QUESTION: I enjoy your columns and had a follow-up question to the tipping etiquette rules column. What is the rule on “buffet tipping?” My wife loves buffets (I don't), and since all the server does is bring you drinks and refills, how much should they be tipped?
One full-service restaurant we frequent prints the suggested tip on the bottom of the check, but rather than being 15, 18, 20 percent, they have 18, 18, and 20 percent. I assume it is not a typo because it has been on the check for several years. We tip according to “what we can afford” and not “what is expected.” 15 percent is our comfort zone. (From a reader who is 71 and retired.)
CALLIE'S ANSWER: That is odd to have 18 percent printed twice on the receipt. I think tipping 15 percent in your comfort zone is perfectly fine and a good tip.
LILLIE-BETH'S ANSWER: This question gets asked a lot and discussed often in various places, and I wonder often if I'm tipping too much or not enough at buffet places. I also question what to leave for tips at sit-down restaurants for which I call in a to-go order and pick it up. The servers at buffet places do more than you think they do, but not as much as a single waiter assigned to your table who takes your order and brings your food. And I'm not sure whether the people who bus your table and replenish the food on buffets get paid like waiters (less than minimum wage from the restaurant with estimated tips calculated as part of their salary) or a regular wage.
The Emily Post Institute, at emilypost.com, has a helpful tipping guide that suggests leaving 10 percent of the total bill for buffet-style restaurants. That seems to be a good starting point, but there is no harm in tipping more.