How Much Should You Tip In America?
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How Much Should You Tip In America?

Familiarize yourself with the appropriate etiquette from tipping your food servers in America.

Here's a new article that's part of my Health, Lifestyle & Culture series.

Even though we all routinely tip at bars and restaurants there are always many differing opinions about how much to tip. We all know that the appropriate amount to tip relates to the total amount of the bill, but are there exceptions? With this article I hope to dispel some of the myths that revolve around the practice of tipping and help people better understand common tipping etiquette. 

The basic principal of the tip

The tip or gratuity was originally intended as way to improve service. The amount you leave is supposed to be a recompense proportionate to the quality of service you receive. Today however, many servers rely heavily on their tips, and most respectful people tend towards tipping a similar amount regardless of whether the service excellent or simply adequate. This was not always the case. 

How should the service factor in?

Modern etiquette suggest that one should tip in between 10% and 20%, regardless of the level of service. Only in extreme cases of neglect or rudeness is it acceptable to tip less than 10%, and in such cases it's perfectly acceptable to leave no tip whatsoever. The main reason for a general 10% minimum tip is that servers are responsible for 'tipping out' other staff, such as busboys, cooks and bartenders. In other words, there's more than one person relying on your tip and your server will probably be forced to hand over as much as 3-6% of the total price of your bill. If you were to tip only 8% in restaurant where the server had to tip out 6% that would leave them with almost nothing.    

Many patrons choose to tip according to a rigid system, perhaps leaving 13% if their experience was only mediocre and 17% if the service was great. Budgeting your personal finances can be made easier using this type of system. But if the service was fantastic and you can afford to leave even more, then there's no good reason to cap your tip at 20%. Keeping in mind the spirit with which tipping was originally intended, you should feel free to tip as much or more than 100% of the price of the bill. 

A Few Little Quirks

If you order one drink at a bar you should always tip at least $1.00 regardless of the price of the drink. 

If you eat an inexpensive breakfast at a diner you should be inclined tip a little more than your usual percentage on the bill. Serving an inexpensive meal takes essentially the same effort as a more expensive one. Compensate your breakfast server with a slightly larger tip in relation to the total bill. For example, if you order two eggs over-easy and it comes out to $4.00, leave a minimum of $1.00 (25%) even though you usually tip only %15.

Remember, servers are among the more hard-working people in our society and they're not always properly compensated for their efforts. If you can't afford to leave an appropriate tip you should probably be avoiding going out to eat altogether. 

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Comments (7)

As a restaurant owner, I am a very high tipper when I go out. However, I'm also very picky. I expect great service from my server and I also don't want to know I even have a server. They should keep my drink filled, the table cleared of dirty dishes, and do it in a way that doesn't interrupt conversation. Asking me how things are a hundred times just pisses me off. Do this, and you'll see up to a 40% tip with me, no joke.

Good article. My pet peeve about servers: when they try to take away your food before you're finished.

It is not modern ettiquette to tip between 10-20%. 15% used to be the standard, but that is now 18%. If the service is poor, one should speak with the server, then a manager if necessary rather than being cheap about a tip.

When my daughter was in college, she was also serving to make ends meet. I remember how hard she worked and would be disappointed and upset to receive a poor tip. Tipping is, as you say, an important portion of the server's income. Thank you for an insightful article!

well advised

Hey Sharla, you're in Canada like me right? Do you think people tip less here than in the U.S.? In the United States, the perception of Canadian restaurant patrons is that they are nice, but cheap. Although not anywhere near as bad as Europeans. Most of my friends and family from Ottawa tend towards calculating 15% of the amount of the bill before taxes and then leaving approximately that amount, adjusting only slightly for the quality of service.

Salvatore, I can't speak for Americans, but I have found that rural Canadians (and this is a generalization) tend to tip less than urban Canadians. . . maybe all our farmers are just too broke!?! I'd say 15% is a good approximation of what the average Canadian tips.