A few months ago, I was on a first date. We went to a shi-shi cockatail bar I knew and liked, where the bartenders wear little vests and take upwards of three minutes to mix, muddle, and strain each carefully poured $14 cocktail. When we got our drinks, my date graciously offered to pay, then very ungraciously left $2 to cover the tip for a nearly $30 bill. I felt so badly that I pulled a few crumpled singles from my jacket pocket and furtively left them on the bar, shooting the bartender an apologetic look as we left to grab a table. There was no second date.
I know, I know — dumping someone because they’re a bad tipper seems petty, if not downright dumb. How could I be so relentlessly unforgiving of someone whose big “flaw” is that he came up short a measly two or three dollars? But bad tipping is something that has annoyed me since I worked food service jobs in college, and not just within my dating life. When I’m out having a meal with friends, I’m the person who will insist on counting the cash when the check comes, so I can stick in a few extra bills in case we fall short without anyone noticing.
Bad tipping is especially egregious when it comes to dating, however, because I’ve come to learn that bad tippers and bad boyfriends share many of the same qualities: they’re not generous, they don’t go out of their way to care about others, and, at worst, they’re downright supercilious. Your tipping style can tell me a lot about who you are and how you see yourself in relation to others, whether that’s your waiter or your girlfriend. And anyone who doesn’t see fit to tip at least 18 percent to the polite, helpful, and serviceable restaurant or bar staff isn’t fit to go out with me again. There’s an unspoken rule amongst food industry folk that 20 percent is a good working baseline when it comes to tipping your fellow servers and bartenders. I’m not saying you necessarily have to do the same, but don’t expect me to be impressed when you leave a flat 15 percent for a meal during which you held up our busy waiter for 10 minutes with questions about the wine list and also made a special dinner request.
Sadly, not everyone is as gracious when it comes to gratuities. According to a recent report by Square, the mobile credit card reader company, even the country’s best tippers are falling short. The most generous tippers reside in Chicago and Denver, where the average tip hovers just shy of 17 percent. In New York, where I live, that percentage drops to a meager 15.6. I also recently read about SundaysAreTheWorst.com, a new website created by a Tennessean pastor for restaurant staffers to anonymously write horror stories about serving the post-church Sunday set. Most of the anonymous stories are from staffers who complain about patrons who don’t tip them enough, leave Bible pamphlets instead of cash, or, in some cases, don’t tip at all.
But this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad skinflint doesn’t have to be you! I’ll make this easy: 15 percent is the bare minimum; 18 percent and above is preferred; anything below 15 percent means you did your iPhone math wrong. (Also, put away your iPhone.) Of all the possible first-date faux pas you could possibly commit, being a bad tipper is not only one of the most egregious, it’s also one of the easiest to avoid. If nothing more, your tipping style is at the very least a window into your views on equality and empathy — and isn’t that always worth a few extra bucks?