What makes service ‘good’?

These guys probably didn't leave a tip


“I don’t tip … unless the service was exceptional, then I might.”

This is a very Australian sentence.

And on the surface this comment makes sense. Tipping is not a standard part of Australian custom. Some people do it, that’s fine. Some people don’t, that’s also fine. This sentence also suggests a link between effort and reward – an ideology we’ve been brought up with. Most people would probably not have a problem with the idea of tipping someone who has done a good job, even if they don’t tip themselves. So this type of comment is never really going to cause any issues.

But what is it that makes service good? What are the boxes that a service-employee has to tick so that they might get tipped?

The answer probably depends on the specific service, so for this discussion I’ll stick to restaurants.


Timeliness is probably important. Nobody likes waiting around for food. In some cases it is the efforts of a good waiter that ensures prompt meals, but a long wait may not be the fault of a waiter. The kitchen staff, for whatever reason, may have taken their sweet time. Also, when you’re hungry time moves very slowly. Does this turn otherwise good service into bad service?

Friendliness is surely important. But friendliness is very subjective. One person’s idea of friendliness is another person’s idea of being nosy or overbearing. Anyway, how much should someone’s tip be tied to how much they laugh at customer’s jokes?

Being knowledgeable about the menu and being in a position to offer suggestions would probably help on the service-level scale. But taste is a very personal thing. Should the waiter be held accountable to their suggestions?

These are just a few examples, there are other factors that could be considered here.


Good service is very hard to define, but we all have a sense of what it is when we experience it. But because its so personal and subjective, saying something like, ‘I tip for good service’, enables us to appear generous without actually being generous.

“Well, I would’ve tipped them – the food was okay, it didn’t take too long, but the waiter could have been a bit nicer” (whatever that means).

So, in some ways, saying that we tip for good service doesn’t mean anything, because each of us sets the bar of what good service is. Also, since each of us are the judge, if we don’t feel like tipping then its easy enough to say the service just wasn’t deserving of a tip.

But saying we tip for good service does allow us to keep our options open, do whatever we want and appear generous and considerate all at the same time.

This entry was posted in bars/pubs/restaurants, Identity, Morality. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to What makes service ‘good’?

  1. Kirsty says:

    “Good service” is probably also defined relative to the price you paid for the meal. If the meal is expensive then there is often an assumption that part of that price is compensation for receiving better service than if you went somewhere else. So for expensive meals the service has to meet this higher expectation before you might give a tip. Which might lead to the next subjective question – what qualifies as ‘expensive’?…

    • tippingoz says:

      Agreed. Higher prices bring higher expectations of service. But what are the things that a waiter is expected to do when the prices are higher, that they aren’t expected to do in a less expensive restaurant?

  2. Kim says:

    As Kirsty so wisely mentioned there is a correlation between the price you paid for the meal and the good service received. Fancy and expensive restaurant generally equals good service. Not always, but the rule holds pretty well. I will continue this delicious research for many more years.

    But this post really is about what constitutes good service. So here is a definition for a certain situation. But wait, a thought. Good service is situation dependent. Good service in a bar is different to good service in a cheap restaurant, which in turn is different to good service in a fancy restaurant.

    So here is my broad brush restaurant definition of good service. This is kind of incoherent but bare with me. (Aside: It is bare and not bear isn’t it?)
    1. Arrival. Someone in the restaurant notices your arrival pretty much straight away. This can simply include eye contact. Not too long though. Otherwise those bedroom eyes could get you into trouble.
    2. Table time. You are pointed/ushered to your table. Don’t know why I separated this from Arrival. Oh yes, a fancy restaurant the waiter might have some witty small talk.
    3. Post seating time. Water and menus are brought to your table within say 5-10 minutes. Drinks order may be taken at this point. Or at point 4.
    4. Discussion time. Fancy restaurant waiter would then come along after 15 or so minutes and discuss the menu, specials, drinks (if you haven’t ordered them yet). Cheaper restaurant may skip this step altogether or include it at point 3. Confused? I am.
    5. Ordering time. Waiter is attentive (eye contact, body language etc) and informs you of roughly how long the meals might take.
    6. Food delivery time. Orders are correct and arrive within a reasonable time frame. This varies between cheap and fancy restaurants. For cheap I think around 15-20 minutes. Fancy perhaps 30-40.
    7. Bill time. Bill is brought over to you. Or you go to counter to pay. Part of good service here is that the bill is correct.

    So that is a broad guide on what I think is good service at a restaurant. I didn’t talk about whether the food was “good” as that is a whole different kettle of steak. I mean fish. Kettle of fish. I hope this ramble provides food for thought….

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