To Tip or Not to Tip?: A 21st Century Guide to Gratuity Etiquette

June 28, 2016

To tip or not to tip, that is the question. The answer? Well that depends. It depends on a lot of factors like where you are, who you are, how you were raised, and what you do for a living and that’s just naming a few of the things that make up our internal tipping code of conduct.

Tipping in the U.S. began after the Civil War. It was a practice that well-to-do Americans picked up in Europe and brought to the U.S. as a way to show they were cultured and worldly. At the time in Europe it was customary for drinkers to slip money to the waiter “to insure promptitude” or T.I.P. for short. By the 1890’s many American’s were appalled by the notion of tipping and a movement began across the county to ban the practice and several states banned tipping. However, by 1926 all laws restricting tipping were repealed and since then tipping has become a regular and expected practice in the U.S. Today, deciding who to tip, when to tip and how much to tip has become quite the question. Here are some tips (pun intended) to navigate 21st century tipping and gratuity etiquette.

Sit-Down/ Table Service Restaurants
If you are going to a sit-down restaurant (with a few exceptions), you should be expecting to tip your server. In Colorado 20% is considered a normal tip but across the U.S. 15-20% of your total bill is considered fair.

When tipping at sit-down restaurants you should always consider the service you receive but you should also keep in mind that everyone has bad days, especially in the service industry. Often times your server has no control over things like poor kitchen staffing or unexpectedly large groups or crowds. So evaluate if your service was truly that terrible before tipping. You should also keep in mind the adage “that if you can’t afford to tip your server, you can’t afford to go to a sit-down restaurant.” Too often people think they are saving money by not tipping their server but at the end of the day servers depend on tips to make a living and you should consider this part of the expense of going out to a sit-down restaurant. Still, everyone has had at least one bad experience at a sit-down restaurant and in those cases, tip 10%. If you are so unhappy with your service that you are considering not tipping or leaving less than 10% you should probably speak with a manager and explain your displeasure. Servers don’t just assume you think they did a bad job, they are more likely to assume that:

A. You forgot

B. Someone else pocketed it or

C. You’re cheap

So if you had a bad experience you should speak up and not just quietly protest, your server probably won’t get the memo otherwise.

As I mentioned there are a few exceptions. Some sit-down restaurants have banned tipping in favor of service charges or higher menu prices so make sure to check. You should also make sure that the gratuity has not already been added to your bill, which many restaurants do for large tables. If there is a tip already added to your bill it is up to you if the server deserves more than that.

Buffet Restaurants
Buffet Restaurants are a bit of a grey area. Most people agree that you do not need to tip at a buffet restaurant however a fair amount of people think it is still a good idea to leave a small tip for the staff who are clearing tables and making sure buffet items are stocked. The typical rule of thumb at buffets is $1- $2 per diner or 5-10% of your bill.

Counter Service/Fast Casual Restaurants/Carry Out
More and more counter services restaurants have started adding tip jars to the counter or tip lines to credit card receipts, leaving customers to question if they should be tipping in these types of establishments. The quick answer is no, you do not need to tip in these situations. When someone is only handing you a tray or bag of food there is no difference in you going to the grocery store and getting a premade sandwich from the deli. Just because they made it and put it in a bag does not necessarily mean you should tip them. I mean think about it, you don’t tip at the grocery store do you? That being said everybody appreciates a little bit extra so if you asked for a really complicated order or asked them to change a bunch of stuff, throwing them $1 or $2 is a nice gesture. It says hey “I know I was just a pain in you’re a** so here’s a little something to make up for it!” It is also a good idea to tip if the service was above and beyond your expectations!

Tipping for delivery is like tipping in a sit-down restaurant, you should always be expecting to tip. That pizza guy (or girl) just saved you a trip out of your house; you didn’t even need to put on real pants. Not only did he/she bring you food but it was brought right to your door. So in short you should tip for delivered food and you should tip at least 20%, more if the weather is truly atrocious.

As bars become more diverse this question has become more difficult to answer. Next time you are at a bar, consider the type of bar and the type of drink before tipping. If you are ordering a basic drink or something where the bartender only had to pop the top on a long neck bottle, a $1 tip is still standard although $2 is rapidly becoming more common for any drink. In expensive parts of town $2 a drink is the new normal. If you are ordering a fancy cocktail you should be tipping at least $2 or 20%. Consider the amount of work that went into your drink. The more work the bartender had to do for you, the less time they were able to spend with other customers and you should tip according to their efforts. If you are in a swanky beer bar and you order a high end beer consider tipping $2 rather than $1. Pouring beer may seem easy but a lot of craft beers take more skill to pour right especially anything on nitro.

If your bartender gave you a free shot or a discounted price, tip based off of what your bill should have been not on what it actually was. Just because you aren’t paying for the drink doesn’t mean your bartender didn’t put in the work to serve it to you. This is true of happy hour too; happy hour prices don’t mean happy hour tips. Tip based off the drink you got not just the price you paid. And finally if you are looking for your new personal version of Cheers, as in you want to be considered a “regular” or “local”, tip your bartender 30-40%. They will notice and they will reward you on future visits. Bartenders I spoke with admitted to tipping 30-40% anytime they get good service and sometimes even more! They know how hard the job is and they tip accordingly!

Hair and Beauty Salons
You should tip at hair salons but how much depends on the place, its size and the location. Overall 20% seems to be the standard tip at the salon. The more you like your stylist and the more your stylist does for you, the more you should consider tipping. If you are at a low-key walk-in salon you may not need to tip as much but you should be tipping something. The same is true of nail salons; you should tip 20%+.

Ultimately it is optional to tip when visiting a hotel but many people still do. In general people in any area of service appreciate a tip for a job well done, so if you can spare it, consider tipping at the next hotel you visit. If you are going to tip the housekeeping staff you should leave a tip daily when you leave your room. You may have different people servicing your room each day so you shouldn’t wait until your last day. Leave $1-$5 a day depending on the type of hotel and leave it with a note or somewhere that is obvious. Tipping the concierge should be based on how involved the service was; $5-$10 is pretty standard. Courtesy shuttle drivers should be tipped $1-$2 per rider or $5 for a group. Valet attendants should be tipped $2-$5 anytime your car is delivered to you.

Bellstaff/Porters should be tipped $1-$5 per bag when they are delivered to your room and again if you request your bags be picked up upon your departure. If the door person calls you a taxi or unloads your bags $1-$2 is appropriate. If you request that special items be delivered to your room, plan on tipping $2-$5 depending on the number of items and the complexity of those items. This only applies if this was something above and beyond, if you request something that was missing from your room you shouldn’t tip for that. When it comes to eating or drinking in a hotel you definitely need to tip. Apply the same rules for tipping at hotel restaurants, bars and delivery as you would for any other type of dining situation, in other words tip 15-20% of your bill.
The Final Bill
I think one of the most important things to remember is to always treat people in tipped positions with respect. Tipped employees do appreciate money but they also appreciate respect. In general people in the service industry are grateful for any tip you are willing to give them, especially when they do a good job. Tipping is how you show your gratitude. Public opinion on tipping is constantly in flux. In general you should consider tipping people who are helpful in some way. If the person doesn’t help you out, don’t tip them. At the end of the day, tipping is a choice and a way to show you appreciate the work of someone in a service industry.

What are your tips (pun intended again) on tipping? Share your thoughts in the comments.