The rules of tipping seem to have gotten a little confusing, even out-of-hand lately.

There are many different scenarios, and it’s worth breaking them down.

Many years ago, working as a restaurant server seriously helped pay my way through college. It was a popular spot at a big football school and the money was great.

Waiting tables also became my Plan B after I graduated and moved to Washington, DC with big, bright, journalist eyes. Unfortunately no paying offers came in, so I paid my rent with tips and was grateful I had the experience to fall back on. Back then we probably made $1.50 per hour. Now, most of the country’s current minimum wage for servers and bartenders is $2.13 per hour, so most restaurant servers (maybe not those at Disney resorts or some big city restaurants) literally live on tips. My server friends and I have always said that everyone should be made to wait tables. It’s HARD work. It might not look like it, but balancing the guests’ experience with the kitchen’s timing and food quality, all while looking calm and cool is not for the faint of heart.

Some opinions have recently been rolling around about having the restaurants pay their servers above minimum wage, etc. so that customers don’t have to tip. It’s not a new topic, but it comes to light when we get irritated or curious about it.

Now, this may sound all well and good. But, as the wife of a small-town Virginia restaurant owner, I can give you an educated, honest perspective as to how this wage increase would play out. An $8.95 hand-pressed cheeseburger with hand-cut fries would become a frozen beef patty and crinkle-cuts for $18.95. Ketchup and mustard would cost extra. Draft beers would start at $12. Sodas would be $5 and an order of wings, $15. Sounds extreme, but it’s simply unaffordable for the small business owner and even the corporate big dogs to cover those wages with overhead, rising food cost and payroll taxes. So, if you look at it, the amount you tip is way less than the increases would be.

Realistically though, if you receive great service (or a sincere apology from a harried server who has way too many tables because someone called out) or, on the flip side, if you receive less than par service it’s completely your prerogative to tip as you wish. I leave 20% for really good service, but I’m also kind of a tough critic and won’t hesitate to leave less. There’s no law regarding the amount of compensation you need to leave. Your experience, your decision.

This brings us to the hot topic of tip jars out at Starbucks, Chipotle, bakeries, sandwich shops, pizza take-out, ice-cream parlors and even mini-golf. If you’re feeling generous? Your right. But I just don’t (hardly) ever do it, even when that girl is staring at me until I’m red in the face. I don’t feel guilty about it either. Now if the person at the cupcake shop is alone and running back and forth and you ask for 3 dozen assorted while she has a line and the phone is ringing, I’m probably going to pass her some cash and say, “Thanks for your help.”

Tipping etiquette has always been and always will be one of life’s questions. Valet? Bell hop? Guy who sets up the umbrellas at the beach? Sure there are percentages, but it’s totally subjective. 

So ultimately TIPS stands for Totally Individual Perspective/Situation.

But whatever you do, don’t stop enjoying those small luxuries!

Juli Schafer

A native of Lancaster, PA, Juli has lived in the Fredericksburg, VA area for 11 years. She and her husband of 15 years own a restaurant and a cupcake shop. (How did that happen, she jokes all the time since she doesn’t bake or cook, so don’t ask for any recipes or tips.) Her true loves are writing, marketing and event planning, Jesus and her 14-year old daughter. She proudly accepts her crazy and invites you to join her....crazy is NOT a bad word: 'Crazy' –“Full of cracks or flaws. Unusual. Distracted with desire or excitement. Absurdly fond; passionately preoccupied.” She is working on building a stronger faith, finding her true path, and being a brighter light. You can find her at