When you talk about tipping, which is, obviously tied to money, tempers can flare and passions run high. So many factors contribute to how much people tip: the quality of the service and the food, what they spend on their meal and drink, what they were raised or educated to believe about tipping, and if they’ve ever worked in a restaurant.
Recently, David Sax ranted about tipping on The New York Times City Room section, sharing that he always tips 15%. I thought this was stingy. Also, I don’t believe one size fits all, particularly where hats and tipping are concerned. Maybe I’m too prejudiced because of the time I’ve spent as a server, so I reached out to my fellow diners on Facebook and Twitter. I’m pleased to report that Mr. Sax is, indeed, too parsimonious. Most folks responded that 20% is a standard tip. Says diner Sallly Whitehead, “Twenty percent [is] standard, unless [it's] really bad service. If you can’t afford to tip 20% you shouldn’t be eating out.” To the few who chimed in that they left less, Desirée Chérie Rojas notes, “Sorry, people, but 15% is NOT standard. I’m not a waiter nor have I ever been, but the standard is 20%! Stop being so cheap! Those people need to make a living too! If you can’t afford it, don’t go out!”
If the service is poor, though, is 20% still warranted? Not necessarily, according to Mary Hidalgo. She states, “If the service is horrible or the server is rude in any way, I usually ask to speak to the manager and leave 10% or less.” Other folks concurred with the 10% rule, including Maryem Malak, who shares, “If service is poor (assuming it’s the server not the kitchen), [I] tip up to 10% max, but it all depends on the attitude.” If the service is reprehensible, Glendy Kam admits, “Very bad [service] = I write my experience on the back of the credit card slip,” without leaving a tip.
What if you get superb service? Ken Taylor may take the prize for substantial tipping. He reveals, “I’ve tipped 100% when I proposed to my wife. They went way out of their way to make it special for us.” Typically, he will leave 50% for outstanding service and 30% for great service. Leslie Cervantes also tips generously. She says, “We tip 20% if [service is] not great. This is the service industry and servers need to make a living. If [it's] great or excellent, 40%.” The funniest overall strategy came from James Hubble, who notes, “I usually tip *at least* 20%… if service is good, 25-30%. If the server’s a hot chick, bump it up a tad. This is my usual formula.”
A few diners wished for the elimination of tipping altogether, urging restaurateurs to pay service professionals a living wage, especially Paul Woodhouse, who writes, “OMG…this is a US thing right? How about we pay the price on the menu and the employer pays his staff a fair day’s wage!” Angela Raye Johnson reminded her fellow diner, “If they pay the staff more, then food costs would increase greatly due to overhead. Either way, you will be paying for the experience of going out.”
While 20% is the average tip, some folks don’t tip 20% based on the total bill (nevermind the tax). The issue of expensive wines came up and people said they didn’t always factor that in when tipping. Richard Doherty says, “I separate the food and the liquor/wine charges…[tipping] 15%-20% on the food portion and a flat 10% on the liquor/wine portion. Why? Because of the outrageous markup on the ‘adult beverages.’” David P. Best admits that he may leave less than 20% “if the wine component is over $150 per person.” For an insider’s take on this situation, I reached out to AJ Ferrari, lead bartender at Michael Mina in San Francisco and a Stanford University Wine Instructor. Ferrari notes, “I think deep down everyone knows the answer. If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it. The tip is always based on the level of service. If your glass stays topped and you get little story about the winery or a full-blown education, well, that can change your meal into a real wow experience!”