Tipping is Confusing!

Even writing this I am asking for trouble, but it is an issue that is more confusing than you would think, and I really want to address it.  The first thing that I want to say is that people should completely expect to pay a tip to servers earning  $3.52/hour.  Anybody who thinks otherwise should not be allowed to dine out.  That said, this is where the confusion begins.

When I first realized that tipping was important, it was customary to tip 15%.  It mysteriously bumped up to 18%, and more and more I am hearing 20%.  Recently, I have gone to restaurants where the receipt tells you the tip amount for 15%, 20%, and 25%. This is a source of difficulty.  There is nothing official saying that any of these numbers are correct or incorrect, just social norms and morays that seem to push this number.

A satisfied patron can always tip even when it isn’t required or even tip more than expected, but the average Joe is just looking for a baseline so that they can do the right thing without looking like a schmuck.

$5.99 Drive thru breakfast at Russ’ Restaurant (no tipping expected)

First, not every dining experience is the same AND not every eating experience involves dining, but could involve tipping.   You have:

  1. Sit down dining with servers
  2. Take out dinner from restaurants that offer in house dining
  3. Take out dinner from places that are strictly takeout
  4. AYCE Buffet dining
  5. Cafeteria style dining 
  6. Food trucks
  7. Baristas at coffee houses
  8. Bartenders 
  9. Food delivery from pizza places
  10. Food delivery from a delivery service (grub hub and Uber eats)
  11. Beer and/or wine dinners

Here are just a smattering of comments that I have heard from people over the past couple of years who were less than sure about what a proper tipping situation was.

The restaurant provides a sit down service where tipping is expected.  You have opted not to partake in the sit down service and decide to pick up the order inside to bring home, do you tip?  Many people say, “yes”. What if it is a place like Russ’ Restaurant where you don’t have to go inside for said food because they will hand the same sit down meal to you via a drive-thru window?  This adds more validity that take out food is not a tipping situation, because if it were you would be expected to tip the person handing you the food a drive-thru.

Isn’t the discounted food at happy hour actually the regular price of that food for that time and shouldn’t people be tipping at the lower price?  No? It kind of is!

Isn’t it a basic obligation of a barista to hand you your drink without expecting a tip?

On a food delivery, should you tip on the total of the bill, the distance of the drive, or both? 

If you go to a local pizza place and pick up $60 in pizza, do you tip: Nothing, a few bucks, or 18%?  If you said that you should tip, do you also tip at Little Caesar’s?

At sit down restaurant “X”, a waiter serves your dining companion a $10 salad and serves you a $70 steak. The same amount of effort was required in bringing the food to the table, so why is the tip for the steak more than the cost of the salad?

If you deliver food in inclement weather, should you be tipped more than usual or is that just part of the job?

If you dine out on a holiday, should you tip the server more than usual?

The restaurant owner is the person who waits you table, do you tip the owner?

If your service is awful, do you still tip?  How much?

If you attend an all inclusive beer/wine dinner, does that include the tip?

What if you stay at a table for twice the normal length of time, should you tip the server more because you are essentially denying them the ability to serve somebody after you?

At an AYCE restaurant  you, as the patron,  are doing more than half the work by serving yourself.  There are no servers, just bussers bussing the tables?  Do you tip?  Do you tip at full price?  Do the bussers get the tip?

You are at a cafeteria style diner where people basically bring your food to the table after you have ordered, and that’s it.  Do you tip?  Would you tip if that place was named McDonalds?

Some restaurants automatically add an 18% tip or more for parties over a certain number of people, isn’t the tip a reflection of how the service WAS, and not something that should be added before service was even provided? what if the service was subpar?

We have a local restaurant that adds a 10% service fee to all orders to split amongst the entire production staff, but anything tipped beyond that 10% goes to the server. Shouldn’t it all go to the server?

So, I don’t know the answer to all of these questions, nobody does.  In spite of that, the website waitbutwhy.com put together some tipping statistics.  Here are their conclusions.

Whether you agree with their conclusions or not, it is clear that nothing is clear about tipping.

I would love to see a definitive booklet from an authoritative source laying out an industry standard for tipping. Better yet, maybe we could just pay servers a living wage, but that is a whole separate can of worms.

In the absence of said booklet, I simply urge restaurant patrons to remember that many servers do earn $3.52/hour, so do your best to tip fairly.  As for servers, if you receive a tip that seems a little low but is “in the ballpark”, be patient.  Tipping is confusing.


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