How Much to Tip When You Are a Poor Student

The whole topic of how much to tip has been done to death in my opinion, but are “the rules” always the same for everyone?  To be honest, I still don’t completely understand the whole notion.  The concept of tipping always makes me feel awkward and nervous no matter what I do, and I simply wish restaurants would pay their employees a little more if that’s what the free market determines a good waiter or waitress is worth, and then pass the costs on to me as a consumer through the cost of my meals.  Because there is this weird, grey area of compensation right now, it makes it very difficult to determine what is fair, especially when you are a poor student.  If you have student loans and are rationing your discount beer should you still be expected to tip?  On the other hand, I’ve heard it convincingly argued that if you can’t afford to leave a tip you probably shouldn’t be going out to eat.

Don’t Eat Yellow Snow?

In my anecdotal experience, I find it interesting to note that students are often pretty good tippers, and if we measured tips on a per income basis, I’m sure students would be near the top.  This is likely due to a couple of reasons.  First, I think it’s because so many students work in the service industry themselves and have empathy for others that have to do so (and if they don’t, most students personally know several friends that do).  The other main reason likely has to do with the fact that students in general just don’t value money much because they live in this hyper-inflated world of student loans and debt to be paid back in some vaguely defined place called the future.  This type of mindset obviously makes leaving a generous tip a little easier to stomach, especially when juxtaposed against someone working to pay their bills and make their payments.

how much should you tip
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Since I’ve never worked a position in the service industry that received tips I can’t really comment on if the expectations are different for people of different ages or income levels (maybe some of you out there can enlighten me).  I would think it would be difficult to tell if someone was employed full time or not in many
situations, and consequently making assumptions about how much someone “should” leave is probably pretty difficult.  Should this make students feel guilty for not leaving a tip since they are almost assuredly leaving behind a disappointed waiter/waitress?

Tippin’ Ain’t Easy

Of course eventually we come full circle back to the idea of how much should anyone tip, and how the heck did this whole thing start anyway?  If tipping is truly done to reward above average service, then why is it now expected?  Also, my question for all of my server friends is, “Who decides what jobs deserve a tip and which do not?”  Why does someone stocking shelves or working the till at Wal-Mart not deserve a tip, but the waitress does?  Naturally when I ask questions like this I am told I must be cheap, and a jerk, and that I just don’t get it.  I’m not sure why enquiring as to the nature of compensation levels at various jobs makes me a jerk (especially when some types of compensation such as tips are tax free, while others are not), but it seems to be a pretty broad consensus across the serving community that anyone that questions the concept of tipping is a cheap asshole.  If that is true, then do students get any leeway at all?

I guess I can see both sides of the equation.  Restaurant owners can’t just unilaterally change the pay structure for the entire industry, so as long as people are used to seeing low prices on menus, and then adding a tip on at the end, instead of simply paying what the service costs, then tipping will remain the preferred means of compensating waiters and waitresses.  On the other hand, assuming that a tip will be given for below average service is ridiculous in my mind, and even more so if the tip is going to go on your credit card balance or line of credit.  Does anyone else out there experience this weird sensation when the bill comes and you feel that you will be judged by what kind of tip your provide regardless of the level of service you received?

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11 years ago

When I was in high school I used to tip less, but I wasn’t able to order alcohol until the last few months.

I doubt I’ll be tipping more once I’m done school, I think I tip pretty decently already. I don’t give Christmas bonuses, maybe in the future that will change, but then the amount of service I get from someone would also have to change. As it is, I get my hair cut in a salon about once/year, and a manicure and pedicure twice/year.

11 years ago

I know when I was in college, I basically followed the principle outlined here: If I couldn’t tip for it, I shouldn’t buy it. I also agree, however, that a lot of tipping seems to be “expected.” I’ve worked at coffee shops before, but I’m still surprised when I see a tip jar out for a barrista. To get around that awkward we’re being judged, I’ve simply adopted the same attitude. They’re being judged. My restaurant category is in the same as my entertainment and if I am not being entertained whether it is due to an under-attentive waiter or… Read more »

11 years ago

The waitress deserves a tip because service industry workers make significantly less an hour with their base wage. I guess if youve never worked as one, you wouldn’t know.

11 years ago

Well said, Teacher Man! If you are poor, why should you feel obligated to tip someone who has a job? Sure, the server is being ripped off by his or her masters, but maybe if workers unionized to demand fair wages then we wouldn’t have this awkward situation in the first place. You don’t have to be a student to be poor; you can be a graduate, magna cum laude, because guess what? The higher education system is a scam too! The server is probably doing better than the people with degrees. I’m poor and I eat out sometimes because… Read more »

Mother of Student
6 years ago

Offer students a 10% discount at your establishment if you expect your servers to receive a 20% tip. Win win.

Kristi Tjon-A-Fat
4 years ago

I looked up this topic, because after my first vacation to the US I was left feeling strangely numb on the inside. You see, I’m from a third world country, one of those where 10 us dollars is the equivalent of a full days work for a student working part time, such as myself. I’d been saving up for literally years to go on this vacation. I understand the whole ‘salary isn’t enough to sustain them, cause somewhere along the way people stopped paying service staff fair wages’ issue. I really do. Hell, I myself rely on tips most of… Read more »

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