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Tipping Adventures: Will Tabletop Units Be A Tipping Game Change?

restaurant experience, tabletop units, tipping in restaurants

Restaurants are implementing something that may be a game changer when it comes to tipping. I have no problem giving a great tip when it’s well deserved, but what I’ve experienced at an increasing amount of restaurants may reduce the amount that qualifies as a great tip. Table top units allowing customers to order food and pay their bill may take a bite out of the work done by a server, as well as the tip they receive.

My wife and I stopped at an Applebees for a quick bite to eat while running errands. The restaurant was busy, and it took our server a longer than usual time to get to our table to even take our drink order. While waiting, I noted the table top unit between us and wondered allowed if we could just order from there. I started pressing buttons, and sure enough appetizers and desserts were available to order. We selected an appetizer each, and hit the button labeled, “Send To Kitchen.” A few minutes later, the server stopped by, quickly apologized, and took our drink order. By the time she returned, our appetizers had arrived (delivered by someone else). Our server returned one more time to deliver some sour cream asked for by my wife. We finished our food, paid right at the table and left with no further interaction with our server.

What kind of tip would you leave?

When I paid, the table top unit displayed a screen to select the tip amount. Given our bill was only $16 I did leave 20% tip (which was the default, of course), but as we walked out the door I told myself she really didn’t deserve it for the following reasons:

  • It took the server an abnormally long time to get to our table
  • The server didn’t take our food order
  • Our server did not deliver our food
  • Our server didn’t stop by again to see how we were doing
  • We paid at the table, no server intervention needed

Had the table top unit not been present, I’m absolutely sure our experience would have been long, painful, and unsatisfactory. The table top unit helped improve our experience, but I don’t think it necessarily justified improving the server’s tip. Even if we had experienced excellent service, the amount of work she would have done for us would have been less than in a traditional restaurant experience.

My question to you, Clever Friends, is this: If table top units like this become more popular, and the amount of interaction and work done by a server is reduced, does this change the scale for what constitutes a good tip? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Brought to you courtesy of Brock

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1 Comment

  • This is interesting to me personally, as I have two children (college age) that are servers. I would tend toward still leaving a 15% tip, minimum. Here’s why:
    * Generally, the server has to tip out the bartender, food runners, hosts/hostesses, etc. This is usually taken right off their total checks, so they have no control over it. In other words, if you leave no tip, it literally costs them money out of their pocket to cover the other tips they “owe.”
    * “Bad” service, as you describe, may or may not be the servers fault. For instance, you said, “…it took our server a longer than usual time to get to our table to even take our drink order.” Sometimes you are seated incorrectly by the host and the server is not aware you are even there. My kids have complained about this sort of thing to the management, but unless they train the hosts better, that type of thing happens. Also, with as tight as the job market is, managers are forced to use the people they have as there often aren’t additional people available.
    * The restaurant may be intentionally scheduling less people since they have the table top units, resulting in less personal interaction but still getting the job done.
    * You said, ” A few minutes later, the server stopped by, quickly apologized, and took our drink order. By the time she returned, our appetizers had arrived (delivered by someone else). Our server returned one more time to deliver some sour cream asked for by my wife.” So the server did take your drink order (and presumably serve them) and also did return to your table with sour cream for the appetizers. The, “delivered by someone else,” is not unusual at restaurants, especially if busy. Often times people are designated as “food runners” to do exactly what happened with you. That person is part of the tip out from the servers and part of the service.
    * Lastly, servers usually get customers seated in their section or assigned to them so that all servers get a roughly even number of customers. By you going in and only having a $16 check, you kept that server from getting a larger check from a couple having dinner. Even though you only had appetizers and a drink, the amount of effort required is almost the same as if you had ordered an entire dinner. I have the same problem in reverse, sometimes, when I order wine or something more expensive. Should the tip be significantly larger because you ordered a $50 bottle of wine with dinner? That’s a different discussion, but on the low side you should consider there should be some minimum you would tip because those people often don’t even get paid minimum wage and rely on the tips to make up the difference. When I go to coffee shops for breakfast or lunch, I try to tip at least $3-$4, even though 15%-20% might only be $1.00-$1.50. For me, I wouldn’t feel right tipping that little, especially if I took advantage of a special (Happy Hour, breakfast special, etc.) and had a discount. I try to figure what the bill would’ve been before the discount in those situations.

    I’m guessing this might prompt some negative feedback, but it is what I have learned (second hand) and how I understand the system as it is set up. My short answer is, I would likely leave, at a minimum, 12% for bad service. (I’d still leave some minimum amount regardless.) Believe me, the server will notice, and it does send a message. If you have a concern (or a compliment), talk to the manager. They will know if the server was busy, customers were seated incorrectly, etc., or if the server really is not doing a good job. The table top unit is a tool and a server is still needed to some extent and the system is set up to pay those people through tipping.

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