Tipping in Restaurants – How Much Should You Leave?


Do you ever struggle with that question – at least a little bit? Tipping is not a requirement, but a common practice, so we’re largely on our own as to how to handle it. How should we handle it? How do you handle it?

Since there’s nothing scientific about the practice of tipping, this article is mostly my opinion about tipping. Feel free to disagree, or to express your own opinions on tipping in the comments section below!

Tipping for the Usual Service

Tipping practices vary from one country to another, but in the United States it’s customary to leave a tip equal to 15% of the final bill. We can take issue with that specific amount – after all, it’s not set in stone so we do and should have some latitude. However 15% is the general expectation that a waiter or waitress has, so we should at least use it as a guideline.

My own feeling is that if the service is average to good, the food is acceptable, the facility is reasonably clean, and we don’t have to wait too long for our meal to be served, 15% will be the default tip that I’ll leave.

I know people who leave less – and some who leave more – but when it comes to standard service, I’m comfortable defaulting to the customary guideline. I will however adjust the tip for the level of service, either higher or lower.

Tipping for Outstanding Service

Since 15% is the guideline, there is plenty of room on the upside to reward outstanding service. If everything about a restaurant is excellent – the food, the facility, the service, the attitude, the wait and the overall “dining experience,” I’ll go well above 15%. In some situations that were exceptional I’ll go a high as 25%. In lower-priced restaurants with exceptional service I’ve even gone over 30%.

If you really like a certain restaurant, it may even be in your best interest to leave higher tips. A higher tip is a financial way of giving a thumbs up to the restaurant and its staff for a job well done. By properly rewarding their effort, you are creating an incentive for them to keep up the good work.

This can be especially beneficial when you get the same waiter or waitress as you had last time. Since the person will know that you will leave a larger tip for better service, you‘ll probably get the VIP treatment.

We are all quick to complain when we get bad service, but tipping is one area where we have an opportunity to reward outstanding service. That’s worth taking advantage of.

Tipping for Poor Service

I know a few people will leave a 15% tip even if the service is poor. I don’t agree. Though tips are part of a waiter or waitress’s compensation, I firmly believe that it is a part of their compensation that they need to earn. To leave a 15% tip for poor service is to approve of the bad job. I’ll adjust my tip downward if I feel that the service is in any way substandard.

Now I’ll admit that there is a flaw in my thinking. Sometimes the reason the service is poor has nothing to do with the waiter or waitress. Sometimes it’s due to the kitchen, understaffing, or lousy food. If I get a sense that a waiter or waitress is dealing with any of these issues, I may tip him or her in cash directly, but leave nothing on the bill.

I’ll write zero on the tip line of the bill, and hand the cash to the waiter or waitress. Generally, I’ll even explain to the waiter or waitress why am doing it that way – that I liked his or her service, but I am not satisfied with the restaurant overall.

Required Tipping

There is one aspect of tipping that I really disagree with completely, and that’s required tipping. This is very frequent if you arrive at a restaurant with a large group, which can be as few as six people. A restaurant will not only add the tip to your bill automatically, but they will usually assess it to be something more than 15%. 18% to 22% is not at all uncommon.

While I recognize that this is done because groups can be more work than smaller parties (and often hide non-tippers as well), there are two reasons why I disagree with this practice:

  1. Being forced to tip for bad service. If a restaurant assesses a tip on the bill before you even order, then they are removing your ability to reduce the tip for poor service. No matter what happens, you will be leaving a tip – and a premium one at that – even if the service is downright lousy.
  2. The assessment of the tip is often in “fine print.” Most often when the tip is added to a bill automatically, notice of this policy appears in fine print in some obscure place on the menu, or on some remote wall in the restaurant. If you’re not paying careful attention when the bill comes, you can end up double tipping – leaving a tip over and above the one the house has already charged.

I want to take number two step further. Let’s say that you and a group of friends go to a restaurant and get poor service. Unaware that the restaurant is assessing an automatic 18% tip as a result of the large group you’re in, you leave a 5% tip as an expression of your dissatisfaction. Since the combined tip will be 23%, the restaurant staff will get the entirely opposite message – they’ll think they did a great job!

It’s an extreme situation, but potentially a real one.

Refusing to Tip – No Matter What

I know some people – and you probably do too – who don’t tip no matter what. Now I realize that tipping is not mandatory. But waiters and waitresses have very low base pay rates. It is precisely because of tips that restaurants don’t pay their staff base rates that are any higher. Since tips make up the primary source of their income, I think we do need to tip.

Refusing to tip – it my humble opinion – is an attempt to take advantage of a compensation system that is heavily slanted against the employees. I can’t be a part of that.

And yet there are people don’t. I’ve heard different explanations on this, and I disagree with them all:

  • It’s the restaurant’s job to pay their people a fair wage, not mine.
  • Why should I have to pay more than the published price for a meal?
  • Tipping is an option, not a requirement, and I choose not to.
  • If the waiter or waitress doesn’t like what the restaurant is paying them, they should get a job doing something else.

Personally, I think that if you either can’t afford to tip, or refuse to do so, you don’t need to be frequenting restaurants.

But that’s just my opinion about tipping – what’s yours? Leave a comment!

  1. Cathy

    My daughter has a server job. The base pay is $3.00 per hour. Getting tipped is essential

    • Kevin Mercadante

      That’s the primary reason I tip! People don’t always understand that working as a waiter/waitress in a restaurant is something of a hybrid between employment and self-employment. The waitstaff have to earn the tip, and it forms most of their income.

  2. FI Pilgrim

    I agree with you mostly, but I often wonder what would happen if I left no tip at all for bad service. I know some restaurants pay almost nothing outside of tips, so is it right to pay nothing for poor service from the wait staff? There aren’t many services I can think of that I would pay nothing for the service if they weren’t courteous enough or had a bad attitude. I tend to not visit that establishment as much if that’s the environment they promote, instead of not paying a tip.

    But I’m probably in the minority there, I would guess. 🙂

    • Kevin Mercadante

      I’ve only not tipped maybe 2-3 times in my life. One time a waitress came after me, cornered me, and eventually I was forced to tell her that her service was worse than poor. I”d rather that she took the missing tip as an indication, but she ended up with a “bad review’ and no tip.

    • Ronald

      If you see something say something, come on grown ups…. Say anything you dont like to the manager and he will fix it and give you a complimentary dessert to make it up for the bad moment. I bet you when you mess up at work your boss says something. Let’s help eachother to become better. Servers in VA make $2.15 per hour. Tips is their income, their food, their rent money, their money to pay bills, if you can’t tip, stay at home.

  3. Chad

    Great article…thanks for sharing! This is a sensitive topic for many. As your article mentions, I know several people who are extremely stingy on tipping, regardless of the service.

    In my opinion, those people should go to “Fast-Down” restaurants. What are “Fast-Down” restaurants? This is my name for places where you receive your food quickly (like “fast” food)…but still sit down to enjoy your meal. This includes restaurants like Corner Bakery, Daphne’s, etc. These places still bring your food to you, but you have to place your initial order at the cash register. And because it isn’t a general full service restaurant, you don’t really need to tip. Although, my wife and I often leave a dollar or two if the service is extra friendly.

    So if you can’t afford to tip, go to a “Fast-Down” restaurant!


    • Kevin Mercadante

      Hi Chad – Like you, I’ll generally leave a tip at those places, on a similar (but reduced) level, based on the quality of the food and the service. “Buss boys” need tip income too!

  4. Michelle

    I’m a fairly high tipper. I usually leave at least 20 to 25% no matter what. Sometimes I leave 30% if it’s my favorite restaurant and I frequent it often.

    • Kevin Mercadante

      Hi Michelle – That would be my percentage for excellent service, especially if I’m with my family (gotta try to stay in budget!). I might leave more if I’m by myself, since the overall bill will be lower.

  5. Ken ZImmerman Jr

    I tend to tip well because my Dad, who was a bit of a cheapskate always tipped well. He always said waiters and waitresses did not make enough money for what they did so they should be tipped well.

    I will adjust down but I don’t think that I have gone much below 15%. I just won’t go back if the service was that bad. It is hard to pin point who is at fault, when you receive bad service.

    Thanks for a thought provoking article.

  6. Laura

    I’m guessing the person that wrote this article has not worked as a server before (15% is a very low tip today). Working in a restaurant is not an easy job. As the first person that commented said, tipping is essential- you don’t get anything from the restaurant itself. Also, when you leave a tip, the server doesn’t get to keep it all. Tips get split with the bartenders and bussers as well. While 15% used to be the standard tip, I would definitely say today 20% is expected. My advice to someone that doesn’t want to leave 20% is that perhaps you should eat somewhere where you order at the counter or eat at home.

    • Kevin Mercadante

      Hi Laura – You’re correct, I’ve never been a server, but my wife has. As to the 20%, it may be a factor of geography. Maybe where you live it’s 20%, but where I am I haven’t hearm more than 15%.

      The type of restaurant matters too. Higher end restaurants might see higher tips depending on the clientele.

  7. Paul

    I don’t struggle with tipping, in general. but I do wonder what is a reasonable tip when visiting a serve-yourself buffet restaurant. The server doesn’t take your order and doesn’t deliver your meal. But they do clear off the table, and replenish drinks. So I tend to leave a dollar or two for each person in the party. Don’t know if that is right or not.

    • Kevin Mercadante

      Hi Paul – My thought on that is if I see the server and he/she is taking care of us, I’ll tip fairly well. If I don’t see a server, than maybe we’ll leave a couple bucks for the bus boy.

  8. mikey

    Tipping is now overrated and some deserve it and some do not. You have to use your knowledge to who gets a good or bad tip. You cant give a tip for someone who expects it no matter they do. And good service in my opinion is different than bad service. So I would leave a better tip for better service. Bad service deserves a bad tip. But I do think all servers deserve a tip of some sort. So yes I do and will continue to tip then because god is watching me to see how nice I can be to nice people, and to forgive the mean ones.

    • Kevin Mercadante

      Hi Mikey – I’m thankful for that sliding tip scale, and use it as a guide.

  9. Lois LaPointe

    A wise woman once told me if you can’t afford the tip, you can’t afford the drink. – I’m ashamed of people who never tip. Some of the most pleasant, but hardest working people I know work for less than $5 an hour without any paid vacation or sick leave, and frequently, if we’re able, we get a cup of coffee or latte and don’t bother to leave a tip. Shame on you. You should be leaving $1 tip for each drink, whether that’s for the glass of wine with a friend or for the latte on the way to work.

    • Kevin Mercadante

      Hi Lois – A $1 tip for a cup of coffee? If you feel led, then by all means feel free! But I don’t know if you should refrain from buying for lack of willingness to leave a dollar tip. But that’s just me.

    • Micheal

      I have worked in food and beverage for a long time and as a barista for a good amount of time. Anything is appreciated, even spare change, but baristas don’t typically work for tip as servers do. They often get paid higher hourly wages and at big chains receive benefits. Servers on the other hand do not. So leave a dollar if you want but that’s not standard. If you are at the bar, leave a dollar per drink you order. That is considered a fair standard.

    • Kevin Mercadante

      Good rule of thumb, thanks for the guidance Michael!

  10. Diana

    Knowing that the service staff receives such ridiculously low wages, and the fact that I prefer to visit restaurants during the non-busy (read: lower tip totals) times of the day, I tend to leave approximately 20%, always rounding up to the next dollar. If I truly felt the service was sub-par, then the tip will be 15%.

    If a waiter/waitress seems like he/she is having a bad day, knowing how poor his/her wages are, I like to do anything I can to make my dining experience pleasant for BOTH of us, and then, if I’m able, leave a bit extra to try to help make his/her day better. 🙂 God works through me when I’m looking for an opportunity to serve Him, and what better way to serve Him than to put a smile on the face of one of his children? Sometimes an extra buck or two can be a huge blessing!

    I go to a restaurant knowing that my meal will be approximately 20% higher than the listed price. If I can’t afford to tip, I won’t be eating at a full service restaurant.

    I’ve never been a waiter/waitress, but I sure appreciate a good one!

    • Kevin Mercadante

      Hi Diana – I agree. But it does depend on if my family is with me or not. If it is, I’m generally in the 15% range. By myself, it’s more in the 20-25% range.

  11. Mike

    I generally agree with the article. I am usually in the 15-20% range. What is your take on tipping at a buffet-style restaurant?

    • Kevin Mercadante

      Hi Mike – Depends on the service level, but I do like to leave a couple bucks for the table clearers.

  12. Angie

    Great article. What confuses me is when you order to-go meals and they give you a receipt with a place for tip. Should we or not?

    • Kevin Mercadante

      Hi Angie – I think we’re on our own to figure that out. I generally don’t tip in that situation, since I”m doing the legwork normally handled by the serving staff. The chef is better paid than the servers so I don’t know that a tip is even necessary. Some of them earn more than the patrons they cook for! But it really depends on the type of restaurant.

      If we really want to probe, we can ask, “should we tip in fast food restaurants?” I don’t, but it’s an interesting extension of the question.

  13. Micheal

    I am usually a fan of this email newsletter. This however upset me. I really feel you should have consulted with someone in the service industry. I myself am a server and have been for years. Let me explain some things.

    First of all, servers regard a 15% tip as cheap. I’m not sure where you got that number from but 20% is considered the standard decent tip. Anything less than that is frustrating, and anything less than 10% is a slap in the face.

    If you are looking for a mathematical way of doing it, bust out a calculator or simply double the bill and move the decimal over one space to the left. ie bill is 30.50, tip should be about 6 – 6.10 (30.50 x 2 = 61.00, decimal moved over = 6.1). Or some people just double the tax which is perfectly acceptable.

    Next point: Our paychecks are often $0.00. You read that right, zero dollars and zero cents. Our tips are frequently our only source of income, and we are taxed like crazy on our hours.

    Also, the difference between a cash tip and a credit card tip: The cash tip goes unclaimed which ends up being more money for us and that is what is most appreciated. If someone besides your server ends up helping you out (like a host or busser), give them an extra cash tip in hand!

    When you tip, it is usually only split between the server and busser. If the restaurant has a bartender, s/he is most likely tipped out. In certain restaurants the hosts are also tipped out a very small portion (MAYBE $10 a night).

    Your server is the liaison between the kitchen and your table. If the kitchen is messing up your server should let you know but please don’t take out your frustrations of the kitchen on your server. The kitchen will be none the wiser and the only person you will upset is your server and busser. If you have an honest problem with the kitchen or the way the restaurant is, let the manager know and they will often discount your bill or buy you a few drinks or appetizers. Please do not take your frustration out on the server unless the server is a complete jerk! In that situation, toss your busser a cash tip if they did their job because they make a lot less.

    About automatic tipping, just inquire about it if you have a large party. If you have a serious problem with it you can let the management know and they will often allow you to adjust it accordingly. Note that some snooty restaurants tack on an additional percentage for a party of two! That is the restaurant’s policy, not the server’s so again please do not take out your frustration on the server!

    If you are a no tipper, eat at home.

    To everyone that has never worked in food and beverage: we work our butts off, and it is hard work. We run around for hours on end, never being able to sit, serving needy and often times rude people, to break our backs and come home tired and aching.

    There are usually several different servers: The server working his/her way through school, the server working two food and beverage jobs, or the career server. We all work extremely hard, a lot more than you would imagine, and a 20% tip isn’t asking for much. Btw you never see us behind the scenes. When we are in the back of the house we are scrambling around, being yelled at, sweating and stressing all night. We never have weekends because those are the busy nights, and our social lives are practically nonexistent. Our bodies always hurt. People are constantly rude to us. It is difficult work and if you think it’s not, you should try it one day.

    God bless.

    • Chad

      Hi Michael,

      As I am naive about the handling of tips, please clarify your mention about “the difference between a cash tip and a credit card tip: The cash tip goes UNCLAIMED which ends up being more money for us and that is what is most appreciated”.

      As this is a Christian website and you said “God Bless” at the end of your email, I just wanted to make sure you weren’t eluding to tax evasion with the “unclaimed” comment. If so, I ‘m not sure that is the best idea to pass along. Matthew 22:15-22 discusses the Bible’s thoughts on this.

      Thanks for any information you can pass along that will educate me on the handling of tips in an “unclaimed” manner.

  14. Angie

    I found it is usually customary to give 15% right now. However, I adjust the tip depending on waitress or waiter service. If I have a problem with the food (kitchen) then I usually speak to the manager and express my problems. I just don’t leave and don’t come back because they will never know. If I have an issue with servers then I definitely adjust tips accordingly. If service is really bad, I will leave a penny to make a statement. I meant to leave you this due to your service.. which is customary. I have some friends that don’t tip at all. I have told them if they go with me, they will tip something reasonable but to leave nothing is just bad. Servers remember that and will probably give you bad service in the future.

  15. mike

    Haven’t seen it mentioned yet, servers DO get minimum wage. Law states that restaurant can only pay below it if tips don’t at least cover the difference. So if you are tipping (solely) because they make below minimum wage then you are actually typing under a false assumption.

    Personally I float between 10 and 18% based on how good the service was, with average around 15%but I hate doing it if service isnt truly above average . I prefer European style where a tip actually tells a good job done, rather than a server having to figure out what rules the customer tips under. If that means higher cost of food to cover increased wages – no problem!

    • Kevin Mercadante

      Hi Mike, when I’ve done accounting work for restaurants they typically paid the servers a minimum of 8% of sales, so they always got something.

  16. Jill B

    I agree. Tipping is part of eating out. If you can’t afford a tip, then you don’t need to be eating at restaurants.

  17. JK73072

    This is going to be a long response as I have been on all four sides of the fence…As a former server and Chef I will say this…. If your order isn’t your servers fault ( example over cooked steak) that isn’t the fault of someone who took your order. The person cooking that steak still gets the $13.00 plus an hour if the make a mostake or not. Not the server, if you reduce your tip they mow made ( perhaps lime FL $2.87 an hour. Credit Card tips are auto reported. In a location were a server holds thier own bank when they leave the owe what they sold so of they ring $500.00 in cash sales including tax then they need to pay that to leave in cash! Ithere have been nights where I was “paid to leave” my cash sales were zero or close to it. Therefor I was owed my credit cards tips. Restaurants base a servers performance on Credit Card tips as a way to rate the employee. I do agree with tipping if you know something wasn’t the fault of a server.
    Bar tenders are tipped out based on liqour sales. So plan accordingly for alchol, your server doesn’t make your drink, just like they don’t vook your food, so if your drink takes a while or isn’t the way you like it don’t blame them..
    If you run your server’s $@@ off for thois, that, and another, take into account that you are taking thw time they can spend giving good service to another table. If you tip poorly because you’re cheap that hurts the server too because thier other tables will NOW tip for poor service. The same poor service you forced the other table to receive. As a former server, I can read tables when I am out to eat I leave %25 or more in an effort to offset the poor tip they are hoing yo get from that over needy rude table next me
    Finally, if you have a coupon, recieve a discount, or od the manager takes off a meal because it had something in it tip as if that discount never was there. Your server should be tipped on the fiood they “sold”/ brought to you seeing how it is part of thier overall sales. If you habe spmething wrong woth tour food again over cooked steak, get your server involved right away. If you eat 3/4 of your steak and then ask for a new one it appears you planned it all along. Yea they are going to throw out that steak but trust me that a chef or manager will bw sure to let the kitchen know of thier mistake and the server will complain to the cook if you cost them a % of thier tip. As for an amount 18% gratuity is close to the new standard.
    Bottom line is LEAVE AT LEAST 15%. Don’t leave a $1.00 if service was bad, we would rather tipped nothing. If you can’t afford to tip then you can’t afgord to eat out either so stay home!

    • Kevin Mercadante

      Agreed on the coupon discount. Tip based on what the cost would have been had there been no coupon. Servers work harder during coupon specials.

      BTW, I’ve seen restaurants that only do business when they have coupon offers. No coupons = no business = closed doors!

  18. ERIKA

    In Oregon a server has to be paid at least min wage,

  19. Ed Smith

    I lived in Japan for nearly 40 years. They don’t expect tips, although there is a service charge for meals over about $30 (not hard to do in Japan). Once during the New Year’s holidays, I left a $5 tip for our waitress. She ran out and caught us to give it back. I agree with the problem with buffets which I figure a dollar or more per person for the beverage service. But what about tip jars at coffee places? Seems rather unnecessarily to me since you are waiting on yourself. And what about barbers, taxi-drivers and on and on? At least life in Japan was simpler without the tipping.

    • Kevin Mercadante

      Hi Ed – With regard to the tip jars, we’re on our own with tipping, so I think it’s up to the person to do what he or she feels is right.

  20. tllstaco

    My wife and I have been very blessed in our lives. We look at tipping as an opportunity to give a little of what we have to those who might need it more.

    • Kevin Mercadante

      So true. We should be generous in all areas of life, and tipping is just one opportunity.

  21. Amy

    Great article! While I’ve never waited tables myself, I have several friends that have. One, who worked at Red Lobster, told me that the servers there averaged about 8%. This in large part was due to the many people that don’t leave a tip at all. He said Sunday afternoons were the worst, when many patrons would leave a religious pamphlet instead of a tip! What kind of witness is that?!? At any rate, my rule of thumb is always start out with a 15% tip in mind. If the server is friendly, keeps my water glass full and checks back frequently, it goes up to 20%. If I have to flag them down to get my water refilled and that’s the only time I see them, a little less than 15% may be left. As the quality of the food and the wait usually has nothing to do with them, I don’t let that affect my tip. If something is wrong with my meal, and they have the manager reduce the charge, I usually will throw in an extra $5 – 10 for the server. Also, keep in mind, with large groups and that standardized tip rate, if you feel the server is undeserving of that, have the manager come over and explain exactly why you don’t feel they’re entitled to it. Usually, the manager will adjust the tip down, plus you’ve let them know where improvement is needed. Waiting tables is a tough job and they certainly deserve to earn more than the $3/hr most of them get “paid.”

    • Kevin Mercadante

      Hi Amy – The 8% minimum is what I’m familiar with from the accounting side of restaurants. The IRS would never buy anything less!

  22. Erin

    I generally agree with your opinions as a diner. I begin with 15% and go up if necessary. One reason I leave more is if my party stays a long time. In most casual restaurants it is important to turn the table over several times and if my party stays a long time beyond the end of our meal, I will leave 25% or more. Especially if the server has not rushed me in any way.

    Now as the owner of a small full service cafe, with prices ranging from $8 – $22 I have some information that might be useful to your readers. Our servers are paid $1- $2 per hour less than minimum wage with the expectation that they will make around $5 – $8 above their base pay with tips. Let me be clear, it is my responsibility as the owner to make sure that my staff makes at least minimum wage. Therefore, if at the end of the day, the employee does not make minimum wage with base pay plus tips, I increase their base pay to equal minimum wage.

    To your point of either not tipping for bad service or tipping less for bad service, I don’t disagree with your right to do that, however as the owner of a restaurant, I would prefer that in addition you speak to myself or the manager and express your dissatisfaction with the service. It would help me immensely to know what problems you might have as a diner as well as any issues I may have with an employee.

    Regarding the automatic tip for larger groups, you are correct in assuming that one reason is the extra work larger groups require. Also, often a server has to give up serving other tables in order to properly service a larger group. It is our practice that if a large group leaves a cash tip on the table when the gratuity is included in the bill, we make them aware and return the cash. If, they have already gone, we keep the cash tip and do not run the credit card tip. We have no wish to overcharge the diner. Again, if your service for a large group is sub par, then your have every right not to agree to pay the pre-billed gratuity and you should, again ask to speak to the manager or owner to discuss your dissatisfaction.

    My only concern with using tipping as a way to punish poor service, is that the restaurant owner is possibly unaware of the problems you had as a diner. As an owner, I am always interested in the performance of our staff and the restaurant as a whole. All diner comments are welcome. Please tell me before you turn to social media to voice your dissatisfaction.


    • Kevin Mercadante

      Hi Erin – the few times I’ve had issues with a server, and didn’t leave a tip, I always told the manager. I agree, the manager needs to know.

      Your story highlights that fact that there are different practices in different restaurants as to how tips are handled. Employee compensation varies from one restaurant to another.

      I’ve known people who couldn’t make any money at restaurant X, but others who make executive level incomes at Restaurant Y.

  23. Kevin Barron

    Years ago, my wife and I ate in a small mom-and-pop restaurant at a small town in Iowa. The waitress brought our food and deserted us! She sat at the other end of the room with another worker, gossiping and ignoring us, not refilling our drinks, not checking on us, nothing! I wanted to leave her a penny tip, but my wife talked me into no tip at all. Only time I can recall not leaving a tip!

    • Kevin Mercadante

      Hi Kevin – My opinion is that you did the right thing. If she was gossping with a co-worker, then she wasn’t working. When we tip for poor service, all we do is ensure more poor service.

  24. Dave

    We tend to be very friendly towards waiters/waitresses and strike up conversations where possible. To us that is part of the dining experience. We typically tip 20% as a standard but adjust down for just run-of-the-mill service. Sometimes they could be just having a bad day or maybe that had a rush on the restaurant the hour before we arrived and they are stressed or tired. We’ve rarely experienced really bad service. The one I can remember was a waiter at a steakhouse who tried to memorize the orders for at least a dozen people. He got everything messed up and it took other wait staff to straighten it out. They said he was trying to practice for working at a really upscale restaurant. He had a ways to go for sure. Anyway, back to tipping, we’ll certainly round up from the 20% for friendly service that was reasonably fast. Anyone in American culture should realize that these hard-working folks (in most cases) depend on tips to make a living. Sometimes these folks may even be working multiple jobs to make ends meet.

    • Kevin Mercadante

      Hi Dave – I usually take that into account as well, that sometimes the reason for the sub-par service isn’t the servers fault. Sometimes it is the kitchen, management, one or more people sicking out, or a surge of business.

  25. Lorraine

    I saw a segment in Bloomberg about tipping. There are hits and misses.

    The host pointed out that tipping is not required (true!) and what you tip is actually what you earned.

    When you think about it, how come you don’t get tipped for a job well done. It’s the clients’ or the company’s prerogative to give you bonuses or incentives for a job well done. Maybe this can be implemented in restaurants as well.

    The host also said that he’s tipping for the service and it’s his choice what amount he should give. (agree!)

    I am probably considered a bad tipper but when a service is outstanding, I get to be lenient. I don’t want to tip a restaurant with bad service nor would I come back. I wouldn’t be surprise also if that said restaurant closes.

    Personally, I think would think twice about tipping. Some restaurants require, others don’t. But I would limit going to restaurants if one wants to save. You don’t want your earnings go to tips too.

    • Kevin Mercadante

      Hi Lorraine – That’s part of the tension with tipping. You want to go out to eat, but you also want to stay in some kind of budget when you do. Compounding the problem is that many restaurants raise their prices suddenly and dramatically. If I discover that a favorite restaurant just raised their prices by 15-20% accross the board – which seems inexplicably common – my tip won’t be as generous and I may cross that place off my list of preferred eateries and not come back.

  26. Tyler Gray

    As Christians, I think we should be seen as the most generous of all people because of how generous God has been to us with his grace and mercy. This conviction is why my wife and I generally leave 15-20% for “standard” service and even more for exceptional service. If we can’t afford to tip that much, we simply don’t eat out that week or month.

    The reason we do this is due to something that hasn’t been discussed yet:
    the impact of tipping on our witness as Christians.

    Let’s say for a moment that a waiter or waitress isn’t at the “top of their game” because they are having a bad day. Maybe they found out a close family member is sick or just passed away, or maybe they are just having “one of those days” (We’ve all had them!).

    By the end of the meal, it’s obvious that the service they provided was sub-par, to say the least.

    Now, which option would be a better witness for Christ AND help improve the service next time you come in…

    1) Leave less than the standard 15%, or perhaps even no tip, with no explanation.


    2) Leave the standard 15% AND explain to the server that you would have tipped more, but because of reasons x, y, z, you felt the service could have been better.

    Granted, there will still be people who think “I don’t care buddy, just give me my tip.” But I’d rather run the risk that my tip and explanation were in vain, rather than run the risk that my LACK of a tip kept someone from coming into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.

    The last thing we should want as Christians is to be seen as “stingy.”

    Imagine where we’d be if God was “stingy” with us with His grace?

    • Kevin Mercadante

      Hi Tyler – I agree on all counts. I tend to be friendly in general, and especially with people who I do business with, like servers. I’ve found that if you maintain a dialogue with them during your meal, they will often fess up about a problem they’re facing. That can cause me to increase a tip.

      But I also think that being open and listening to a server, especially one in some level of distress, is a form of compensation. As servers they’re supposed to be upbeat all the time, and when you allow them to let their hair down and be human, you may be the best customer they’ve waited on all week. So many customers are rude and insensitive. I think this is an excellent witness platform, even more so than leaving a large tip.

      Sometimes, we all need someone to listen to us. Maybe we can also make ourselves available to help with what ever problem they’re facing. That’s a witness!

    • Ron K

      Excellent thoughts. The Old Testament warns repeatedly about not helping the poor or withholding their wages. To not tip properly is to withhold a part of the wages which should have been paid to the server.

      My niece was a waitress for several years. She was an excellent server and made nice wages at a family style restaurant. The worst tippers—people who arrived for Sunday lunch after attending church services. What does that say?

      In many eating establishments servers have to arrive hours beforehand to do “set up.” It takes a lot of work, hustling around, to get everything ready for the rush of patrons. Siverware and napkins don’t roll themselves together. Condiments don’t automatically re-fill themselves. Having all the needed items ready and in their proper places takes time and effort and there are no tips for this.

      After the main meals are finished many servers are required to help clean up the dining areas and do other jobs for which there is no tip.

      Who wants the level of service that comes with minimum wage? Good servers should be paid more than the person just starting a job at McDonald’s.

      A message for servers: Smile and over deliver to your customer what is expected . You will make more money. Regular patrons will ask to be seated in the area you serve—and many will add extra to their tip.

      A message to owners: Hire sunshine. A sourpuss will ruin your business; everyone you hire should have a “sunny” disposition and good work ethic. This is especially true of the host/hostess, wait staff, and anyone around the customers. Fire anyone who bickers with a customer or another employee in earshot of other customers. This is most uncomfortable for diners and I refuse to go back to places like this.

      Minimum tip if you sit and order anything, regardless of how inexpensive it is: $1.00 breakfast; $1.50-$2.00 lunch, $2.00 dinner. Made up my own rule. I tip 20% normally and vary slightly from that depending on the level of service.

      If you can’t tip, don’t eat out.

    • Kevin Mercadante

      Hi Ron – Interesting about that Sunday church lunch crowd, but I’m not surprised. I used to hang out at the restaurant my wife worked out after hours, and it was interesting to hear the consistentcy of the comments made by the waitstaff. There were certain dining groups that servers preferred to get based on tipping habits. Groups of businessmen were the most generous, groups of senior citizens were the least. Since the after church lunch crowd is often comprised of seniors, this may explain the low tipping, They don’t have as much money as businessmen with expense accounts do!

      As to “hiring sunshine”, one of my best friends works at a fairly high end restaurant, and knows how to do the job right. He makes a living wage at it but does it less than full time. A good server can make a lot of money.

  27. Terri

    TIPS-to insure proper service

  28. Susan McDonnell

    Where I live tipping is generally 10 to 15%. However, when I tip here where I live, it is divided up amongst not only the waitress or waiter, but also the cook, the bartender and even the manager/owner. I do NOT agree with this practice especially since the cook gets a much better wage than the waiter/waitress. So most of the time I just leave the minimum of 10%. Frustrating because I’d leave more if I knew it was only going to the waitstaff…

    • Kevin Mercadante

      Hi Susan – I’ve seen that as well. At the beginning of the post I made it clear that the views I’d give are based on my opinion – when it comes to tipping there are no hard and fast rules. How it’s handled by the restaurant even varies from one establishment to another. Tipping is a practice, not a law, so there’s a lot of variation accross the board.

  29. April

    My father, a long haul truck driver who frequently eats out, is of the opinion that if you leave no tip at all the waitstaff will assume that You are the problem not them. You are a thoughtless jerk rather than them providing lousy service. So he will take a handful of change out of his pocket and leave only the pennies as evidence of his dissatisfaction. He always tips for good service but I doubt he calculates a percentage.

    • Kevin Mercadante

      That’s BRILLIAN April. Your dad is a very wise man!

  30. Mike

    I want to see if any one has ever heard of the wait staff not receiving the tips? I live in a small town, so there are only a few restaurants to pick from that aren’t fast food. My favorite one is a Mexican restaurant, and I know all the wait staff as well as the owner/managers.

    I have had several of the wait staff tell me they don’t get any of the tips left on the table. So I don’t leave any tip. It doesn’t affect the service I get. They are always friendly to me and my wife and give us great service. I just don’t see a point in tipping when it won’t go to the staff.

    Has anyone ever heard of this? I tip 15-20% at all other restaurants.

    • Kevin Mercadante

      Hi Mike – I have seen that situation. But the restaurant business is not a standard industry accross the board and all are run a bit differently. You mentioned a Mexican restaurant, and that’s a clue. When restaurants are staffed by immigrant labor, the employees are often paid “in kind”. The owner may keep the tips – which isn’t as evil as it seems on the surface.

      Since many of the employees are struggling in a new country, the owner often provides shelter, transportation, food, cash (apart from wages) and even citizenship sponsorship.

      The employees of such establishments are often more enthusiastic than servers working on straight tips. The owner is paying them with benevolence, rather than with wages (though there usually are wages too). That’s usually more beneficial to the employees than more generous wages.

  31. Steph

    I don’t agree with those who don’t tip – no matter what – for the precise reasons you stated here in your blog. I have known in the past several women who have no other skills (untrained) so they can’t get a job that pays more. These same women are usually single mothers – their choice or not but still. The IRS automatically assesses 8% of their total served for their shift so it is a double whammy (I think they still do this?) – a loss for them if a person doesn’t tip at all. I get not tipping if the service is poor, etc. but as you stated, there are times that poor service is out of their control. Excellent guidelines, by the way.

  32. Jessica

    I am a server and I make 3.85 and hour. Yes I believe servers should be tipped based on there service however what a lot of people fail to realize is we have to tip out on our food sales to the busser and alcohol sales to the bartender. So if a table leaves a low tip or none at all I have just paid for them to eat. In our establishment it is essential to add 18% gratituity to party’s to ensure we don’t lose our nights wages tipping out on a 200$ bill. I try to always give exceptional service but yes it takes the restaurant as a whole to accomplish that. I rely on the busters the cooks the bartenders to do there job, because if they are off then it reflects badly on me. Just think of this next time you are out in a restaurant

    • Kevin Mercadante

      Hi Jessica – Thanks for that explanation – it’s a compelling reason to always leave a tip and to give the benefit of the doubt to the server.

  33. Anton Ivanov

    I usually tip between 10-20% for poor-excellent service. I still leave around 10% if the service was bad because, like you mentioned, it may not be entirely the waitress’s fault. I probably could tip more for excellent service, but I guess I’m cheap like that.

  34. Katie

    two reasons i tip:

    first — right, wrong or the other — this is how the system works, how servers earn their wages.

    second, for me, it is an expression of gratitude, that i can afford to eat out at a restaurnat and be waited on, a sign of the abundance in my life.

    additionally, to not want to tip for good or great service is, i believe, a belief in lack and limitation — there’s not enough. which God is not aobut.

  35. Aaron

    I’m not sure if you saw the article “Tipping Is an Abomination” (http://www.slate.com/articles/business/moneybox/2013/07/abolish_tipping_it_s_bad_for_servers_customers_and_restaurants.html) but it illuminates all the reasons that tipping is backward and ineffective. The most important reason is that tipping has only a 1-5% effect on the quality of service you receive.

    “Studies have shown that tipping is not an effective incentive for performance in servers. It also creates an environment in which people of color, young people, old people, women, and foreigners tend to get worse service than white males. In a tip-based system, nonwhite servers make less than their white peers for equal work. Consider also the power imbalance between tippers, who are typically male, and servers, 70 percent of whom are female, and consider that the restaurant industry generates five times the average number of sexual harassment claims per worker.”

    I would love for the United States to get rid of tipping altogether. In every other profession, employees earn a salary. If they do a bad job, their bosses get angry and fire them. If they do a good job, they get accolades and promotions. As another article put it: “The next time you see your doctor, ask her if she wouldn’t do better-quality work if she made minimum wage, with the rest of her income from her patients’ tips. I suspect the answer will be a version of “no.””

    Until we get rid of tipping, I tip 20% at a minimum and more if the service is good. Usually this works out to only a few dollars more than a smaller tip, but it is a great way to show the server that you care about them.

  36. Kevin Mercadante

    Hi Aaron, I don’t disagree with what you’re saying, but tipping is the system we have to work within. With the job market being as soft as it is, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for tipping to go away either. Contingent income is becoming a larger part of a lot of incomes these days.