Tipping at the buffet: Is it called for?

I eat at the HomeTown Buffet (one of several establishments run by Buffets, Inc.) on a fairly regular basis. Since I get my own food (and that of my 94-year-old stepmother, who I take care of) I am puzzled by the women who come to the table, sign the receipt, and say “It is my pleasure to serve you,” and then merely buss the tables. It is very rare that one appears with a coffee pot, or actually serves the customer in any way beyond removing dirty dishes. Is it expected that these people be tipped as if they were actually serving customers? If so, what is considered a fair tip? How much do they earn from the buffet?

In a regular restaurant I tip at least 15% for lunch and at least 20% for dinner. What is proper or expected when I get my own food?

Next time you go, ask the manager whether the serving personnel are expecting tips.

When I’m at a buffet, if the server has refilled my drink, or taken away dirty dishes, I’ll leave a buck or two. A friend who worked at a buffet told me that the serving personnel are only paid $2.30 per hour, and it’s ideally expected that they’ll make it up to minumum wage in tips, however, since they rarely make much in tips at a buffet, the management is responsible for ponying up the rest.

If a server gets my drink or offers to refill my drink, I give her a buck, which, at the buffets I patronise works out to about 15%.

The idea of asking the manager what is expected is a good one.

Working at a buffet. Ugh.

No respect, no tips. I’d hate to do it.

I hardly ever tip at buffets. The only time I do tip is when the server went above and beyond the call of duty to be personable, rather than simply fill my water and take my plates.

I eat at chinese buffets fairly frequently, and most of the people I eat with (including myself) tip 10 percent.

I worked for a time at a casino with a buffet (natch) and although I didn’t work in the buffet, I got to rub elbows with those who did. Lorenzo has pretty well hit it on the head. If the server fetches your drinks and keeps them refilled, and is good at whisking away the finished plates (more of an issue with a buffet than at a regular restaurant meal) a buck a head is pretty good standard tip, higher if you really liked the service or lower if you didn’t, had to get your own beverage, etc.

Might not seem like much of a tip but a buffet server covers a bigger area so it adds up. Not like, say, someone in a top-line restaurant but about comparable with a coffeeshop server – $70, $80 a shift. I’d say they earned it.

DD

G-d Damnit YES! I worked a a boffet for months, and although it doesnt look like much, i worked more than i did at a “real resteraunt” i dont give a shit if you do get your own food, somone has to clean up after you (buffets don’t have bussers), there are more tables than at a regular resteraunt. And often, they’re the ones making the food too.
-PSM

Whenever Mr. tlw and I would eat at an Old Country Buffet (another of the Buffets, Inc. chain) we would always leave a dollar for each of us. If there were three or four of us, we’d leave a dollar per person plus a dollar for the table. Of course, we always got very friendly service, refills on our drinks, coffee service, and if it we had anything messy (cornon the cob for us, ribs for our meat-eating friends) the servers would come around with handi-wipes. They more than earned that tip.

I work at a buffet where I am expected to both get drinks and bus tables. I make the minimum wage for tipped jobs, 2.13$ an hour, so tipping must be expected. A goodly percentage of people do leave a tip, probably about 80% on a normal day. Less if it’s a Sunday or any convention. However, the amount of money tipped varies wildly. Generally, for a small table of 1-3 people, about 1$ person is common. As the number of people increases, the amount per person decreases dramatically. Often big tables leave about the same amount of money as smaller ones, yet are much more work.

It IS a lot of work. When the restaurant fills up it is easy to get swamped. Consider also, the tip you might normally leave a regular restaurant usually also gets shared around to the busboy. Also, as psychomonkey stated, there are duties that are not immediately obvious. I am expected to do tasks such as cleaning the bathrooms, cutting lemons, making ice cream, getting ice, etc. Anyway, I encourage you to tip.

Goomba

How Stuff Works suggests 10%.

A corporate etiquette guru (I think) suggests 10%.

A Las Vegas Guide suggests $1/head.

I tip $1/head at the less-than-10-dollar buffets and 10% at the more fancy ones.

Thanks to all. That’s very helpful. I had no idea that wait staff at a buffet was paid so little. I’ll pony up from now on.

This is more a matter of opinion than fact, so I’ll move this thread to IMHO.

bibliophage
moderator GQ

I worked at a buffet for waaaaaaay too long.

It is the management’s responsibility to pony up if a server doesn’t make minimum wage in tips in any given night. They rarely do that. The theory is that sometimes it’s slow and you don’t make minimum wage, and other times it’s extremely busy and you make much more than minimum wage. It would also be hard to know if a server really made less than minimum wage, as cash tips just go in one’s pocket - management would have to take its employees at their word when they said they didn’t make minimum wage in any given shift. They really don’t usually tip out servers who made no money for the evening.

I always tip. Usually a dollar or more, that way they have a nice smile on their face next time I come in.

Greedy jerks! Perhaps I don’t know the economic factors which affect a buffet, but it seems very mean and tight-fisted to deny your handful of nightly employees a couple extra bucks. It’s not as if we’re talking large amounts of money, here. Most of the buffets I’ve been to have had maybe ten employees working in the evening, tops. But even if you double that to twenty, we’re talking a couple of hundred bucks to bring these people up to minimum wage. Other industries must comply, and I doubt if the food-per-customer is so costly that paying them an extra three dollars per hour would break the bank.

I thought my friend was exxagerating when he said that one evening he was forced to “roll” silverware his entire shift, for which he was only paid $2.30 per hour, with the management refusing to make up the rest. I thought to myself, “This must be illegal in some way,” but I guess I underestimated the greed of the corporate mentality.

This makes sense. Odd thing is I have mixed feelings between buffets that serve you drinks and those that don’t.

For example, Camelot used to have the buffet where they would serve you your beverages. The last time I went (Dec. 01), they stopped doing that and the soda fountain looked like a big sugary mess. I was very ticked off that they stopped serving drinks.

OTOH, Bally’s had great service and the server left us extra drinks while still anticipating our needs. They definitely got a good tip (>10%).

Sometimes I visit a Soup Plantation. As mentioned by others, it depends on what’s done.

I helped my old manager work on a menu and matrix once. There’s all these little boxes in the shape of the buffet layout, and in each box you put the item, and the food cost per serving. I was astonished to see the actual food cost per serving on some things. Mashed potatoes are pretty damn cheap. The yeast rolls that we sold for $2.99/dozen actually cost us one cent per serving. One serving being one roll. I think the goal was for the cost to be $1.44/customer. The dinner price was $7.99, and think a soda was $1.29. The highest paid hourly employee in that store made less than $8/hr, and the hourly managers made just over $8/hr. So. . .

Now in this case, your friend was either exaggerating, or bullshitting you, or is extremely. . . unintelligent. (Sorry!) Management cannot force you to sit and roll silverware for an entire shift for only $2.30/hr. They’re only allowed to pay that wage if you are making tips for that shift. The minimum wage for tipped employees is (I think) determined by how much the restaurant grosses per year. I know we had a chart at work that explained that to us.

If your friend clocked in expecting to wait tables and earn tips that day, and ended up rolling silverware, he should’ve gone to the manager at the end of the shift and insisted that his wage category be changed from that of a tipped employee to that of a non-tipped employee, and there’s really no way they could’ve refused him.

Another thing that is (AFAIK) illegal, is for a manager to “fix” your tips in the computer. Most places now have electronic clocks, and when a server clocks out, they must enter their amount of tips. Every manager in the world wants you to claim at least enough tips to make up to minimum wage - even if you didn’t make that much. Managers are not supposed to go into the computer and change the amount of tips you put in unless you go to them and request a change, say, if you made a mistake. (Accidentally entering $243.34 instead of $24.34 or something.) But often times they do change your tips. The store I work at now has a printout of your entered tips for that night, so if they’re changed after the fact and it comes up differently on your paycheck, someone is screwing with something they shouldn’t. The buffet I worked at did have electronic clocks, but no printouts. Tips were often changed to meet minimum wage requirements, even if you didn’t make that much money that day. The excuse given was that you often made more than minimum wage in tips and didn’t claim all of them, so they felt it worked out evenly.

Okay, I’ll shut up now. :slight_smile:

I worked at Old Country Buffet for a short time and made decent money ($7.50/hr or so). I did many tasks, including bussing tables, etc. I would ask the manager to see if the bussers/servers are getting a regular wage or waitstaff wages.