I have been a server for almost a year. And after seeing a popular article float around Odyssey regarding tipping your servers, but here is the best answer I can give for what servers expect from guests, although it may not what every other server thinks.
I work at a chain restaurant that serves wings and beer and I'm sure many of you can guess what that place is. We always get a rush when there's a football or basketball game on. We also get packed when little league tournaments happen in the area. I make pretty good money during the weekends. I get great tips from families who are out with their kids and guys who are out with their friends who get a drink or two. But, I do encounter people who I don't receive great tips from.
I know I provided excellent service. I am not one who brings an attitude into work and takes it out on our guests. I am not one who sasses people when they have a difficult order. I am not one to blame the customer for anything. So when I know I am giving the best I can with service and only receive a five percent tip or no tip at all, I wonder what I did wrong and what I need to improve on.
One major thing people and parents need to realize is to teach their preteens and teenagers that they should tip their server. The place I work at gets loads of teenagers and preteens at night on the weekends. And many of them do not know that we only make $2.33 an hour and work for tips. I have had countless tables of six or more teenagers where they are asking for extra sides of ranch, more water, and other things. I gladly grab whatever they need because that is my job. But when I hand them their bills and they pay with exact change or I notice that there is a line through the tip line, I can't help but think that they probably don't even realize that us servers work for tips... and it sucks because sometimes the majority of our tables are teenagers throughout the night. Please educate your kids on leaving something for their server after their meal if I provide good service.
When discussing tipping servers, many people argue that we should just get a different job when we complain about not getting tipped. But in all honesty, if my serving job paid an hourly wage, there's a 99% chance I wouldn't work there. I like working for tips. Being a college student, getting my tip money right away instead of waiting for a paycheck is ideal for me. I can get gas in my car, pay for groceries and do things with my friends right away instead of saying, "I'll have to wait until Friday when I get paid." I may only get paid $2.33 an hour, but in reality, some days I get paid $19 an hour when including my tips in the end and that's why I love being a server.
So yes, if I am ever your server and I am doing a crappy job of not getting you refills in a timely manner, forgetting your three sides of ranch or not checking in on you when you get your meal, by all means, don't tip me. If I am not working for a tip, then feel free not to tip me. But when I know I am doing a good job of checking in on you and making sure you have everything you need to have an enjoyable experience at our restaurant, truthfully, I am expecting a good tip.