What Is a Good Tip Amount?

Good Tip Amount

What is a good tip amount to leave an establishment? Is it ten percent? Twenty percent? More?

I realize that tipping is more-or-less an American thing based on feedback from others living abroad (but please weigh in if I’m wrong).

I used to be what most waiters (and waitresses) would consider a bad tipper: ten to twenty percent.

I’d figure that if my meal came out to ten dollars, then I’d leave about a buck or two.

However, in my quest to learn Spanish, I frequented several Mexican restaurants, and I would often leave a three to four dollar tip based upon how willing the waiter was to help me with my Spanish (call it a cheap Spanish lesson).

When I acquired a Panamanian roommate (who happens to be a waiter), he filled me in on what a proper tip amount really is.

A Side Story

I have lived in Huntsville, Alabama for about four years. During those four years, I have frequented a restaurant/bar called Bisons.

This is the same restaurant that I have walked out of a few times because the waitress waited longer than ten minutes to even acknowledge my presence.

However, after the advice of my roommate, I began leaving tips in the amount of forty percent or more.

Through chance, one of my friends became a waitress at Bisons. I was “informed” that since I was a good tipper, the waitresses there would fight (not literally) over serving me. I, as a customer, was not aware such a thing could/would take place.

Keep in mind that I’m a single guy. I don’t have two or more people at my table. I sit solo.

So to have waitresses fight over having me as a customer was a huge revelation.

I asked my friend, “Why would these waitresses fight over me?” And she responded, “Because you’re a good tipper.”

“Surely I couldn’t possibly tip better than a table with four people, right?”

She responded, “This morning I had four tables. I made ten dollars. When you showed up, I made that much in just one.”

And Yet Another Side Story

There are many restaurants I frequent in the Huntsville/Madison area. Not all are created equal.

However, I tend to leave higher tips based upon the personal service I receive.

I have frequented a restaurant regularly going on four years. However, nobody there knows my name and/or my order when I go there. Do I leave a good tip? Yes, the bare minimum. But only because I have given these people their chance.

When I go to another restaurant, and the people know what I drink, know what I eat, and know who I was with the last time, it leaves a lasting impression. Consequently, I leave a good tip.

One waiter smirked when he handed me a free drink, “You take care of me, I take care of you.” He was one of the guys I tipped well.

When Not to Leave a Tip

Bars are a common establishment where a tip is expected. The band needs to be paid, the bartenders need their due, and the waitresses are working hard.

Over Valentine’s day, a group of friends and I decided to head to downtown Huntsville to have a good time.

We ventured into a local night spot called The Jazz Factory.

I went to order a drink, started a tab, and went back to my table. My group of friends wanted to play pool, so I ventured back to the bar to grab some pool balls.

I was first in line at the bar. Nobody else was there except my friend Jonathan talking to one of the waitresses.

I waited. And waited. And waited.

Three pool tables were empty. But I was skipped twice, and both parties wanted pool tables.

I tried to get the bartender’s attention, and even complained to the waitress my friend was talking with.

What did I end up with? A crappy drink, and a pool table where the eight ball was missing.

Is it any wonder this place is going out of business? My roommate, which I will remind you is a waiter, walked out of the place because they were taking to long with the drink orders.

In this particular situation, I felt I was “forced” to leave absolutely no tip.

I hate leaving no tip. But I felt it was the best and most effective way to get the message across.

My Advice on Leaving Tips

Being a non-waiter, here is my advice on leaving tips.

Get rid of the ten-percent or twenty-percent mentality. If you have repeat business at a place where they absolutely give you personal service, leave what you feel is appropriate.

There have been times when my bill was only $7.00 (USD), but I left a fifteen dollar tip because I felt their service was exceptional.

There have been times when I have left a tip and the waiter/waitress stops me at the door and thanks me for my gratitude.

I’m not advocating “buying your way in” to a place with a tip. I’m just saying that if you are given service that is above and beyond, perhaps above and beyond is what you should leave.

And For Those That Refuse to Leave Tips

I can’t help but remember the scene in Reservoir Dogs where Steve Buscemi’s character (Mr. Pink) rants on why one should never leave tips.

From Reservoir Dogs: I don’t tip because society says I have to. All right, if someone deserves a tip, if they really put forth an effort, I’ll give them something a little something extra. But this tipping automatically, it’s for the birds. As far as I’m concerned, they’re just doing their job.

The sad reality is that many waiters/waitresses depend on tips to make a living. And for some, (especially in the current economic time) it is the only job they can get.

Sure the waiter/waitress can quit. And as far as their concerned, so can you from eating at their restaurant.

Opinion on Tipping?

I will admit that I’m not the ultimate authority on tipping. I’m sure there are those that work in the “tipping” industry that know the low down, so please weigh in via the comments.

And for those that frequent establishments that encourage tipping, what are your thoughts/techniques on leaving that something extra?

28 thoughts on “What Is a Good Tip Amount?

  1. For me, tipping is easy: always start at 15% without question, then add/deduct depending on how impressive/negligent the service is. Then round up to the nearest dollar. Very scientific and cold, but I believe tips are earned in the end, even if I feel self-obliged to provide them from the onset.

  2. As a waiter for 40 years… allow me to suggest….18% to 25% is the contemporary norm…. I recently read a blog that suggested leaving an extra dollar, not for the impact it has on the waiter… but the impact it has on the giver. The blogger suggested it makes you hold your head higher and to return to the establishment a little more proud. I’m inclined to agree.
    Eat well. Drink well.
    mTw

  3. @Mike,

    The 18-25% sounds reasonable.

    I like the picture of a sitcom (or was it a movie) where a guy left quite a few ones on a table. Everytime the waiter screwed up, the person took a one away. Perhaps that’s how it should be.

    I will admit that I feel better entering an establishment where I know I tip well. However, that establishment still has an obligation to continue to be worth that “extra” amount.

    The worst thing a waiter can do is ignore the customer for five or more minutes. You’d be surprised how well a “I’ll be right with you” works.

  4. Hey Ron, I agree with you, I really don’t like not to give a tip, if so it’s very, very rare and they must be almost rude. But if they are very nice, awesome service, it happens, that my tip is sometimes the same as I paid for the dinner. And I really like doing that, because they did a great job and I appreciate that with a good tip.

    But you know what is sad, and I heard that from many waiters, Sunday after church is the worst time to work. People, who just prayed in church and pretend how good they are leaving only a little tip or none. :(

  5. @Ronald, @Alex That shouldn’t be a surprise. Most people tithe using the cash in their pockets, which leaves them little or nothing to spend at brunch besides covering the meal. Now, why they don’t put the tip on a credit card, who knows…

  6. I worked for tips years ago. Most people tip whay they feel the meal & service is worth but I also learned from servicing a few regulars that some never tip. If you are in the business, all that matters is the average. And that average is totally up to you and how well you perform.

  7. Affiliate Funnel System says:

    Your blog post shows light on one of my biggest questions.

    Whats too much or too small.

    I found your post very informative.

    Rob

  8. As a customer I tend to tip on the heavy side with small orders & light side for large orders.

    For example, my son & I will go out for breakfast and the bill will come to somewhere around $21.00 or so. I’ll tip $4 – $5 for good service. But I’ll tip much closer to 15% for a large order like a nice steak dinner.

    The reason? The service is close to the same.

    Tom

  9. Michael says:

    I’ve been a server for a couple of years now and I’ll give an abbreviated version of my thoughts:
    First of all, there is a difference in a waiter in a server. A server is doing the job they love: serving others. It may not be their preferred means of service (food, car, etc), but all in all they love to make people happy and there’s something to be said for that. Then there are waiters, who ultimately do everything they do for the money. As a server, I have found that simply making sure your guests needs are met that the money will come. It just does. Sure there are the ignorant/greedy folks who throw down bull-crap for tips, but if you really give people the love and attention they want/need (not too much, not too little) then it pays off. Put money on the backburner, serve your tables, make more money overall.

    As for non-servers, it’s refreshing to read the review of a non-server on tipping. The way I see it, throw down 15% for decent service, nothing if you’re insulted or neglected all-together (why reward someone for nothing?), and then do 20% for great service. Also, why not throw down a couple of extra bucks? I mean, it’s two friggin dollars. It won’t kill, it will make someone feel good about themselves, and they might–just might–pay the bills. I’m mainly talking to Christian who claim to follow a loving God but show anything but grace, love, and humility with their servers. We’re humans, we’ll make mistakes, it’s how we fix/handle them that makes a difference.

    And last, for the non-tippers: If societal rules bug you don’t make the victims of those rules suffer more. Laws, minimum wages ($2.13 in TN and not much better elsewhere), etc can be changed and should be. If you don’t like tipping, don’t make an innocent server suffer for it. We are just trying to make a living.

    Replies are discretionary, if you have something to say feel free to say it, but I wouldn’t want anyone to feel like it’s obligatory which is why I selected “no thanks”.

  10. P says:

    Most restaurants MANDATE that the server pay out nearly 5% of sales to server assistants (busboys), bartenders, food runners and the barista (coffee person). That translates to a third of my income when people leave only fifteen percent. Know, the ***holes that leave 5% are basically screwing me. DO NOT fight over bill if you are not going to tip! Sometimes things take time. If the server communicates with you that a bar drink, or the food from the back is running slow because of under staffing, THEY ARE GIVING GOOD SERVICE. Some people fail to realize that there are controllable and non-controllable factors. If I tell you it may take 10 minutes for drink, expect to wait to wait ten minutes, or don’t order and go somewhere else. I resent when people leave less than 15%, and I discuss with the service staff every cheap bastard that does it. ESPECIALLY the people who leave 10% or less on regular service! If you do this, don’t come back. A general rule I have picked up for servers: If your guests interrupts you while you are at the table with other guests, THEY are NOT GOING TO TIP. If a party returns (or individual) that has been discussed amongst us, all bets are off. You may have a seemingly similar experience to the first visit, but a finger may have slipped into your drink after a nose wipe, or a careless cough or sneeze may land across your dinner plate. Trust. It happens. I even saw a guy put his finger in his butt and wipe it on the part of the straw that goes in the drink to a guest that had stiffed a fellow server previously. You may not remember who we are when you come back, but we know who you are. And yes, we play a numbers game for our income, but any guest that tips so low that I have to pay additional out of pocket to support my staff is going to get put on the blacklist. Every where I have worked, the same rule applies.

    • ZeroThree31 says:

      What kind of piece of shyt messes with someones food/drink for a reason like that? Sure, some people are just cheap, but do they really deserve that? Some people just dont know that you have to give a percentage other staff. Either way, anyone who does something so immoral, i wish a slow painful death upon. Scumbags

  11. I agree with you but only to a point.

    I understand that restaraunts share their tips with busboys, bartenders, food runners and the barista. And in many cases that same 5% is shared with the kitchen. But you need to understand why.

    You are the front man – the person the customer ineracts with the most but let the kitchen screw up an order or let the busboy not clean a seat left sticky by a 4 year old and it’s your tip that suffers. The 5% you share with the staff is there to motivate them to do a great job. And it’s probably not enough when you consider how critical they are to your success!

    And as far as tip percent is concerned, I’ll tip 15% for an excellent meal. But don’t do a satisfactory job and you might get $2.00. But this is service that I’m talking about, not food quality. If the service is great & the food is lousy I’ll still tip for service but I’ll ask for and talk to the Manager on the way out.

    I’ve worked food, 2 of my brothers have worked food and my youngest Son has worked food. Now I know that not every hour is a rush and like everyone else in the business, sometimes you get stuck with the tables in the back but I also know that you can make a good living off tips in an excellent restaraunt. And if you can’t then you or the establisment is doing something wrong. A typical 2 place table in a high end establishment will easily bring in a $10.00+ tip and you wait maybe 4 – 6 tables at a time? Even at a conservative 4 seatings an hour, you are looking at $40.00 or more an hour in tips!

  12. Golly, I am going to have to revise my tipping routine, thanks for the heads up P, being from the UK, most restaurants have what they call a service charge over here which is supposed to go to the waiters etc, so I normally leave a 10% tip and to my shame I have carried this forward when I go to the States as well, leaving a 10% tip, 15 if it was good service. Are Brits known as lousy tippers in the States? I just hope I never went to the restaurant P works at LOL

    I have also been on the other end as a bartender in my youth and remember a particular Christmas Eve when I made so many tips my pockets were bulging with coins and I made almost an extra weeks wages, not that the wages were that good. I made up “snowballs” (egg nog, lime juice and lemonade) which the ladies were very fond of and they would ask for me to make them all night. It is customary to give the bartender in pubs a “drink” as a tip which he takes as cash usually the price of a half of beer, about £1 these days or $1.40.

    Steve

  13. I am from Denmark and I guess 10 % or nothing is the most common tipping here.

    It is pretty expensive to visit restaurants in Denmark I guess that is why many think you don’t have to tip the waiter.

  14. Directly comparing our system of compensation to other countries is unfair unless we compare everything involved.

    Most waiters in the USA are paid a very small wage – less than $3.00 an hour – with the expectation that they pull the rest of their income from tips. And with 40 hour / week survival income hovering somewhere in the $12.00 an hour range, you can see that they have quite a bit to make up in tips.

    What is the waiter base wage in Denmark and how does this base wage compare to the cost of living in your country?

  15. Eric says:

    I leave around 40%, unless the bill is over $30 or so, in which case I leave around 25%, which is to say, if I sat down to eat and was pleased with the service, I usually leave a minimum of a $10 tip from a small tab. More on larger tabs of course. It seems almost backhanded to me to leave less than that if I sat down to eat a meal and the experience was good. Granted, this is in the US where waiter/waitressing requires making a living from the tips themselves.

  16. Hi,

    I am British and so tipping is quite hard for me…! however i don’t mind tipping 15% or so if the service is really good.We visit the U.S most years and the only thing i find that bothers me is when the tip is already added to the bill. Is that just a Florida thing or is it that way all around the U.S these days?

    Paul

  17. Paul,

    As the saying goes “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”. You should follow our tipping customs when over here and we should follow your tipping customs when in England. In other words, you should tip at least 15% for good service in the states and it seems that we should tip 10% or less while in England, or do people tip at all in England? I remember when I was a teenager in Germany my parents tried to tip a waitress at a nice restaraunt and she was offended. She stated that she got paid enough already for her job!

    My youngest Son works at P.F. Changs and called me a cheap skate because we only tipped him 15% the other day. Sorry, but 15% is my limit for a high-end meal. Consider the fact that prices increased at least 20% over the past three years which means that servers got at least a 20% pay raise, assuming everyone still tips the same percentage!

  18. erica says:

    As someone who has been working as a server for the last 4 years, I have to say we definitely remember our customers. We fight over who has to take the lousy tippers and who gets to have the good tippers. All service was not created equal. If you are known as a bad tipper among the staff, your service will not be good. On the other hand, if you are known to be a generous tipper, free drinks, discounts, ect. are most likely to be given to you. And yes, servers do not like getting foreign customers at all.

  19. Some people really don’t realize many servers make $2.13/hour. It’s the sad truth. There’s not reason not to leave at least a little tip. 10% always makes me happier than the next table that leaves nothing.

  20. Table waiting at any decent restaraunt will easily bring in $14.00, $18.00 or more an hour and this is your real hourly wage, not the $2.13 / hour you quoted!!!!

    The $2.13 / hour is just the minimum standard the Goverment requires so that your paycheck contains enough money to cover the taxes and FICA needed to cover your real income – your tips!

    • manny says:

      yeah thats true tom but do you realize that most servers if not all of them only work as little as 3 to 5 hours a shift depending on how busy the establishment is?

      • Itsme says:

        that is far from the customers problem. If I only get 3-5 hours at work that surely does not mean my pay would go up. If you are getting to few hours then you need to get another job.

  21. I’m in the UK as well and would say it’s more like 10% over here, although quite often many restaurants will add between 10-15% as a ‘service charge’ on to the bill automatically. It does take the awkwardness out of it but it would be nice to see it go straight to the staff tax-free.

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