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I visited Chef's drive-through yesterday, and all went well -- food was great, service was prompt. My question: Do you tip at the Chef's drive-through window?

-- Jane, Buffalo

My question is about tipping ... I get the 20 percent for fine dining, 15 percent for just-OK service. It is the coffeehouse, drive-through and pizza delivery that are more perplexing. I would not tip if I drove through McDonald's (a guilty secret -- love those french fries), but how about Chef's with a larger, more complex meal?

-- Susan, Kenmore

I always tip 15 to 20 percent, because I know servers depend upon tips as an important part of their income. My question concerns what amount is used to calculate the tip. I have read different opinions on this subject. Some write that the tip is calculated upon the subtotal of the food only. Others write that it is based upon the subtotal of the food and alcohol only. I have also read that the tip should be calculated on the total amount of the bill: food, alcohol and tax. Please let me know.

-- Thomas, Hamburg

When I mentioned last week, that I would delve into the subject of tipping, the pot boiled over. Readers seem mystified about the whole subject, as these questions indicate. And yet, and yet ...

When surveys ask if the practice of tipping should be eliminated, substituting an automatic service charge, the overwhelming answer is always "no." Fair enough.

In the long run, how much, and whether, to tip is an individual decision. There are no carved-in-stone rules. Here are my answers to the questions above.

Regarding tipping in drive-throughs: Most people don't tip at casual places like Tim Hortons or McDonald's (but that doesn't mean a tip is not appreciated if the customer is so moved).

The new window at popular Chef's (Seneca and Chicago streets) has gotten people in a tizzy, though. Here, you call ahead, order an entire meal and pick it up. Tip, yes? Tip, no?

I talked to co-owner Lou Billitier, who said he was surprised to learn that many people are tipping. It is up to you.

As to the question of what amount do you base the tip: The usual answer is on the total of food and drink, not including sales tax, which should be listed separately. (Some people calculate the tip by doubling the amount of the tax.)

A caveat: If you are dining in a larger party, check the bill or menu to see if there is an automatic gratuity added. (And, as you might in Europe, where the tip is often included on even smaller checks, if you're happy with the service, add a little more.)

Finally, there are some quirks to this normally oh-so-serious subject. At Torches on Kenmore Avenue, for instance, there's a (very) optional charge suggested on the menu: "a round for the kitchen." (It's a kind of jokey old custom, not often seen, but they do get thirsty back there.)

If customers opt to pay the $8, they often get a bonus, says co-owner Kevin Richert -- if things aren't too frantic, they get a tour of the kitchen in all its hectic-ness. Again, oh conscientious customer -- it's strictly your choice.

Next week: Mexican food. Reader suggestions and thoughts welcome.

e-mail: janiceokun@yahoo.com