No More iPhone Gratuity Apps! The Ultimate Guide to Restaurant Tipping

June 28, 2012 9:54 PM EDT | By Anthony Smith
Don't shortchange this gentleman. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Sure, there's an app for that, but there really doesn't need to be. This quick, easy guide to how to tip at restaurants will not only ease you from the stress of doing too much math, it'll encourage you to invest more in your relationship with the person that brings you your food and makes sure everything's okay. That may sound like you'll be spending more money on a tip-- and in some cases, it certainly will-- but just as you'd spend a little more money on exceptional food, you should also spend a little money on exceptional service.

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But here's everything you need to know to make the correct decision on how much to tip a waiter at a restaurant, your bartender, your delivery person, or your barista at a coffee shop.

1. If there's a tip jar, leave a dollar.

Coffee shops have tip jars, food trucks have tip jars, and food stands at festivals have tip jars. In many cases, the people that greet you and serve you are also the people that serve you your food. They not only have to be the face and personality of their brand, they're also responsible for the product. You may not be sitting down at a table; in fact the exchange may take no more than three minutes, start-to-finish. Leave something to reflect the fact that you were given service, exemplary or otherwise.

2. Well, sure, but what do I leave a bartender?

That all depends. There are tiers.

Tier 1

Did you order a beer or a well-drink at happy hour? A buck or two per drink will suffice, depending on how deep your pocket runs that day. The highest-end drink that falls into this category is the Long Island Iced Tea. Everything that runs the gamut from a shot/beer to a Long Island Iced Tea falls into this category.

Tier 2

If it's a cocktail that required a bit more effort (everything from a martini up), then you're going to tip 15% of your overall bill. Chances are that if you're sitting down for cocktails, you're not going to be ordering just one. If it is just one, three bucks should suffice just fine.

Tier 3

Someone brought drinks to your table. Even if there was no food, tip 20%. Tip 20% each time.

3. Hold on a second-- I heard something about tax-times-two. Can you speak to that?

Tax-times-two is, more often than not, a bad tip. It's the least you can tip and get away with it. That should be reserved for low-end-of-mediocre to weak service.

The tip you want to be giving closer to is twenty percent of your bill. That's standard. If you had a good feeling about the waiter-- if ze asked questions about how everything was going, if the service team poured you water when you needed water, then give twenty percent.

I don't mean to be condescending, but there's a fast way to work that out mathematically. Let's say your bill is 67.59, and you're scrambling for your calculator.

Just move the decimal over to the left (67.59 becomes 6.759) and double that number in your head (13.518). Since you shouldn't tip with coins, round it to the nearest dollar.

Allocate $14 for your gratuity.

4. Well, yeah, but what if they deserve a little more or a little less?

Was your service very good? Give your waiter 25%. Was it the absolute most amazing best you've ever had in your entire life, or were you with someone who was giving the waiter too much grief? Assess that for yourself and give a little more than 25%. 30% should be the absolute highest you ever tip anyone, and that's if they turned your water into wine at the table, or some other miracle.

Was it barely serviceable? If your waiter didn't seem like ze cared, but everything came out to you as it should have, give 15%. It's a lower tip, without being disrespectful, but it sends a message for next time-- one that says you weren't satisfied this time around, but you have faith in the chance for improvement.

If your service was bad, just give 10% and call it a day.

5. My waiter was the worst ever, and said some really awful things to me, and also insulted my child.

Okay, this happens once or twice a lifetime-- you get a waiter that's more concerned with becoming your mortal enemy than bringing you food. Never, ever, ever leave without tipping. 

More often than not, at the end of an evening, people pool their tips and split them. Punishing one person punishes everyone-- and you can't speak to everyone's service, just your own.

You do have a responsibility to complain, though. Speak to the manager. Speak to the host. Speak to anyone. Just never make the mistake of not paying gratuity.

6. What about delivery people?

Sure, they're not handling quality control. But they're doing a job that you can't be bothered to do, so please tip them something that reflects that. 15% is good if the place is reasonably close. 20% is good if it's far away.

Your food taking a long time to get to you is hardly ever the delivery person's fault, so don't punish that person by paying less.

Do punish the person if ze has an attitude. I've never understood mean delivery people, but it happens so much more often than waiters. They'll be awful towards you before you decide how much to give them, as if that isn't going to factor into your decision.

Hope this helped!


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