Steve Dublanica has been stiffed. He's also been well rewarded. Sometimes he'd get just a dollar from the couple with the Lexus. Other times, seemingly cash-strapped patrons would surprise him with their generosity.
When he published the bestselling tell-all Waiter Rant, it was the discussions of restaurant tipping that sparked the most debate. As a waiter who relied on tips to make a living, he learned early on to reward everyone well. But in his informal study of tipping culture, Keep the Change: A Clueless Tipper's Quest to Become the Guru of Gratuity, Mr. Dublanica learned just how stressed people get about it. How much do you leave? What if the service is bad? What services do you tip for? (Apparently, even car-wash attendants expect a few bucks.)
In an interview from his home in Rutherford, N.J., Mr. Dublanica, 41, explains how to handle tricky tipping situations.
THE BAD FOOD
The situation: You go to a nice steak restaurant and order a porterhouse. You ask for it to be cooked medium-well, but it comes out medium-rare. You're not in the mood to tip 15 to 20 per cent, or whatever you usually give, because they got your meal wrong. At the same time, you're not sure if this is the server's fault or someone in the kitchen's fault. So what do you do?
That's when it's better to talk to the manager. Like, 'Hey, we wanted this, we got this, we're dissatisfied." ... Sometimes, you know, you get an idiot [for a waiter] That's going to happen. What I tell people in that situation is: 'Leave 10 per cent so he knows he's screwed up, and give the other 10 per cent to the bus boy.' [Leave the server's tip on the table and hand the bus boy his cut.]What people don't understand is that the bus person shares in those tips. They get a percentage of what the waiter makes. So you don't want to punish him or her because maybe they've done a good job the whole time. That's a way of expressing your displeasure while at the same time making sure that people who shouldn't be punished aren't punished.
THE CHARMING BUT INCOMPETENT SERVER
The situation: There's a new server at your favourite restaurant. Lovely, well-meaning, but she screws up every part of your order. The dressing isn't on the side when you asked for it, she brings your entree to the wrong table, she doesn't fill your water. But she's apologetic through all this. And she says: "This is my first week. I'm trying to pay my way through university." So what do you do?
Tip the poor girl!
If I wasn't doing very well but I was apologizing for it along the way, and I ended up getting 15 to 20 per cent at the end of the day, I'd think: "Maybe the level of service that I'm giving is adequate."
You're saying, are you reinforcing a bad habit? ...
There are outside controls other than your tip that are going to impact on your job. The manager is going to be watching, other waiters are going to be watching. When we were waiters, we would always see if a waiter was pulling their own weight. A server who's always screwing things up is screwing things up for us. Our food gets delayed or we've got to pitch in and save them. We get annoyed with that, you know?
THE ALL-INCLUSIVE RESORT
The situation: Some people go to all-inclusive resorts thinking: "This is a very easy thing for me to budget for. Everything is taken care of here." When you go there, there's so many people offering you services throughout your stay. There's the bellboy who takes your bag upstairs, the maid who cleans your room, the guy who brings your room service, the concierge who gives you restaurant recommendations, the doorman who flags you a cab. Are you supposed to tip everybody?
Even when it's an all-inclusive-resort, tipping always makes your life go a little easier. A lot of people think that when they go to an all-inclusive resort they're completely absolved of any responsibility to tip people. I think at the end of your stay it's good to give a little something. If it's an all-inclusive resort, it's different from a hotel. I'd leave something for the maid. When a doorman calls you a cab, you should just slip him a buck. That's standard. Some people like to give it at the end of their stay.
Just in terms of the logistics of this, are you supposed to pack your pockets with [loonies]and that's how you handle all of the little tips?
If you're going to a hotel, you know where you're going. It's not a surprise that people are going to be tipped. You're going to a hotel, break a $20.
THE SERVICE YOU DON'T WANT
You go to the bathroom in an upscale club and there's an attendant. You feel like you can wipe your hands and open the door just fine. Is there a way you can dodge that person?
One bathroom attendant told me they would be holding out the towel and the person would obnoxiously go to the other end of the bathroom, grab the other towel, not look at them and then leave. And that's very painful for the bathroom attendant. You're looking at them like they're part of the furniture. One of the reasons there are bathroom attendants in fancy places is to keep everything in order and to keep everything nice. They also have products in the bathroom that can help you out in a bad situation. ... People feel uncomfortable with bathroom attendants because why should money be involved when you're doing one of life's basic things? But in nightclubs they're there to make sure people aren't doing things they shouldn't be doing in bathrooms. You can let your imagination run wild. ... Give them a dollar.
THE MULTIPLE-TIP HEADACHE
You go to a salon and you have several people offering you services big and small of varying quality. There's the attendant who takes your coat and brings you some tea. There's the shampoo girl who maybe doesn't do such a good job. She doesn't give you the scalp massage that you're used to. You have the colorist. Then you have the owner cutting your hair. How do you handle tips for all these people?
People can be all generous with themselves, right? And then they get chintzy with other people. ... The attendant, like a buck. Like a coat-check girl. They're not dependent on tips; it's just a nice gesture. ... When it's the owner - I've never seen an owner that's turned down a tip. ... You don't have to, but if you do tip them you ought to be tipping them every time you come, once you set up that precedent.
You should go to the envelope [many salons offer tip envelopes]and put their name and your name. This is for the hairstylist, this is for the manicurist ... just do it that way. And, yeah, it's a bit of a pain but that is the way they have set it up in the salon. Cash is always king. I always prefer tipping cash.
This interview has been edited and condensed.