You don’t need to look far to see how consumers feel about tipping. The topic rears its head frequently on social media and you'll see it laid out clearly in data from recent surveys taken by Forbes, the Pew Research Center and Bankrate. The general public is clearly divided – not only about whether or not they should tip for a variety of services – but also how much.
Some people have even gone so far as to give up on tipping, with the percentage of people reporting that they “always tip” when they dine out dwindling more and more each year: In 2019, 77% of surveyed consumers said they “always tip.” In 2023, it was just 65%.
But what’s the right thing to do?
The most basic answer remains the same as always: In our current world, service industry employees rely on tips as part of their income. So, if you plan to eat at a restaurant (or avail yourself of a service), you should also plan to tip. No excuses.
But, that doesn’t mean that everyone has to tip the same amount in every scenario. How much you should tip depends largely on where you are dining, what you are ordering and (in some cases) what you can afford.
Here are some guidelines to help you on your way.
Unless a restaurant specifically has a no-tipping policy, tipping for services received at a full-service restaurant is never optional.
Unless you have been specifically told that a gratuity is included with your payment (as can be the case when you attend special dinners, etc.), tipping is simply part of the cost of dining at a restaurant. You are paying for service, and your role is to be as fair as possible as you do so.
In turn, when you sit down in a restaurant where food and beverages are delivered to your table, your tip should be based on the quality of service received. (Are they courteous? Attentive to reasonable needs? Knowledgeable about the menu? Responsive to requests? Are they quick to make corrections if something goes wrong?)
When dining at a full-service restaurant in 2024, these are good guidelines to keep in mind:
Quality of service: Tip
Excellent: 20-25% (or more)
Another factor you should consider: if you are dining with a larger group (five or more guests), the amount you tip should be higher. That’s because it takes more effort to ensure excellent service for a larger group. People often neglect this consideration, which is why you'll often find a minimum gratuity automatically added to bills for groups.
It’s equally important to note that – even if the service you received was not as good as you may have hoped – docking your server’s tip is not the best way to send a message. Instead, consider discussing your situation with a manager or someone in authority at the restaurant so that they can rectify the situation.
Fast casual spots
At more casual restaurants where service is provided at the counter, tipping 10-15% is technically optional. But you should definitely consider adding a tip when any type of service is provided (for instance, if someone brings your food or drink out to you). You should also make it a practice of leaving a tip at a buffet where staff are regularly clearing tables, renewing food and replacing flatware.
Bars & coffee shops
At a bar (which does not serve food), you should expect to tip $1 for a beer and $2 for a cocktail (or the equivalent of 15-20% if you linger in a bar to enjoy a few drinks).
The same applies to a coffee shop, where – although common practice suggests you are not obligated to tip – it makes sense to throw down a tip in appreciation for the work behind drinks that require knowledge and skill to prepare. It’s also best practice to include a tip for larger orders (four or more drinks). And, while the choice of tipping (or not) remains yours, I'll hip you to the fact that leaving a tip will never go unnoticed. In fact, it often pays back in dividends (kinda like karma).
I hope it also goes without saying that, if a bar or coffee shop provides table service and/or serves food, you should also be prepared to tip service staff for their work in preparing and serving it to you.
Having food delivered to your house is a service (some might rightfully call it a luxury) and tipping is a must. A general rule is to tip at least 15% on the order (or a minimum of $5). However, you should also consider adjusting the tip based on factors including weather conditions, the distance traveled and the overall quality of service provided.
Along similar lines, do not mistake the delivery fee for a tip. The fee is charged by the company coordinating the service and is not passed along to the employee who made the delivery. Your tip should be above and beyond that service charge.
The one scenario where tipping is traditionally not expected is when you order carry-out or place an order from a food truck. The exception: you should always plan to include a tip in your budget if you've made any special requests or your order is particularly large.
However, while tipping on takeaway fare isn’t a long-established social norm, it’s definitely a way to show your appreciation for the work that goes into making and packaging your food. So, if a few extra dollars isn’t a hardship for you, you should consider leaving 10%-15% no matter what.
Above & beyond: Cash tips
While it is not reasonable to expect someone to carry enough cash to leave a cash tip on a large bill ($150 or more), it’s good practice to tip in cash under every other circumstance.
Why? First, your server gets the tip right away. They don’t need to wait until credit card transactions are processed or checks issued. If they are struggling to make ends meet, receiving tips in cash can be a lifesaver.
Secondly, if you tip in cash your server will receive the full amount. If you put the tip on your credit card, it is subject to the transaction fee (which can be 3% or more); and U.S. labor laws allow employers to take that percentage out of employee tips. That means your 20% tip is likely to be reduced to between 16-17%.
If you have the cash, try to leave your tip on the table after using your credit card to pay the bill. That said, if you don’t have enough cash to leave a reasonably sized tip, it’s better to put the tip on a card than to forgo tipping altogether.
The same is true for delivery services. Seriously consider tipping a delivery driver in cash, especially if you ordered through a delivery app. In some cases, food delivery apps incorporate tips into the fee they promise to pay workers for each delivery. In this case, your tip is saving the company money and the worker doesn’t receive the full amount.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.