The art of tipping

If the service is good, then great tip away! However, if the food is bad, then a common mistake is to take it out on the waiter, when it actually had nothing to do with them.

I think that South Africans are in general poor tippers and don’t really understand how to go about it. If you have awful service and don’t tip without saying anything, the next table is going to suffer the same treatment. Tell the manager! We don’t complain enough or at least in the correct way.

My worst is when someone eats all the food and then complains…that’s just bad manners and does not give the staff the chance to change the meal.

What to tip

Waiters are the face of the restaurant. They should be well trained so that they can handle just about any situation even if the chef is having a bad night. The ones that do this well should be tipped accordingly!

How much to tip really depends on the service. This usually ranges from 10-15%. If it is ordinary but acceptable then 12% is fine. If the service has been extraordinary (as it should be!) then 15% is normal or even up to 20%.

I have a soft spot for waiters as I have been there too. It’s not just the money, it’s about communicating. It’s about saying ‘yes, you really made me happy tonight. You did a good job’.

Sometimes I really want to them to know that. A good waiter can soften the blow of a kitchen mess-up by rectifying the situation with a good attitude and extensive knowledge of how the restaurant functions – in this case, they deserve a great tip.

If you enjoyed the food, ask the waiter to pass on your compliments to the chef. If the wine was particularly good and you didn’t drink the whole bottle, give it to the waiter and tell them they will be sure to enjoy this at the end of their shift.

Bon Appétit!

Readers responses

I too have worked as a waitress in the past, but being on the other end of the table, I must add that it often is the fault of the waiter if the service / food is bad. Quite often I have been to a restaurant where the food on the plate is not quite the same as what was mentioned on the menu (i.e. olives missing from salad) – surely the waiter should be au fait with what is served and return to kitchen to rectify BEFORE the patron complains?

Also, being in an HR environment currently, I believe one shouldnt reward poor performance. In other words, to tip the standard 10% out of habit when service has been average or poor does nothing to incentivise the waiter to improve his level of service. – Melanie


I feel waiters in SA are glorified order takers. They rarely know the food on the menu and very seldom have they tasted it. How often do you get a waiter that can actually tell you what a sauvignon blanc tastes like or what to enjoy it with?

We are rewarding complacency by the owners of these establishments – rather tip the car guard! – Eugene


I agree – but my absolute pet peeve is tipping a waiter/ress and not getting a thanks or any acknowledgement. That’s just rude. – Michele


I too have been a waitress in a few restaurants in my student years. One thing that comes to mind is an old boyfriend of mine who never tipped at all. This infuriated me I used to sneak some money out of my wallet on my way to the ladies toilet and give it to the waiter or maitre’d. I eventually confronted him and his explanation was that management should pay proper salaries and it was his way of protesting. He claimed that if enough people never tipped waiters, restaurants would pay their staff properly as they had no choice.

This made vague sense. But I never thought about it again when we went our separate ways. It was only last year when my husband and I went to Singapore did I finally realise that not tipping could be a good thing. They don’t tip at all in Singapore, in fact they are insulted if you try, they say they get paid properly and are proud of what they do. They feel it is beneath them to accept a tip. The people there are happy and service is 1st class – never any need to complain. Why can’t we too be proud of our country and our jobs why do we feel like we are begging or constantly donating? Is this because companies or restaurant owners thrive on greed?

Think about it, I’m not proud, and feel tipping is charity for the poor underpaid demi-slave. I still tip but reluctantly I often wonder if the waiter ever gets the money I place on my credit card…does the manager pocket this? I think all waiters should demand proper hourly wages, after all where would the restaurant be without them? – Katja


I have my own theory when it comes to service at a restaurant. Firstly I find it utterly appauling that waiters are so poorly paid. Some are not paid at all and rely solely on tips. I try not to support those establishments.

Secondly, I never hesitate to complain if a meal or anything that I order from the menu is not up to standard. I also feel that if a client complains, then the onus rests on the waitron to convey the situation to the relevent management. After all what else am I tipping them for. It is their job to look after me and my guests for the evening. I also am always eager to applaud good food and good service.

Which brings me to my last point… I feel that a good dining experience (as I like to call it, because it all goes hand in hand, you cannot enjoy the evening if you pair good food with bad service or vice-versa), should be well rewarded. The waitron benefits from a fat tip, and the establishment benefits from a repeat visit from myself and my friends. However, and I am yet to implement this strategy – I feel strongly that an establishment should feel it when guests have had a bad dining experience. I suggest a negative tipping strategy.

Subtract a percentage from the bill if you are dissatisfied, and let the management know about it so that they dont hold the waitron responsible. If they have not compensated you in anyway then refuse to pay a portion of the bill. Our service standards are not up to scratch, and we need to get the message across to the hospitality industry. They are not doing us any favours. We are there to enjoy our night out, and if we dont we simply wont return, but will go elsewhere. – Bronwen


Waiters in South Africa are generally speaking, briefed to believe that constant annoyance of the customer with cheap PR and an over present sense of efficiency which comes off as harassment are the marks of good service. This style of service is on a par in dealing with the vocational training in customer abuse dished out by Telkom or Vodacom or SAA or any other top down corporate nightmare company.

Behaviour like this should not be rewarded. Encourage the waiter to be invisible yet present at the same time (never offering dessert until completion of the meal etc) by tipping just south of generously and break the fake protocol set up by the camp master, with eye contact and honest provocative opinion. A waiter who is never there, is never needed, but brushes by just as you think of something is a master of the art and should be honored with equally subtle largess. – Guy 

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