Graphic: Nicole Antonuccio | Photo: Teri Dixon/Getty Images

Are you a server’s worst nightmare without even knowing it? We’re here to help. The Salty Waitress is The Takeout’s advice column from a real-life waitress that will teach you how not to behave like a garbage person while dining out—and maybe in real life.


Dear Salty,

What should I tip if the server comps a round of drinks or brings an appetizer on the house? Generally I figure out what the total would have been if the items weren’t comped and tip at least 20 percent from there. This usually happens at restaurants I go to regularly. I feel relatively comfortable with my tipping process, but oh boy I sometimes have that minor bout of anxiety: “Am I doing this right?”

EatYourPizzaBones

Dear PizzaBones,

You must be a well-behaved regular if you’re getting free drinks and appetizers. I’d bet you’re doing whatever you’re doing right.

A freebie gift from a server or bartender is just that: a gift. It’s a thank you for being a friendly face and a decent tipper, and like any gift you’re given, it doesn’t automatically require a quid-pro-quo.

Now, that said… I’m scratching your back, sweetie, how about you scratch mine? Your idea about trying to calculate the value of the items and tipping on that is a good one. Depending on what’s being comped, I generally go a smidge further: If another server brings me and my hubby two free beers, I’ll leave nearly the value of one of those drinks. So, if I got two free $5 beers, I might leave a fiver. Or if I got a free $12 plate of nachos—my lucky day—I’d leave $5 extra, too. If you just get a little free sample—“Hey, here’s a splash of a new wine we’re serving by the glass”—no need to leave more than an extra buck. Then, I’d try to return the favor when those folks come by place of employment.

But there’s no real set-in-stone rule here, Bones. If you’re a regular somewhere, whether you tip a little more than usual sometimes or a smidge less than usual other times, it all comes out in the wash. Most important is being the type of customer that a bartender or server is happy to see come through the door: Be polite, make servers’ lives as easy as possible, remember our names, the basics. No need to get anxious about the freebies—just toss in a few more dollars above your normal, solid tip.

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Oh, and buy me an end-of-the-shift beer sometime, if you really want to wow me.


Got a question about dining out etiquette? Or just a general question about life we can help you with? Email us: salty@thetakeout.com

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The Salty WaitressSalty Waitress is The Takeout’s advice column from a real-life waitress that will teach you how not to behave like a garbage person while dining out—and maybe in real life.