Friday, January 15, 2010

The Big, Bad Topic of Tipping: Part One - Restaurants and Bars

First off I want to thank everyone for their comments, questions, and suggestions for topics. I love hearing from you so keep it coming.

One recent request was to discuss tipping. I’ve been somewhat afraid of this topic for a couple of reasons: A: it is a personal topic and B: there are endless things to discuss; from maids to garbage removers…there are just dozens to discuss. Never fear though…I’ve read up, pondered, procrastinated, and provided. Here is part one of my tipping posts. This first post is dedicated to restaurant staff.

Peggy Post was kind enough to break it down slowly for us and provided a few guidelines that are straightforward:

[These are verbatim so I’m giving my credit to Emily Post’s Etiquette 17th Edition]

  • When in doubt about tipping, ask in advance. If a department store has scheduled delivery of some new furniture, call and ask someone in the department whether tipping is customary; in a hair salon, ask the receptionist. In other cases, ask how much to tip and even whether you should tip at all; in some situations, tipping is not only discouraged but could be seen as demeaning.
  • Tip on the pre-tax amount of the bill, not on the total.
  • Tip discreetly. Tipping is a private matter; don’t play the big spender who likes to flash bills.
  • Money is the tip of choice in most cases, but sometimes a small gift, usually given during the holidays, can be substituted. Peggy says that a gift is a good way to “top off” the tips you’ve given over the year—to your hairdresser or barber, for example.

Restaurants and Bars

Differences in tipping rates vary less by region than by whether you’re in a large city, small town, or rural area. The minimum standard for acceptable wait service in restaurants anywhere in the United States is fifteen percent of the bill before tax, not on the sum total. In large cities such as New York, Chicago, Boston etc., fifteen to twenty percent is standard.


When the restaurant is self-service – ten percent is sufficient for the server getting your beverages, answering questions etc.

When the waiter has been exceptionally accommodating – consider topping your tip off by a few dollars

When a gratuity has been already added to the bill – you can decide to leave something additional if you feel service has been exceptional

When your stay at a crowded restaurant is lengthy – the wait staff hopes the tables turn quickly so if you stay longer than normal consider adding an additional fifteen percent to your tip as a thank you

When your meal costs far less than the restaurant’s average – When you’re eating light this may mean a lower day’s take for your waiter. The same happens when you use a coupon. Thoughtful diners will leave a tip commensurate with a full-course meal.

Hosts, Hostesses, and Maitre d’s

Tipping a host/hostess is not customary in North America. If you are a frequent guest at a particular restaurant, know the host/hostess, and they take special care of you, then a $10-$20 tip every once in a while is a nice gesture. When you’re not acquainted with the host, a tip is in order only if he’s gone out of his way to find a table for you on a busy night when you’ve arrived without a reservation. You can offer $10 or $15 after you’ve been shown to your table and if your party is large consider adding more.

Peggy reminds us that offering a host you’ve never seen before a “$20 handshake” to get table on a busy night may be seen as an insult. It is in your best interest to not do this, as you’ll also anger other waiting patrons.


Customarily each drink you order should be matched with a one-dollar tip (smaller towns can suffice with 50 cents or more). If you have an open tab at a bar, tipping the standard fifteen to twenty percent of the total bill is sufficient. If the bartender hasn’t charged you for a drink or two, be sure to add additional dollars to your total tip amount.

Checkroom and Washroom Attendants

If the attendant simply hands you a paper towel a 50-cent tip is sufficient but if they do more for you a dollar or two will do. When checking a coat, a dollar per coat is all sufficient.

Valet Parkers

Tip the parking attendant $1 in smaller cities and $2 in larger cities per car. Give the tip when the car is brought to you and not when you drop it off.


Busboys are generally tipped out by servers and bartenders, so no extra tip is needed. If they go above and beyond for you (such as a spilled drink) then you should leave a few extra bucks for them specifically.

When to Tip Less

Okay, I know you’ve all been waiting for this part. We’ve all had those experiences where we feel like we shouldn’t leave any tip at all and you almost want to talk to the manager. Most likely you do end up leaving a tip and don’t speak to the manager because for the most part it isn’t the servers fault…right? Well, maybe right.

Here is the scoop!

When you convey your unhappiness through a tip consider how well the wait staff addressed your problem. If there was a successful resolution, tip the full amount. If your waiter got only so-so results but doesn’t deserve all the blame, you might reduce the top to ten percent. Peggy Post says if the problem wasn’t taken care of or your waiter was impolite, tipping eight percent is the “fairest” monetary expression of your dissatisfaction. (According to the IRS, most restaurants report eight percent of their take as wait staff income, so reducing the top any further actually costs the server.) Leaving no tip may cause your server to think you forgot and your point will be lost. Peggy also says leaving a penny or other small means of a tip just is down right…nasty! Yes, she said…nasty.

So, there it is folks. Send questions, comments, and concerns. And, I can say being a server is a TOUGH job so always tip the max if your experience was enjoyable.

Our next tipping topic will deal with traveling.

Thanks for reading.


  1. This is incredibly valuable information! As a member of the restaurant service industry, I definitely agree with your tipping strategies! We live OFF OUR TIPS!!!!!!!

    love, kat

  2. Good post. I think an obvious, but important, point to make, is to make sure to have small bills if you're going out for an evening. I think people rely so heavily on "plastic" now that they often find themselves without the bills to tip in situations such as valeting or at a coat check. Then you're in the awkward position of not wanting to give a $20, not wanting to ask for change, and not wanting to stiff the person.

    Also, I think that with regard to leaving a lower tip as a sign of dissatisfaction, it's a lot more valuable to the server to be told what you're displeased with. If you don't, but then leave, say, 10%, they're just left wondering what happened and can't correct the issue for the future. So I think it does you, the server, and the restaurant a favor to be assertive about the issue. Then tip as you please.

    Tipping is tricky business! Thanks for covering it, Leigh!

  3. Thanks for this. When I wrote on my blog that you should tip more when camping, one woman commented that she shouldn't tip more if she's just sitting there and not getting anymore service from the server. She also bristled at my suggestion that if your kids make a mess you should tip more for the trouble. Some people just don't get it. Love your site and Facebook page.

  4. Thanks for your comment, Anton. I checked out your blog to and you have great content!