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How Do You Tip on Free or Comped Food and Services?

Thomas Mason -- Free food is a great thing, especially in college. Across America, many got to enjoy just that during Denny's Super Bowl free breakfast promotion. Here's a real life example on how to handle tipping, yes, tipping on free food.

There was a lot of buzz and excitement centered around Denny’s Super Bowl free breakfast promotion.

Denny’s reportedly spent around $5 million on the promotion and gave out 2 million free breakfasts. Aside from being a brilliant marketing ploy generating public awareness of the company’s product, I’m sure Denny’s sold a few other things that day as well.

Of course this promotion kept the servers and entire restaurant staffs incredibly busy in locations across the nation for the length of the special. Free food is a great thing. Food is what was being offered for free, not service. Servers worked very hard delivering tons of free breakfasts and keeping coffee fresh in the cups of millions of diners. How did they fare in tips?

Whenever a restaurant offers a special, coupon or comps a meal, it has an impact on the total of the bill. The bill total that you are presumably basing your tip on. If you get a free breakfast at Denny’s your bill (if you ordered nothing else) would be zero.

Tipping any percent of zero is zero. So you must base your tip on what the meal would have cost you if you had paid full price. If you had great service and would normally leave 15-20%, check the menu and add up what your bill would have been and tip based on that.

Please keep in mind that the servers rely on their tips as a significant portion of their income. In most cases servers work hard to earn their tips. If you do not tip on a free or discounted meal, you are taking away from what they could have earned on a table paying full price. The same applies to buy-one-get-one-free offers and discount coupons.

If you get food comped off of your bill because the kitchen screwed it up, yet your server did the best they could to give you good service and rectify the problem, please don’t punish the server. They worked hard to create a pleasurable dining experience for you.

Thomas A. Mason is the founder of Tip20. The Tip20! Web site is a useful resource for service industry professionals, from dishwasher to restauranteur, and, with topics on global dining customs, tipping standards, and etiquette, a greater educational tool for the consumer on the dining experience in total.

© 2009 Thomas Mason

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