How Much Do You Tip When You Dine Out?

How-Much-Do-You-Tip-When-You-Dine-OutWhen 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!”

Did you share your thoughts on the topic of tipping yet? If not, do so in the comments section or join the conversation on Facebook or Twitter.


  1. Kimberly M says

    I think 15% is standard for tip and 20% or more for outstanding service. I had a birthday dinner and parties over 6 had an automatic 18% gratuity – what does that tell you? Even for mandatory tip for a party its not 20%. Most of the time, unless the service is really horrible I will round up to the next dollar or I’ll make my bill an even dollar amount and add an extra buck or two. But, if you tip 15% I think thats fair…especially in a tight economy maybe people can only afford 15% but if no one goes out at all as some suggest – then the waiters and waitresses wont make any money at all and the restaurant wont survive.

  2. milaxx says

    As long as service is good, I round up and tip 20%. Mathematically it’s easier to figure out quickly and I don’t mind rewarding good service. Mediocre service I probably do 15% and poor service 10%.I’ve only once has service so bad I was furious. I left a 1 penny tip and made sure that it was known that was the tip. I’m better at dealing with wait staff and know the limitations of what my allergy/dietary restriction impose, so more often then not I’m able to tip 20%.

  3. Harry says

    This all a bunch of BS. I worked at these places and these waiters make one great amount of money. The real workers are the ones that make your meals and their pay is not near the waiters who do very little more then take your oder and bring your meal to you. BIG Deal and no I was not a cook. Give them a salary a little more then min. wage, because that is all they are worth

  4. Arleann says

    I start at 20% for good service, and more for great service. 10-15% for poor service, and only if it’s clearly an issue with the server (e.g., too much up-selling, hung-over & clueless, smoking & absent, really rude). And I always calculate based on the full total cost – before discounts, freebies, comps. Just because I have a half-off coupon, the waiter shouldn’t get half a tip.

  5. shirley says

    When I grew up, I was told that a tip was for better than average service, most guides said 10%. Since then the attitude has almost gotten to a tip being expected, regardless of the level of service provided. Also, the expectation is now up to 15 to 20% on 20 to 30 years of inflated prices along with increases in the underlying wages so if you’ve been a consistent tipper with the guidelines, you are paying a good chunk more. I generally do tip 15% or more but you never know who is actually getting the tips and sometimes it should all go to the kitchen or all to the server, based on the meal experience. Some places do pool the tips and allocate across all staff involved in getting the meal to you. That seems most fair to me but if the whole experience is not good/same quality, how to you make sure all the personnel get tipped as deserved?

  6. Agnes says

    Did this writer say don’t even go out if you can’t afford 20% tipping? Is she just being snobby or ??? I bet her dinning bills are on her company’s expenses! I think 15% is a descent number and of course depends on service quality, it should be either below or higher. I often encountered servers who didn’t do their job right all along and suddenly became friendly when they put down the bill on the table. Tipping is something one should earn, not demand.

  7. says

    For me, it’s not at all about being able to afford 20% (or any other arbitrary amount). It’s solely about my perceived value received. A tip should be a reward for extraordinary service, not something expected by a waiter who is merely going through the motions. I am not usually a difficult customer, and I treat all staff with kindness and respect, but the prospective tip amount starts at zero when I walk into a restaurant and goes up from there, based entirely on the quality of my experience on that particular day. It’s also not about the ‘perfect’ dinner, as slips of various sorts do happen. It’s about how those slips are handled. Also, when I go to new places, I make every effort to discern whether tips (of any amount) are automatically added to the bill (thereby removing a substantial part of the waiter’s motivation to do a good job), or whether tips are pooled and shared amongst the staff. I won’t patronize any establishment that operates with either of these policies.

  8. JFood says

    I agree that 20% is standard. But as NYC restaurants now charge 3X times the retail price for a good bottle of wine, the markup on the wine can often exceed $100. Do readers think the tip should be 20% including the markup on the wine or should it include the food and adjust downwards from 20% on the entire bill to take account of the wine markup?

  9. cynicaleden says

    If it’s good food, good service, and the water glass never went empty then you might get a couple bucks. I never base any tip I leave on the bill. You can earn $10 and under from me (even if you work at fancy, overpriced joint) and I immediately begin ticking your money away every time I get annoyed. I am the customer and deserve to be treated like gold when I frequent your establishment so if you want more of my money you are going to bust your butt getting it. Life is not a handout. If you do not like my methods…I guess it is too bad. Perhaps consider a real job?

  10. JF says

    A bit late but I had to post a comment.

    @cynicaleden: please tell me your comment was a joke. If not, thanks for making servers more comfortable with adding mucus or semen to meals.

    I always tip about 20% on the bill. If the service sucks, I’ll go down to 15%, which I know could be lower. I just figure that really, the tip is not the bulk of the cost of the meal. Money may be tight, but I can still afford it. I know these people are working, and I’d rather spend the extra, what, few dollars, and make someone’s life easier (they are working…) than potentially waste it elsewhere. It is, in my opinion, the nicer thing to do. And remember, they don’t have Internet access to check fantasy sports or FaceBook all day, unlike some posting on here acting high and mighty.

  11. says

    I think give a tip to those who serve us is important. Giving a tip is also a form of our appreciation of the results of their performance and also a thank you to them. I used to give a tip of 20% – 50% of the costs to be incurred depending on what and how fast they serve us. Giving a tip is also one of the ways we give charity to others and how we give thanks for God’s gift. Thank you for this interesting article. Regards

  12. Jason k says

    20% tip being the average is obsurd. 15% if the service is good and 20% if it blows me away. I’ve gone above and beyond in my 10 years of working in customer service and can count the time I recieved a gratuity on one hand…the whole concept of tipping is crazy

  13. William says

    When my family would dine out I would sometimes ask my dad what the rule was about tipping 15%, and he would tell me that the rule only applied when you eat out with more than 6 people.

  14. Thomas says

    It did come off as snubby or elitiest to say if you can’t afford 20% tip than don’t eat out. And living wages should be a discussion about changing the industry, not the customer. Fair wages are what people expect no matter the business, so if you have an American business (I’m not sure tipping is really smiled upon in most European countries and their visitors aren’t necessarily accustomed to), why does that business get to offset a living wage directly onto the whims of customers when it should be on the business (restaurant’s can just pay below a standard putting tipping on the wait staff as a duty). Plus with tip splitting, it may unfairly divide that whim amongst people that the customer most likely never sees or accounts for. Yes, there are bad or neutral wait staff that compromise the experience/tip for all, or the food, or the wait for services. Maybe if we focus on fair wages, (and we hear some love their tips especially on the big payouts, celebrations) maybe its a tax or not reported thing), but the rest of the public doesn’t deal in the tip system. Even your close cousin the fast food industry doesn’t deal in tips, and grocery stores mostly phased it out as well. Again, seeking a fair wage.

  15. George says

    If the server is rude I should STILL LEAVE 10%??? I agree that if the server is rude I should speak with a manager but to leave a rude server a tip is ludicrous. The server should understand that their attitude is directly responsible for their income and rudeness means poverty. I consider myself a more than generous tipper with 20% being a minimum. I used to leave more when I had younger kids and they were messy.

  16. Mick says

    My wife and I always tip 15% for not good. 20% for good. If we believe a server is down on there luck we up it. If a server is my mom’s age or older, appears to have had a rough life, etc. 30-50% is pretty standard. I am blessed to have a future prospects of a well paying job, so I feel least I can do is boost another’s day when I can the $.

  17. Jamie says

    Those who have never been a server in a restaurant cannot ever imagine how emotionally and physically draining this job is. Smiling at people all day who treat you like their personal servant for two hours only to leave you a terrible tip at the end. There is a very special place in hell for those that tip a good server less than 18%.

  18. phil says

    We went out last night to celebrate anniversary. The food and service was very good. The bill for two glasses of wine, appetizer, 2 entrées with potato, vegetable and dessert and coffee was $168 I left $30 cash as tip and felt bad I could not afford more. Should we have stayed home and restaurant lose $168 and waiter lose $30. Why should the cost of what I order have anything to do with amount I tip?

  19. Deanne says

    All of the comments I read ignore the fact that most waiters are allowed by law to be paid 1/2 of Federal minimum wages, and they are taxed on tips reported on credit cards. Most people I k ow who wait tables don’t even get home with all of their tips. I remember going home in tears a number of times when I was waiting tables- while a full-time student- because I had not even made minimum wage. In New Mexico that would be less than $5.00 per hour. My parents taught me when I was young not to go out to eat if I could not afford tax and tip.

  20. Dan Sins says

    My question is…do you tip(20%) on the bar tab portion, as well as the dinner?…and is the tip amount based on the food/ drink, or on the food/ drink AND our 7% sales tax. With a tab of over $200.00, I see no sense in adding another$3.00 onto the tip just because our sales tax. Also, our county has a separate 10% drink tax added to all alcoholic beverages served in the county, so a$7.00 glass of beer = $7.70 + 7% sales tax+20% tip turns into one pricy glass of beer. Comments, please.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *