“For me, serving is not just a job, it’s a passion,” he said. “If we weren’t there to do our job, then you’d have to do all your own cooking and cleaning.”
Contact Carlie Kollath at (662) 678-1598 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Local tipping guidelines, from your server’s perspective
- Don’t go to a sit-down restaurant if you don’t have enough money to leave a proper tip.
- Leave a tip of at least 15 percent if your server was average. An easy way to calculate this is to double the sales tax on the bill.
- If you had good service, leave at least 18 percent or 20 percent.
- Leave at least $1 per person tip at buffets.
- If you eat with kids or other diners who make a mess, leave a larger tip.
- If you eat at a place regularly, ask for the same server and be a good tipper.
- Leave $2 or $3 if you pick up a large take-out order. For a single order, $1 tip is a nice gesture, but not expected.
- Cash tips are preferred to tips on credit or debit cards. But, servers still get their tips via the cards.
- Tips aren’t expected at fast-casual places like Atlanta Bread, McAlister’s or Newk’s. But, a tip of $1 or $2 per table is nice. Leave more if you made a mess for the busboy.
- Tip at Sweet Peppers Deli. The servers get paid $2.13 an hour and count on tips to pay the bills.
- If you sit at a table waiting for someone or socializing after a meal, leave more of a tip since you are preventing other customers from sitting down. Think of it like a rent payment for the table.
- If you know you are being a difficult customer, leave a nice tip to make up for your poor attitude.
- If you aren’t a tipper, don’t be surprised if you get less-than-enthusiastic service the next time you dine out.
- Don’t penalize your server tipwise if your food was cooked incorrectly. Someone else cooks the food.
- If you have a problem with your food or service, mention it to the server before you skip the tip.
Source: Servers and management at O’Charley’s, Logan’ Steakhouse, Atlanta Bread Co., Newk’s, Ryan’s Buffet, New China Buffet and Sweet Peppers Deli.
Carlie Kollath/NEMS Daily Journal