Tipping on a fixed or limited income

Our society puts a lot of pressure on us to be generous tippers.  During the holiday season that pressure seems to be on overkill.  And if there is not enough stress from the holidays season for people on a limited or fixed income, the pressures of tipping can turn a difficult season into a dreaded season full of sadness and depression.

Back in the day…

Nearly 20 years ago, when I started dating Kimberly, I was living and getting by (barely) on SSI – Supplemental Security Income in Northern California.  To say money was tight was an understatement.  At the end of most months, there was more month remaining than I had money in my checking account.

When I finally convinced Kimberly to go out with me for a dinner date at a local restaurant/coffee shop, I faced a dilemma.  I did not have a lot of spare money to throw around, but I still needed to be able to pay for our meals and leave a tip for our server.

Since I did not eat out much due to not being able to afford it, my dining out experience was limited to meals at McDonald’s, Carl’s Jr. and Burger King.  I did not know much about tipping except it was both expected, and one should be generous when one tipped.

I do not recall for sure how much our meal was that night.  If I had to guess, I would say around $25.  Although the service was good and the food was delicious, I certainly do not recall what I left for a tip, but I am sure it was not even 10% of the bill.

Nearly 20 years later…

Today neither myself or my wife, Kimberly, are anywhere near rich.  We do not have money to burn, but we are financially better off than we were that night we went out on our first date.

I also understand tipping better than I did 20 years ago.  When we go out we can afford to give 20% tips for good service.  When we stay for hours watching a game at an Applebee’s we tip even higher and of course we boost our tip on holidays when we dine out on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

While I am grateful for where we are today financially, I never forget those days where I was getting by on just SSI and the measly pay I earned by working part time while struggling in college.

That is why when I see servers shame customers for leaving a small tip or not tipping at all on social media, or billboards that bluntly tell the world “if you cannot afford to tip, do not go out and eat,” I get angry.

I do support the belief that servers should be tipped and not the method Dick Solomon used on “3rd Rock from the Sun”.

While I agree that a server should be tipped, I feel servers must remember that a tip should never be expected it should be earned.

Shaming customers who do not tip or leave small tips on social media is never appropriate.  In every case that I have heard of this being done, the server has been fired.

If you are on a fixed or limited income for any reason and you want to go out occasionally to a nice restaurant, don’t be intimidated by what society dictates and tipping expectations.  Tip what you can for good service.  However, if you can afford to go out multiple times in a month and you leave small tips, consider going out a little less frequently so when you do dine, you can leave a more appropriate tip for your server who works hard for you.