This one has been a topic of discussion among my friends off and on for years. Since Ronnie is a chef we tend to hang out with a lot of restaurant people, including servers. I know the general guideline is 15 to 18%. I also realize that servers are working for $2.35 an hour plus tips. From the server side of things, I get it. But let me try to explain it from a parents side of things.
My general experience can be divided into two categories: with kids and without kids. When we go out with Paige our servers tend to be less attentive and the service is usually poor. When I've asked server friends about this they've freely told me they hate getting stuck with the kid section and when they do get this section they say their tips are usually bad. Here's why: the service is bad. Not all servers feel this way, and some servers have been great with us when Paige is out with us.
See, I feel that a tip is to be given for good service. If I get good service, I give a good tip. If I get bad service, I give bad tips. I feel like my requirements are rather simple. Friendly is good. Getting my order correct is really good. My tea glass not being empty for more than say, 5 minutes, that's super bonus! If I have to get up with my empty glass looking for a refill, your tip just went way down. Oh, and extra napkins. I really like extra napkins. We get a bit messy. We even ask for them when we order.
I have left as little as 2 cents on a tip. That time the server took our order and brought the check. Another server brought our food, refilled our drinks, and did everything else. That server I tipped in cash at the end of the meal. The 2 cents I left the other server was to round up to a dollar and make my checkbook easier to balance. Ronnie and I have also tipped very well. There's a difference in a bad server and one who just gets behind. We recently had a server who was late to work because her child was sick. She got stuck with tables no one wanted. She had 2 tables in a section, 2 more in a different section, then 3 in the smoking section all the way across the restaurant. She was good. Even with all the running she did my tea glass never got empty. She was very friendly. Ronnie asked her what was up since it looked like she was all over the place, so she told him. We tipped her very well. She was a great waitress who was trying her best. And she was literally running around the restaurant doing her job. She's the kind of server we tip well.
When we don't have Paige with us, we seem to have much better service. I chalk this up to what servers have told me, people with kids don't tip well. They work hard serving the table for a small tip. When we go out by ourselves, the service, in general, is better. I expect the same level of service when Paige is with us or not. I don't think our demands are too unreasonable.