DEAR SUN SPOTS: What is the normal amount you should give when tipping? If you ask five people, you get five different answers. — John, Rumford.

ANSWER: Tipping does vary widely depending on what the service is for which you are providing the gratuity, and how you, the consumer, rate that service. However, since many service workers, waiters and waitresses in particular, depend on their tips to supplement their low hourly wage (a minimum of $3.75 per hour in Maine, according to the U.S. Department of Labor), Sun Spots is happy to offer you some general guidelines.

An average tip for a waiter or waitress is generally 15 percent of the bill total, though you should consider tipping upwards of 20 percent for larger parties and/or for exceptional service. Many restaurants now tack on an auto-gratuity for larger parties in the realm of 18 percent — this is because of the extra work your server has to do to accommodate a larger party in his or her section of the restaurant. Larger parties typically take longer to eat and hang around longer after eating, which prevents that server from “turning over” the table for the next paying (and tipping) customer, so it makes sense that when caring for a larger party, the tip might be a bit higher.

Some experts say that even poor service should still receive a tip given the demands of the job and the low hourly wage. However, the recommended tip for poorer service is suggested to be lower, at 10 percent rather than stiffing the waitstaff completely. Be careful to recognize the root of a poor experience, though. Sometimes, errors from the kitchen, of which the waitstaff has no control, can slow service, for instance. You should recognize if your waiter or waitress is attentive, apologetic and polite in such a circumstance, and know that the kitchen staff is paid a normal hourly rate for their work, regardless of how you tip your server.

There are many other types of service providers who receive tips — from pizza delivery drivers (average 10 percent of bill) and parking valets (average $2 for parking or retrieving your car) to hairdressers (15 to 20 percent of bill) and taxi drivers (about 15 percent of bill). Really, there are too many types of tips to discuss in this short column, but the one thing to remember is — aside from common etiquette and personal moral philosophies, there are no laws regulating how much you should tip. Go with your gut, and maybe show your appreciation for exceptional service by going a bit above and beyond your normal habits.

DEAR SUN SPOTS: Regarding the lost Weight Watchers key ring and charms: Thanks so much for posting my request to help find my recently lost WW key ring and charms. Mine hasn’t been returned or found yet, but another WW member told her leader about the letter in Sun Spots and that very nice leader is going to replace mine as fully as possible. I’m so pleased with the results of my Sun Spots post. This little community interactive column surely does some great work. — Jan, Lewiston.

ANSWER: Thank you, Jan. Sun Spots is always happy to be of service to her readers. 

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