A definitive guide to tipping at restaurants, because we know you have questions
Paying the check at the end of a meal can make you sweat when you’re trying to figure out what to tip. Do you move the decimal over? Add a zero to the first number on the check? Call your mom for help? While there are plenty of ways to decide how much to tip at restaurants, there are a few etiquette and cultural rules you’ll want to follow to make sure you’re tipping properly. Unfortunately, some customers choose to make their own rules.
A recent Twitter post from CNBC on this topic caused an uproar: it offered a “hack” diners could use to save money, but ultimately, the trick amounted to tipping your server less. As you can imagine, this didn’t go well on Twitter. With more than 5 million views and 7,000 comments, people obviously had thoughts on the matter.
Some on Twitter said there were better ways to save money that didn’t involve skimping on the tip:
While others emphasized that 20% should be the minimum to tip servers:
Either way, this might be the conversation the CNBC team is having right now:
While we’re on the topic, we thought it might be a good idea to lay out the rules of tipping etiquette, once and for all, so we connected with a few experts to build a definitive guide to tipping in restaurants. Let this be your one-stop shop for all your restaurant tipping needs. Make sure to send this to your grandma, too, and thank us later (love you, grandma).
The golden rule.
At the end of the day, experts agree it’s customary to tip anywhere between 15-20%. Anything lower could seriously affect your servers’ pockets. “Typically, you’ll find that restaurants will require you to tip 18-20% for large parties. But tipping can go anywhere from 15-20% or more. You should always tip your server, because, in America, this is how they make their living. They don’t [always earn minimum wage], so the money that you give is spent on the time they’re serving you,” says etiquette expert and founder of The Swann School of Protocol, Elaine Swann.
One thing to keep in mind is that some servers are required to tip out bussers, food runners, and barbacks at the end of each shift—from their own tips. This is based on their total sales, whether they get a 15-20% tip or not. “[Most] front-of-house staff (servers and bartenders) have to tip out between 20-24% of their total sales into the tip pool, which consists of bussers, runners, bartenders, hosts. [For instance], if total sales for the night are $2,000, credit card tips should be (if all guests tip 20%) $400. From that $400, my tip out to the pool would be $80. $320 will go onto [my] check, then be taxed,” says Samantha, a bar supervisor and head bartender in New York City.
What if you’re sitting at a table for hours?
Well, that’s when things get technical. Because servers depend on turning over tables to make money, it’s important to be mindful of how long you’re there. If you’re catching up with someone and hours have gone by, experts believe it’s a good idea to leave a minimum of 20% or above. “If you are commandeering a table for a longer amount of time than normal—more than an hour if it’s during the day, or two hours plus if it’s at night—and you feel like your server has been doing a great job and notice the tables around you are turning over, it’s good practice to leave a larger tip, because you spent so much time at that particular table,” says Swann.
Is it better to tip on the pre- or post-tax amount? What about tipping with cash or credit?
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to this. Most experts agree that either is fine. While some servers and bartenders get to go home with 100% of their tips, some restaurants add their credit card tips onto their weekly or bi-weekly checks, which gets taxed and deducts from the tip. While there’s no way to know this while you dine, there’s no harm in double-checking with your server if they have a preference. Either way, they’re legally obligated to claim 100% of their tips at the end of their shift (aka it’s going to get taxed either way), but at least they get to go home with their money at the end of each shift.
What about bartenders?
The rules are pretty similar when it comes to tipping bartenders (and baristas, too). While they might not technically have to tip anybody out at the end of their shift, they may have to share their earnings with fellow bartenders and barbacks. Ideally, if you’re getting a beer or an easy-to-make drink, $1-2 is considered good; however, if you’re ordering a labor-intensive cocktail that requires a little elbow grease, the tip should reflect that.
“Craft cocktails should always be 20%—if they’re $15, they should [be tipped] a minimum of $3, $20 should equal $4, etc,” says Cyndi Ramirez-Fulton, partner at Den Hospitality in N.Y.C.
As for tipping on full bar tabs, Den Hospitality’s beverage director, Grant Wheeler, says that rounds of more than two drinks and large tabs should be worthy of 20%, but if you’re ordering an expensive round of shots, you can lower the percentage a little since shots don’t take much time to pour.
Any other advice?
If you happen to use a coupon or get a discount on your check, experts agree that it’s customary to tip on the original amount.