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"Janice, I know you have mentioned tipping before, but I have a question. A friend of mine works as a bartender at an upscale Clarence restaurant. I have watched him take care of a party of 15 or 20, having a drink or two before dinner. They usually show up at the same time, since they are dining together, which puts a burden on him to get all their drinks at once. Then, when they are ready to eat, they leave nothing on the bar as they depart.

"My wife and I usually tip $1 per drink, or a couple of dollars if we share a bottle of wine, since they only have to open it and pour the first drink. Is there any way to tell people they should tip the bartender for drinks before dinner?"

-- Dave B. Tonawanda.

You just did tell people, Dave. But I'll say it again. Yes, patrons should leave a tip for the bartender; the amount you describe is just about right. If you are at a restaurant that puts the drink tab on the dinner check, just leave your tip on the bar before you are seated in the dining room.

We got that settled, but the matter of tipping will really never get settled. Many diners are uneasy about the whole process. Yet, it is claimed, surveys indicate most Americans still prefer the tipping system rather than an assigned gratuity amount. Go figure.

Here is a sample of questions I have received -- and my own feelings on the subject. After all, tipping is a discretionary thing:

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Q: What is the proper procedure for tipping when eating at a buffet?

A: You may have carried your own plate, but someone set that table up for you. Someone cleared it. Someone poured the coffee. And maybe someone even went back for something you forgot.

So a tip is required. How much? The restaurant managers I have spoken with suggest tipping as you would if you were at a table service restaurant. That is about 15 (or even 18) percent.

If you have paid for your meal in advance -- at a cash register at the entrance, for instance -- either leave the tip on the table or ask the cashier what procedure to follow.

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Q: Occasionally, the tip is included in the check for large parties. How do you know if that's the case when it is time to pay up?

A: Sometimes, for parties of six or more, a mandatory tip is on the check. Sadly, that is because large parties do sometimes stiff servers. (OK -- maybe they just miscalculate the amount.)

If you are with a large group, check the menu before you order. The mandatory gratuity usually appears somewhere near the bottom (in small letters, often in italic type).

You can also ask your server if it is included -- and do not be embarrassed about doing so. Then, if you enjoyed excellent service, you might even want to up the stipulated amount.

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Q: Do I tip if I am using a coupon to pay for my meal?

A: There is no beating around the bush with this question. The answer is YES.

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A correction: In last week's column about holiday lunches, I made a mistake, politely corrected in this email from Joseph Salvatore, president, Salvatore's Italian Gardens, 6461 Transit Road, Depew:

"Hello Janice: Just a note for you, we do open for lunch for the holidays. It is the only time of year we do. It is served Monday through Friday (from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.), and we also serve a Sunday brunch with Santa and Mrs. Claus. We love the season and seeing everyone in such a festive spirit."

Duly noted and my apologies extended, as well.

Do you have a question about the area restaurant scene? Then ask Janice! Her answers will appear in the Taste section of The Buffalo News on Wednesdays.

email: janiceokun@yahoo.com