The Final Word on Tipping

If you're anything like me, last week's article about how much to leave your server on financial advice site The Billfold was the first time you heard about the practice of tipping. Did you know, for example, that you're supposed to leave exactly 20 percent of the tip, never rounding up, even if it's only a couple cents?

From the original:

When we got our checks, I watched my friend scribble the customary $2 tip for the cost of his meal. My total was $7.60 with tax. I started to tip the same amount, but then I looked over at his half-empty Diet Coke and stopped. My friend's total was a couple of dollars more because he had a drink, so his tip was a few cents over 20 percent of the cost. I was planning to leave the same amount out of habit when I realized that mine should be less. Standard tips are based on a percentage of the bill, and people tack on more for exceptional service. I had chosen tap water over sweet tea so that my bill would be lower. Now I was going to tip the same amount of my friend who ordered more? This didn't seem fair to me.

So, I calculated 20 percent of my bill on the customer copy of the receipt, and decided to leave the exact amount: $1.52. I had only saved 48 cents, but I felt like a money-saving genius.

The piece led to great controversy on Twitter and elsewhere, and has already inspired a counterpoint on the same site. It's pretty helpful, but doesn't really speak to the wide variety of experiences you'll have over a lifetime of dining out. Here are a few guidelines that should keep you in accordance with basic social niceties forever:

Why tip for something you could have made yourself at home if you really wanted to? Ask yourself (honestly) at the end of the meal if you could have cooked something pretty much like what you just ate. If the answer is "probably" or better, feel free to write a zero with a slash through the middle on the tip line.

Anything under a 70% tip is a slap in the face to the working poor.

If it is a business lunch you may tip in business cards.

Didn't enjoy talking to your dinner companion(s)? Don't have to tip. You should never pay extra for a meal you didn't enjoy because your friends are incapable of empathy.

The problem: you find yourself at a restaurant that only accepts cash and depart as a group to use the nearby ATM, which won't dispense anything smaller than a twenty-dollar bill. The solution: Make sure the total of your collective order is a multiple of twenty so no one has to get change. The tip is that you accommodated the restaurant's outrageous and antiquated demand for cash and didn't insist they accept your credit cards.

Remember this general rule and you should be fine: tip 40% at breakfast, nothing at dinner, and half of your pre-tax total at lunch. If you are in Europe or at brunch you must tip 100%, no exceptions.

How nice is the restaurant? Pretty nice? Could it be nicer, though? If the answer is yes, you do not have to tip.

If you've never worked in the food service industry, you have no idea how dehumanizing and impoverishing life as a server can be. Quit whatever job you currently have and become a member of the waitstaff at the nearest restaurant (nearest in relation to where you are right now, not where you currently live; this simplifies things). Work there as long as you have worked in whatever your current position is. Give all of your tips to the busboys, but also steal from the busboys' backpacks in the employee locker room whenever you think you can get away with it.

Contrary to what you may have heard, you do not have to tip on behalf of the tables around you, no matter how much of their conversation you overhear.

If you are on a date and are a heterosexual man, you do not have to pay for any food your date does not finish. If the server tries to argue with you, take a stand - your date will be impressed (sexy results guaranteed).

If you are on a date and you are a gay or bisexual man, you will receive a 25% surcharge on whatever food your date does not finish.

If you are a woman of any kind you must insist on paying. Do not take no for an answer. Do not take no for an answer

Asking for the consumer to shoulder the burden of paying both tax and tip is not only greedy, it's exploitative. Don't be party to that system. Pick one.