TIP RULE #1: Tipping is not an option. You chose to go out to a restaurant and have someone else do a ton of work just so you can have a nice meal, and you now owe them money. You owe the restaurant money for the food you ordered, and you owe the server (and bartender and busser and food runner and hostess) money for the services you received. The server has to tip out the entire team of people helping them take care of you, so when you stiff the server, you are also stiffing the 43 year old father of 6 who is working very hard to bus your table and refill your water for you.
TIP RULE # 2: Always tip 20%. ALWAYS. This is the minimum. You are more than welcome to leave more, but you are a HUGE douche-bag who doesn't deserve to dine in public if you leave less. If your server calls you a fat little piglet and makes fun of your order, you should probably leave. Don't sit there and take it and then have your revenge by tipping poorly. Here's how you figure out the tip. Your bill is $40.00. Take 10% of that, and then double it. So the tip is 4+4=$8. Let's do it again. Your bill is $150.00 15+15=30. One more time. Your bill is $198.00. Whoops, this is a hard one. I don't wanna do the math with decimal points. Good news. You don't have to! Because of.....
TIP RULE #3: Always round up. If the bill is $198.00 you should immediately round up to $200. Then the tip is easy again. 20+20=40! See? Easy! If the bill is $43.00, round it up to $45, then repeat TIP RULE #2. So the tip is 4.5+4.5=$9! Be a really great tipper and just round THAT up to $10. What's that dollar to you? Nothing! Cuz you are a baller. What is it to me? A HUGE gesture that guarantees I won't forget you. In fact, the more you tip like this, the happier I will be when you come walking in the door, and the better and better your service will become. Hell, you might even get a free dessert or a beer on me, because you are the coolest person that hangs out in this restaurant. One little dollar really makes that much of a difference in MY perception of YOU. And if that same little dollar makes that big of a difference to YOU, then you shouldn't be going out to eat. Going out to eat requires service, and you must pay for this service.
TIP RULE #4: It's fine if you need to split the check, just DON'T blow it on the tip. If you are with some friends, and your friend looks at the bill for a minute, and says "Mine is $60" you best believe they have included tip into their equation. Which means, if you hand me two credit cards and say "Put $60 on this one and the rest on my card" YOU are now responsible for tipping on the full amount of the check. Challenge question: If the bill is $100 and your friend pays $60 and you put the rest on your card, how much will you pay? If you said $60 ($40 plus a $20 tip) you are absolutely correct. If you said $48 ($40 plus a 20% tip of $8) you are an idiot and I can not pay my rent because of YOU! My dog is going to starve, thanks a lot. You have to tip on the full amount of the check. Your stupid friend added the tip into their bill. You two should have just split it down the middle, each of you paying $50 plus a $10 tip which is $60. But you didn't, so YOU STILL OWE $60!!!! That money doesn't magically appear unless you pay it. A good rule of thumb here is just look at the bill and figure out what you owe. Don't worry about what your friend owes. Just pay what you owe, remember to round up, and tip properly. Also, another note on splitting. Just split if evenly. Even if you only had an iced tea and your friend got a beer. Don't figure out the difference. You look cheap and if you are that broke, you shouldn't be going out to eat!!!! Go to McDonald's. Make food at home. Brew your own iced tea. Cut up your own lemons. Refill it a million times yourself. Wash your own dishes. Or, go out, relax and enjoy yourself, and then tip properly.
TIP RULE #5: If you are foreign, Rules number 1-4 still apply to you. We know you know the rules are different in America. It's 2013 for goodness sake; the internet is BURSTING with information on how to behave in another country, and I know in every single guidebook ever written about America, it clearly states that tip is not included in the check but is customary and expected, and you are a huge douche-bag if you ignore this. I promise you, I will fart right at your table if you do not tip, or if you only leave a few dollars. I will come back to the table, say thank you so much, and then fart. All over you. And I've been drinking a lot of smoothies lately, so you're not gonna like what it smells like.
Now I know what you are thinking....but what if my service wasn't good? Shouldn't I teach that girl a lesson by withholding my hard earned cash? NO. YOU ARE A BAD PERSON IF YOU DO THIS. I guarantee you that the "bad service" you think you are receiving is a direct result of you being a terrible customer and not noticing anything besides yourself, OR the kitchen making mistakes and the server is putting on a brave face and trying to keep you happy while the chef is swearing at her and having a total meltdown in the kitchen.
Before you make a snap judgement on the type of service you have received, go through this checklist in your mind.
~Was I greeted within a minute or two of sitting down?
~Was I asked if I would like something to drink?
~Was that drink brought to my table?
~Were all of my questions answered about the menu?
~Was I asked if I would like something to eat?
~Was my food brought to my table?
~Was I checked on once to make sure everything was ok with my food?
~Were my drinks refilled or replaced if required?
~Were my plates removed from the table?
~If I needed my waiter, when I looked around, did I see him doing anything at all related to the restaurant? ie: talking to another table, delivering drinks to another table, standing at the computer ringing things in, delivering food to another table, carrying dirty dishes to the dishroom, carrying clean dishes out from the dishroom, polishing glasses, cleaning up broken glasses another table dropped, getting yelled at by the chef?
~Was I asked if I wanted dessert or coffee or anything else, and if so was it brought to my table?
~Did I receive my check when I asked for it?
If you answered yes to these questions, you just got 20% service. If your server did more than the aforementioned items, you just got 22-infinity% service and you should treat them very kindly.
IF you answered no to those questions, you better be VERY VERY sure that it was neglect or idiocy on the server's part that kept those things from happening. Did you not receive your food because the kitchen burned it, but the server came over and told you what happened? Don't punish the server!!! It's not their fault. Better to leave 20% and tell a manager you are upset. You'll probably get a gift certificate. If you recieved your drink but you are whining because it took a long time, please remember that there are a hundred other people dining in this restaurant, and drinks take a few minutes to make. You are not the only person the bartender is making drinks for, so CHILL OUT.
Side note on tipping for receiving drinks at a bar. You should still tip 20% on the total of the check. $1 per drink is cheap and lame and you will not get a nice stiff one next time you order. I'll also ignore you and take care of my lovely customers that treat me nicely and tip well. $2 per drink at least shows you respect what I'm doing back here, but really, you should still tip at least 20% on the total check. If your complaint about tipping 20% on a drink is that the drinks are overpriced, please let me remind you that YOU CHOSE THIS RESTAURANT, not me. You want to drink cheap beer? Do it at home.