Guide to Tipping at Restaurants

Tip Table Tipping is a common practice in the United States. However, it can be very confusing to remember how much to tip and who to tip at a restaurant. This article provides a guide for tipping at restaurants in America.

Tipping at Restaurants

Tipping expectations vary by culture and by service industry. Although tipping is a common practice in the United States in some other cultures or situations, giving a tip is not expected, and offering one could even be considered condescending or demeaning. In the United States, a tip is not legally required and the amount of the tip is at the discretion of the customer. However, it is important to understand cultural expectations of leaving a tip, as leaving an inadequate tip amount can be considered bad etiquette or even unethical.

Restaurants only pay a small portion of their employee’s salaries; customers’ tips provide the rest. In many states, restaurants are legally allowed to pay servers below minimum wage. The server’s income is then supplemented with the service they provide – tips. Tips can constitute over 60 percent of a server’s total earning. This means servers are paid based on a reward system: the person receiving the service can pay the server according to the quality of their performance. The better service the server provides, the more they are tipped.

It is also common for servers to give portions of their tip to the restaurant’s support staff. At the end of their shift, servers often pay a certain percentage of their sales to other staff members such as the kitchen staff, bartender, and bussers who do not receive tips directly.

When a customer leaves a small tip, the server receives less from the tipping pool than other staff. Over 14 percent of all full service restaurants participate in tip pools.

How to Tip

The appropriate amount to tip servers depends on your service. 15% is appropriate for average service ; 20% if your server is above average. You should feel free to tip above 20% if you received excellent service. If you received poor service, it is better to talk to the manager than skip on the tip. Leaving no tip does not correct the problem of poor service.

Some restaurants have found that big groups with a bigger bill tend to tip very little. In an effort to avoid this issue, many restaurants add an automatic gratuity to parties of six or more; often the gratuity is set at 18%. If you have a party of six or more, you should verify that the gratuity is being added to the bill to avoid double tipping.

It is customary to calculate tips prior to tax. However, many people use the total bill for the ease of calculating or to be more generous. Servers have to pay tax on their tip as well as share the tip with other support staff members. Many people feel that giving tip after the tax amount is fair, ensuring that their server receives a larger amount.

For an easy way to figure out a 20% tip, a good rule of thumb is to round off your total, double the amount, and then add one decimal point. For example, if your check total is $42.86, round off to $43, then take $43 and double it (multiply by 2), which is $86. Add a decimal point by moving it one place to the left, which would be $8.6. Therefore $8.60 is a 20% tip on $43.

For an easy way to figure out 15% tip, round off your total, divide by 2, then add that amount to the total and move the decimal point one over to the left. For example, $27.75 rounded off is $28. Then divide $28 by 2, which is $14. Take $14 and add it to the total of $28, which is $42. Move the decimal one place to the left and the tip amount is $4.20.

Who to Tip, and How Much?

When dining at a restaurant there are many questions regarding tipping. Do you tip the host who seated you? Do you tip the bartender, coat check steward, or sommelier? How much do you tip the server? Who do you tip and how much? Do you tip pre-tax or post-tax? Here are some general rules to make the process less daunting.

  • Host - No tip is necessary unless a special service was performed, then tip appropriately for the size of the favor.
  • Bartenders – 15% of the tab or $1 for beer or wine
  • Coat check steward - $1 per coat
  • Sommelier (wine steward) – 15% of the bottle price
  • Restroom attendants - $0.50 to $1
  • Parking attendants - $1 to $3


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