Eat & Drink

Your Server Probably Knows If You’re a Bad Tipper

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Once someone has waited tables for a number of years, an acute sense of awareness comes with the territory. It’s almost like they develop a sixth sense. It alerts them when food is ready in the kitchen before the line cook rings the annoying little bell and tells them when a customer has just crammed an inordinate amount of pasta in their mouth which is the cue for the server to ask how everything tastes. This keen sense of awareness also lets servers know in advance when a customer is going to leave a bad tip and there are telltale signs that will give it away almost every single time. None of the indicators are foolproof, but any server worth their salt will feel the hairs on the back of their neck stand up when any of these signals become apparent.

Bragging: If someone introduces themselves as a great tipper or promises to “take care” of their server, most of the time the tip doesn’t live up to the expectation. When a server hears those words, they immediately prepare for a disappointing tip and the braggart usually perpetuates the notion that self-proclaimed good tippers seldom are.

Senior Citizens: Any server will tell you that a patron born before the end of World War II is prone to leaving a meager tip. Maybe it’s because they’re on a fixed income or maybe it’s because they have some 50-cent pieces and a two-dollar bill burning a hole in their pocketbook, but it’s definitely more of a surprise to get a good tip from a senior citizen than it is to get a bad one.

Black AmEx cards: It’s almost as if the owner of the card thinks a server should be impressed by simply handling one of these mythical charge cards and that’s enough of a tip. Maybe because the server knows there’s no preset limit on a Black AmEx card, it seems cheap to see a standard 15-20% tip, but sometimes a Black AmEx cardholder reinforces the old adage that rich people got rich by keeping all their money for themselves and not giving it to others.

21 Questions: A customer who asks “How much will this be with tax?” or “Do you offer free refills?” or “What can I substitute this side for that won’t be an up-charge?” is always a good a indication that the customer is watching their pennies and they for sure aren’t going to watch very many of them go into the apron of their server.

Overly friendly: An affable customer is always a good customer to have, but when Friendly Freddy announces his name and shakes the hand of his server, it very often leads to a lower than average tip. Perhaps he feels that his jovial nature and witty charm will blind the server into thinking that waiting on him is all worth it, but the server knows he’s just overcompensating for a lackluster gratuity. This friendliness goes hand in hand with being overly complimentary and praising a job well-done. “You deserve a raise” basically means they want their server to be paid more so they no longer have to tip.

“I used to wait tables”: When a customer offers this nugget of information, a server prepares for the low tip that will likely soon follow. The further away from college the customer is, the smaller the tip will probably be. A 50-something who waited tables thirty years ago was probably only collecting tips to pay for beer and weed and not for rent and groceries. They might think they “know the business,” but nine times out of ten it just shows they’re out of touch.

Of course there are exceptions to every rule. There are some older people who tip exceptionally well and there are some overly friendly customers who do too. It’s just that most servers will recognize any of the above people or behaviors as a warning for a paltry tip. However, they will gladly accept that sad little tip and use their sixth sense to hone in on the next customer who is likely to make up for it.

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Bitchy Waiter

Bitchy Waiter

Darron Cardosa is a writer, actor, singer, and waiter. He lives and and works in New York City and enjoys "The Brady Bunch," "The Facts of Life" and cocktails almost as much as he hates your baby.


  1. Damo
    July 15, 2020 at 9:47 pm

    Most excellent, particularly loved the one about the Blk Amex, so true. You missed the one where a couple Insists on sitting side by side, even in the most cramped settings.

  2. Donald Douglas
    July 16, 2020 at 11:04 am

    Is that all ya got? C’mon Bitchy! Other signs. The customer only talks in grunts. No eye contact. making lemonade with free lemon wedges and all the sugar in your section. The weird vibe coming from table. Patron has had shouting match with the seater and or manager. Customer dresses like they are shopping Walmart of just rolled out of bed. The table disappears quickly after paying.

    • Larissa
      July 16, 2020 at 6:08 pm

      This ^

  3. George Davis
    July 16, 2020 at 3:53 pm

    I was a union cabdriver in SF in the 1970’s back when a driver could make enough money in a 40 hour week to buy a home in SF, have paid medical, dental, and vision insurance, and make enough money to raise up to two children with a non working wife. (You could have more children, but you had to lean on family, church or other social groups.) Grown up stuff.

    On tipping, all I and my associates could figure out it was that the amount was usually determined by how a person was conditioned to tip.

    The only stereotype on tipping that seemed to hold true was that New Yorkers were good tippers.

  4. Nic
    July 17, 2020 at 11:17 am

    Don’t forget church people.

  5. Amber Kinsella
    July 18, 2020 at 4:44 am

    What about the customers who use cash first, then the card(s)? Classic let down