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The Tip Jar: Dining out? Here's when and how much you should tip

Tipping can be a minefield – let us help you satisfy social conventions.
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Tipping has been back in the headlines as debate continues over the future of Minneapolis' minimum wage. Setting aside the nuances of the "tip penalty" discussion, we wanted to know more about tipping in general: When to do it, how much to give, and why.

We spoke to etiquette expert Laura Barclay of the Civility and Etiquette Centre in the Twin Cities, to take a look at things from the consumer's perspective. Here's a quick guide to help you out.

When should you tip?

If you're eating out and there's table service (i.e., wait staff), a buffet and/or bar service, you should tip, according to Barclay.

And if you're a fan of takeout, the people who deliver your food should be tipped. If you're doing a curbside pickup, tips aren't necessarily expected, but are encouraged. Particularly during inclement weather.

When are tips not required?

You don't need to tip the host/hostess, unless you've requested some special seating during an especially busy time.

And don't bother with the whole "folded $20 during a handshake" business to jump the line when you don't have a reservation. They might not be able to accommodate you anyway, and you'll annoy the other people waiting.

Although tip jars have been appearing in takeout, coffee stores, drive-through lines, etc., a tip is not obligatory. But if you have a favorite barista, sandwich maker or server, Barclay says it's "always a nice gesture" to provide one.

How much should you tip?

Ah, the big one, and one that is the cause of much familial argument (in mine at least). Now, the level you tip is typically based on the service, with 15 percent customary for standard service, up to 20 percent for excellent service.

Everyone will have their different views on this and different amounts they tip, but Barclay has put together this guide on how much "society" expects you to tip:

Restaurant server: 15-20 percent.

Sommelier (wine steward): 15 percent per bottle.

Bartender: $1-2 per drink or 15-20 percent of the total when running a tab.

Buffet style restaurant: 10-15 percent, or $1-$2 per diner.

Buffet omelet-maker: $1-$2 per omelet.

Food/pizza delivery: $2-$5, or 10-15 percent.

Coat check: $1 per item.

Car valet: $2 upon return of vehicle.

What if you get poor service?

The quality of service is subjective, but even in instances of supposedly poor service there might be reasons for it. The restaurant is short-staffed, your order is complicated, or the food is under- or overcooked, for example.

Barclay says that servers should be given the benefit of the doubt even if the service wasn't great. Rather than avoid a tip, speak to the manager about your dining experience.

"If the service was very poor, I will still tip at a minimum of 10 percent," she said. "Another factor to consider is that quite often, tips are pooled and shared among other restaurant personnel (i.e., bussers, food runners, hosts/hostesses, bartenders). Not leaving a tip can impact others not directly involved with the poor service."

What if you use a gift card or coupon?

This can be confusing for diners, but the best way to approach it is to tip a percentage of the total cost of your food before you use a gift card or coupon. If you get a buy-one-get-one-free meal offer, for example, tip 15-20 percent of the cost of both meals pre-tax.

Why should you tip?

Restaurant servers are not all paid well. Though there are some who work for finer dining establishments who earn a decent wage, this accounts for a small portion of the total service industry.mIn Minnesota, around 47 percent of minimum wage workers worked in the state's restaurants and bars as of 2015.

Barclay concludes that not only are you helping out low-paid servers, your tips often reach other workers in the back who are involved in your dining experience, and tips are also a way of acknowledging the quality of service.

But there are counter-arguments to these sentiments, with this Thrillist column arguing that tipping should be for good service, not "all service," and that tipping conventions allow some restaurants to keep their overheads low by paying staff low wages.

Some places in Minnesota have been implementing "no tip" policies in recent years, such as Northern Waters in Duluth, which upped its wages and prices. They told Forum News Service it's unfair "the burden of a livelihood should fall to the whim of the general population."

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