Parents, You’re Not Tipping Enough!

  • By Catey Hill, MarketWatch
  • May 09, 2015

baby eating in restaurant

What parent hasn’t surveyed the aftermath of a dinner out with the kids — the food chunks on the floor (or smeared on the wall), the sugar packets dumped out on the table, or the memory of little Jimmy spontaneously jumping from his chair and nearly tripping the waitress — and thought: just how much does the waitstaff here hate me?

And more importantly, how much do I now need to tip them to make up for this mess?

On the one hand, you want to tip the waitstaff well because you know you’re asking them to deal with a lot. Maybe you needed your child’s food brought out fast (lest a tantrum ensue) and had to make a special — albeit meltdown-preventing -- order like “Jimmy can’t have any ketchup anywhere near his fries or he will scream.” Maybe your kids made a mess while eating — spilled a drink, dropped utensils or dropped food on the floor -- even though you were watching them like hawks. Maybe they were loud or got out of their chairs, despite your clear instructions that they do neither. All of those this may make you want to pull out your wallet and throw money at the problem.

On the other hand, you’re bringing business into the restaurant, so you don’t want to overtip and waste your hard-earned loot. So the question is: Do you, as a parent of young children, need to tip more than non-parents?

The answer: It depends on how well your kids behave and the number of special accommodations you require, but in many cases, you probably should tip on the higher side — sometimes more than 20 percent, experts say.

To determine what to tip, first consider what kinds of demands you put on the waitstaff, as special requests require larger tips, says Jacqueline Whitmore, the founder of etiquette school The Protocol School of Palm Beach. That means if you ask the server to rush your kids’ meal, order off-menu dishes or make special requests around a dish to accommodate your kid’s tastes, you should tip on the higher side.

Next, consider your child’s behavior: Tip on the higher side if your they act up or make a mess. So if your child spills drinks or food, drops utensils or plates, runs around the restaurant or screams loudly, you may be on the hook for a larger tip.

In terms of tip percentages, Constance Hoffman, the owner of etiquette and professional skills firm Social and Business Graces says that while there is “not an exact science to tipping,” there are some general rules:

  • Roughly 15 percent: If your kid is perfectly behaved and you don’t make special requests of the waitstaff.
  • Roughly 20 percent: If you make a special request or two but your child is pretty well-behaved. Or if your child only has a minor behavior incident and you aren’t very demanding of the waitstaff.
  • More than 20 percent: If you make multiple special requests and your child acts up; Hoffman recommends adding about $5 to the 20 percent tip in this case.

This tipping guide isn’t meant to single out parents — any higher maintenance customer should tip more than 15 percent and sometimes more than 20 percent depending on just how high maintenance they were — it’s just that even well-behaved kids can mean extra work for a server. And parents of children who behave quite well (Whitmore recommends bringing activities like crayons and paper or an iPad to keep kids occupied at the table, but again, don’t feel bad if this doesn’t work) and don’t put a lot of demands upon the waitstaff shouldn’t feel the need to tip extra.

If you don’t think your kids (or your wallet) are ready for the demands of a full-service restaurant, take them to a more low-key dining spot without waitstaff, like a fast-food or fast-casual restaurant such as Chipotle or Starbucks. Starting at a place like this can help you teach your kids how to behave in a restaurant without you having to shell out a fat tip if they don’t catch on to etiquette quickly. (Just be sure to clean up after yourselves and pack up your food and leave quickly if your child is disturbing other diners.)

This article originally appeared on MarketWatch.com and is reprinted by permission from Marketwatch.com, ©2015 Dow Jones & Co. Inc. All rights reserved.

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