Buffet Bonus: How much do you tip the waiter?

by Daniel Post Senning on May 27, 2013

Q: When I go to a buffet-style restaurant where all the waiter does is take drink orders and clear plates, do I have to leave a tip?

A: At a buffet, a tip of ten percent of the bill is customary. But as with tipping in general, stick to the formula only if the waiter is attentive, appearing promptly when you need him. If he provides extra-good service, then you could tip him more. But feel free to give less if he neglects to refill your water glass or remove your dirt dishes or is missing in action when you’re ready for the check.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Joanna May 29, 2013 at 10:29 am

This has always been something of a gray area for me, because while I know that wait staff is always supposed to be tipped regardless, IMO if I’m doing all the work myself, why am I tipping? Yes, they take my plate away, but on the other hand, presumably that waiter or waitress should be doing SOMETHING for whatever they’re earning, however little, or else why would they be employed at all?

Our local Chinese buffet is usually not that crowded these days, so it’s happened a few times that the waitress led us to a table, and then once we served ourselves and came back, we saw her leaning against a wall, chatting in Chinese with another waitress or standing around playing with her phone, until it came time to take the plates away and give us fortune cookies. Sorry, but IMO that sort of thing doesn’t deserve a tip of any sort. Yes, she may be earning $2/hour, but on the other hand, does she really deserve more? She’s doing next to nothing. Why should I be paying her to check her Facebook page?

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Lorie July 31, 2014 at 2:56 pm

It’s worth more than $2.00 an hour if she did absolutely nothing! I am a Private Duty Nurse, I am called in to spend the night with patients that can’t be left along. Yes, I have a good job because for Most of my patients I’m offered the spare room to sleep. I get up the next morning and go home, no work done. BUT, I’m still away from my OWN bed, it’s an EASY job but someone’s gotta do it. I so happen am the lucky one so am I not to get paid or paid very low wages? No, I get just as much as anyone else.

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Jody May 29, 2013 at 3:51 pm

I agree with the EPI advice. If the waiter refills my drink before I ask for it, the tip increases. If the waiter checks in with me and promptly removes dirty plates, the tip increases. At one local (very small) Japanese buffet, the server noticed that I was taking only 2 kinds of sushi. When the chef made more of that kind of sushi, my server brought me my own plate of it; again, her tip increased.

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Shane September 11, 2013 at 9:44 am

What is the tipping etiquette at a fast casual restaurant (where you order and pay at a counter, but servers bring your food and refill your drinks)?

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Elizabeth September 11, 2013 at 10:26 am

Hmm…I actually can’t think of a restaurant that I’ve experienced where this is the case. Usually you would be responsible for refilling your own drinks. In this case, I might tip 15%. I usually tip 20%, so 15% (or rounded down to the nearest whole dollar) would feel right to me. I don’t think there are any hard and fast rules, though, because you have had to order at a counter, but the waitstaff is still doing a fair amount of legwork. I would be curious to know whether these employees are paid as waitstaff (half of minimum wage, with the expectation that it will be made up in tips) or whether they’re paid a full hourly wage and the tips are just gravy. You might consider asking!

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Winifred Rosenburg September 11, 2013 at 12:12 pm

I would put that in the same category as buffet servers and give 10% as indicated above.

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