Confession No. 31 – Before following any ‘new rules for tipping,’ consider the source

I‘ve been labeled as miserly, gauche, hypercritical, coarse … and the list goes on. But I’ve neither been sneered at by people at my restaurant dinner table, nor have I been chased down by a server or barkeep who felt double-crossed by my gratuity.

According to one published report by blogger Kelly Dobkin and her friend, former server-now-blogger Steve Dublanica, I’m still doing it all wrong.

Before I initiate my own chalk talk about the do’s and don’ts of tipping, I want to concede to Dobkin. Though I strongly disagree with much of what she tells 17 million Readers Digest bookworms in the Feb. 2012 issue, the fact is, people tend to believe the printed word. Did I mention that Readers Digest prints about 17 million copies each month?

Tipping on the tax
Readers Digest: Of course, Dublanica ‘likes it’ when customers tip on the tax. Dobkin also tells us that servers tend to include tax in their sales at the end of the night, and that we are ‘stiffing’ busboys and other staff members out of their ‘fair share’ by not tipping on the tax.

Unorthodox Epicure: Of course Dublanica prefers that we tip on the tax! Need I suggest why? Also, why would servers include tax in an amount, when they can accurately calculate from the actual receipts? Someone’s indeed giving the busboys and other staff the green weenie, but it ain’t the customer!

Tipping on booze
Readers Digest: Dobkin points out that it’s common (and acceptable) to leave the bartender about 10 percent — or about $1 per drink. Dublanica claims we should leave 15 to 20 percent at the bar. His justification: We leave servers 15 to 20 percent at the table, even when they might be serving drinks that they didn’t make.

Unorthodox Epicure: I’ve been leaving a buck for as long as I can remember for a $5 beer. That’s 20 percent of a product that’s been marked up by at least 200 to 300 percent. And the mixmaster’s work consists of opening a bottle and placing it in front of me on a napkin. Perhaps I’ve been too generous all these years.

Leaving a bad tip
Readers Digest: Naturally, Dublanica says that this is not a good idea, because other staff members lose out when their server/co-worker makes my experience a bad one. Dobkin uses the sickening ‘it’s not fair’ phrase to further discourage such penalties. (Can someone bring me a sick sack, please?)

Unorthodox Epicure: The busboys and other staff members should take to the woodshed any server who acts like a horse’s ass with customers, or who calculates tips at the end of the night based on a taxed amount. My suggestion to be ‘fair’: When the server stinks, take a couple minutes to hunt down the busboy (assuming your table was clean), host (assuming they didn’t seat you next to a screaming kid) and bartender, and tip them separately.

Built-in deal sweeteners
I agree with the automatic gratuity when it comes to large groups. So many times, I’ve been with groups, and we didn’t know who was paying for what. Unfortunately, I’m sure I’ve inadvertently stiffed a server, or two in situations like this. With a larger group, I believe such accidents are inevitable. Being the skeptic that I am, I also believe that larger groups provide a better opportunity for close-fisted skinflints to practice their bad habits on the sly.

It should come as no surprise that Dublanica alludes to his desire that automatic gratuities be included — no matter what. His reason? Foreign tourists often don’t understand U.S. tipping protocols.


I have some suggestions for Dublanica and the hundreds of thousands of others who make a career out of serving food:

  • Come see me at my table occasionally. I might want another beer or a few lemon wedges. Also, look my way once in a while. I might give you a thumbs up, which means you can tend to other tables. I might also point to my beer bottle, or to her soda. I think you know what that means.
  • When you ask me how everything is, expect honesty. I know you didn’t cook it, but if it comes to my table at room temperature, I’ll be more inclined to blame you – especially if I’ve witnessed you flirting with the bartender for the previous 20 minutes. If the food is just bad, no worries. I know what can happen when I send something back.
  • Speaking of bad food, when you see that I’ve managed just one bite and I tell you that the food is just bad (undercooked, overcooked, rancid, etc.), I expect you to take it off my ticket. No worries, I’ll probably include it in the tip anyway — depending on your reaction. (If we have to argue about it, not only will I not tip you on the returned plate, you’ll be losing money on everything else too. It’s your choice.)
  • I might ask you about a menu item. If you’ve never tried it, I think your manager is doing you a disservice, but just tell me. Likewise, if you tried it and didn’t like it, just lay it out there. I’ll probably ask why. Be prepared to tell me that it’s too spicy for you, or that you despise fish.

Whether or not Dublanica and Dobkin agree, the server is the first and last line of defense in a restaurant. A good server will develop a relationship with the rest of the staff, and everyone — the customers and staff — will benefit. A good server should practice the ethic of reciprocity. In other words, they should put themselves in the customers’ shoes and act accordingly. (Customers should also consider the Golden Rule when making unreasonable demands, or when tempted to treat servers like indentured servants.)

And here’s one more tip …

Dublanica and other servers who feel entitled should look up the word ‘gratuity’. It’s about 500 years old, and the meaning has never changed — despite what Readers Digest printed in 17 million copies.

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. I’d also love for you to join me on Facebook (click the ‘like’ button), Pinterest and Google+.

My menus are often inspired by what I read on other food blogs, and lately, I’ve seen a lot of hot dogs. As I’ve mentioned several times, hot dogs are among my favorites — of all time. My favorite way to eat one is on a toasted bun with yellow mustard. But I can also be creative. The hot dog below was inspired by a local hot dog joint. They serve their Reuben Dog with kraut, fake Swiss cheese, yellow mustard and a dill pickle spear. It’s a good hot dog, but it’s not the Reuben that I’m familiar with.

Reuben Dogs

While I'm not the type of person to substitute a hot dog for any other type of meat in a dish or on a particular sandwich, the frankfurter version of a Reuben is really good.

While I’m not the type of person to substitute a hot dog for any other type of meat in a dish or on a particular sandwich, the frankfurter version of a Reuben is really good.

— All beef hot dogs
— Sauerkraut*
— Provolone cheese
— Thousand Island -or- Russian dressing
— caraway seeds (about 1 tsp. per 12 oz. of kraut)

— Hot dog rolls

*I prefer to use regular sauerkraut, since the Bavarian variety usually contains added sugar or corn syrup, and is too sweet for my taste. (The salad dressing is sweet enough as it is.) The caraway seeds, added to the kraut as it warms, provide the ‘rye’ flavor.


  1. When it comes to tipping I tend to act pissed (ie drunk, tipsy, inebriated) and then confused – thus avoiding any feelings of guilt at my (possibly) less-than-acceptable offering

  2. Now see, I was going to leave a comment on all that stuff above and then I saw the picture of that amazing hot dog and now I can’t remember a word of what I wanted to say. WOW, that’s gorgeous. It’s truly the centerfold of dogs, especially since I love reubens and hot dogs.

    (But regarding the above; amen and amen.)

  3. Great looking dog. What brand hot dog do you like?

    • The dog in the picture is a Dietz & Watson ‘New York style’ beef frank. It, in my opinion, is far better than Sabrett’s, Nathan’s Famous, Shofar, Hebrew National or any other ‘real’ NY dog. My favorite dog for a long time was Decker, but the company was absorbed a few years ago, and their franks are gone. Vienna Beef (a Chicago-style dog) is the best in the country, but is just as unavailable to me as Decker, since the company charges an arm & a leg for mail order. (Seriously, my beer of the month club was cheaper.) If you are down in Corpus Christi, your hot dog availability is probably the same as ours here in the Piney Woods of northeast Texas. What’s your dog of choice?

      • I’m from Corpus, but now I live up in Dallas. Seems like there aren’t as many varieties of dogs as in other parts of the country. The only one that you mentioned that I have had is the Nathan’s and I do like them. Much better than Oscar Meyer. I guess I just don’t buy a lot of dogs because I’ve had some good ones on vacation and in restaurants and can’t seem to find anything that compares in the stores around here.

  4. I always tip at least 15 percent regardless of service. Normal or good service can get 25 or 30 percent (somewhere like Commander’s Palace, maybe more). But I don’t think about it or use the calculator on my phone. In all honesty I find it in poor taste to tip poorly even based on performance, or to ever send something back or complain about anything to the server or manager or whoever. My point is made when I never come back, not by stiffing some 19-year-old idiot who doesn’t know any better. And by always tipping a decent amount, I make up for one or two of the jackasses who leave a good server 61 cents. ‘Cause that happens a lot more than service that isn’t worth tipping or is create-scene-in-with-the-restaurant manager-worthy. Yes, I realize most people disagree with me on all points. But I shall not be moved.

    • By always tipping at least 15 percent, one could argue that you are contributing to the continuation of bad service. But, it’s your money. I do agree that your point might be made by not returning, but I hope that — should I ever run a restaurant and one of the servers messes you around — you would afford me the opportunity to make it right.

  5. I’ll look for that brand. Speaking of dogs, how about chili dogs?

  6. Your first suggestion about glancing our way occasionally really hits home. It’s the particular pet peeve of my other half and the longer he goes without a second glass of wine, salt & pepper shakers, more bread, etc. the lower the tip becomes.

  7. Wonderful hot dog recipe and just to share with you on tipping – over here tipping is like expected out of you and most of the time, we do it.

  8. Interesting rules! I had to learn a lot about American tipping after I moved here, because in Germany it’s not part of the salary, it’s really a bonus. Accordingly it’s all about the specific performance, as well as your own financial situation – for example few people would expect students to tip more than a buck to show good will.
    And I have to say it. Sauerkraut does NOT belong on a bun. Sorry. My German sensitivities are so offended by Reubens, haha! It’s a side, it goes with potatoes and meat, not bread! *steps off her soap box*

  9. Tag, your it! Be sure to read my blog today – you are featured wthin.

  10. Reblogged this on The Unorthodox Epicure.

  11. How much would you tip a waitress that returned a soda refill with lipstick on the glass that’s not yours? True story… My hubbie got a soda refill that was another patrons, and the waitress was insane enough to admit, and laugh about it. Per the waitresses own admission; the mystery woman with the lipstick got his glass. He left her a tip, I on the other hand, wouldn’t have been so generous.

  12. That reuben dog looks excellent. I might have a bit of trouble finding a suitable hot dog here in the UK though.

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