Tipping is a vital part of the restaurant industry and, as opposed to the prices on a menu, there’s no set amount listed for how much you should pay. For many people, tipping is still a huge gray area, so we’re making it easy for you by breaking down how much to tip in just about every circumstance.
Restaurant critic Adam Platt recently penned a long article for Grub Street exploring the practice of tipping, which he calls “sheepish, counterintuitive behavior.” And last year Pete Wells called it “irrational, outdated, ineffective, confusing, prone to abuse and sometimes discriminatory,” in the Times. Even though it’s not practiced in many parts of the world, tipping is still going strong in the U.S. Although a handful of high-end restaurants (Per Se, Alinea, and The French Laundry, to name a few) have done away with tipping and instead tack on a service charge or include the cost of service in the price, at just about every restaurant, bar, and coffee shop, you’re going to need to leave a tip, like it or not.
Even if you believe that tipping is an inconvenient and outdated practice, it’s still something that you’re bound to encounter quite often, so you might as well become a master of what to tip in every situation. There’s no official rulebook for how much to tip; it’s largely dependent on the quality of the service, but there are baselines for everything. For example, plenty of people think that a dollar per drink at a bar is acceptable, but that’s just not the case in every situation.
To determine the right amount to tip a waiter, a bartender, or a barista, we reached out to multiple members of the service industry (who chose to remain anonymous) to get their takes on how much to tip. We also pulled data from multiple online surveys and polls of industry workers regarding how much customers usually tip, and how much is preferred. So read on, and the next time you find yourself rummaging through your pockets to tip the delivery guy, or calculating the tip on that lengthy bar tab, you’ll know exactly how much to fork over.
“Twenty percent is the new normal, not a nice tip,” one industry veteran told us, and that’s certainly the case. “I tip 25 to 30 percent every time, because I know how hard the industry is,” he added. While you’re certainly not obligated to tip 30 percent, going past 20 is par for the course for good service. Most waiters depend on tips in order to make a living, and even if service is poor it’s not always the server’s fault. We wouldn’t advise venturing any lower than 17 percent.
If you’re just picking up a sandwich from the local deli, leaving a tip isn’t a necessity, but a buck or two is always appreciated. If you’re picking up a large order, however, you should plan on tipping at least 10-15 percent, because boxing up all that food isn’t easy and takes up valuable time.
This article was originally published in November 2014.