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If I decide to give the waitress, directly and purely out of goodwill, an extra $10 above and beyond 15%, why should that be taxed rather than considered a gift subject to the $12,000 non-taxable gift limit? What if (creepiness factor aside), I wait outside the restaurant for the waitress to finish her shift and then give her $10. Is this considered a tip and subject to taxation?

Because you're paying her to serve you your food, exactly the way you pay a mechanic or anyone else that performs a service.

If the gift exemption is for things like graduation gifts or baby showers. If the extra $10 was unrelated to her serving you food then it would be a gift. Good luck proving that.
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