Do We Really Tip Based on the Waiter’s Service?

(Photo: Oli Shaw)

For whatever reason, tipping is a subject that always seems to fascinate. Maybe it’s because it represents a sort of shotgun marriage between economic behavior and “normal” behavior (i.e., profit-maximizing and altruism). In that light, a reader named Joshua Talley raises an interesting question. I am interested to hear your replies.

I’ve been a waiter for years.  I pride myself on providing prompt, professional service.  But I’ve always wondered how much the quality of service impacts the tip. Despite the notion that the tip reflects the quality of service, it seems likely to me that aside from instances of extremely good or extremely poor service, most people simply tip what they normally tip.  For instance, some people are 10 percenters, many are 15 percenters and some are 20 percenters, etc., and it takes either very good or very poor service to change this.  Am I right?

As a waiter in an upscale restaurant in Venice Beach, Ca., I’ve always suspected that the price of wine rarely reflects the quality of a bottle, so I appreciated your wine episode.  Given that I’m not a sommelier, a tenet of mine is that if a customer really wants my opinion of the nuances of a particular wine, then they don’t really know much about wine themselves, so whatever I tell them is relatively safe and the power of suggestion will likely make them recognize whatever qualities I attribute to the wine in question.

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COMMENTS: 123


  1. Seminymous Coward says:

    His guess is quite accurate in my case. It takes force of will for me to deviate from my norm, and that requires an extreme in quality.

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  2. Blaise Pascal says:

    Speaking for myself, his observation rings true. I’m usually very methodical in my tipping, doubling the (8%) sales tax to get the tip amount. I’m more likely to tip higher for good service, usually by rounding up, than to tip lower for bad service, but these are the exceptions than the rule.

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  3. Adam W says:

    I think this waiter is dead on. I’m typically @ a 20% tipper. My mom raised six kids on waitress’ tips, so I’m very cognizant of what tipping means to the server. Give me really great service and It’ll go up, give me really poor service and it’ll go down, but anything that is only marginally better or worse doesn’t have much of an effect.

    This does bring me to a reverse question that I’ve never been able to figure out. Is tipping a low amount an effective way of communicating dissatisfaction with service? I’ve always felt when I tip well the server will think “Hey I must have done a great job.” whereas when I don’t tip well the server will instead think “That guy was just a cheapskate.”

    I’ve thought of having a system where I lay out the server’s tip when I first sit down, and as the service impresses me (or depresses me), the amount is increased, decreased. Kind of a real time service feedback notification. This sounds a bit difficult to implement though, and I’m pretty sure my wife would die of embarrassment if I tried.

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    • AssortedPens says:

      Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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    • bearmancartoons says:

      I solved this issue once. We had a surly waiter who only came to take our order and bring our check. The bus boy made sure we had water, bread, brought our meals, etc.

      The bill came to $40. I left $.25 on the table for the waiter and went up to the bus boy in front of the waiter, handed him $10 and said Thanks for all your help.

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      • dave says:

        Pretty sure the only thing you accomplished was to make the bus boy’s life a living hell from that point on…

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      • Shannon says:

        Depending on the restaurant’s policy, the other services you describe may not be primarily the waiter’s responsibility. At the restaurant where I work for example the waiters get drinks, condiments and clear plates during the meal, but we don’t bring out your food–that’s exclusively the food runner’s job. At my previous job the servers ran their own food, but it was the busser’s responsibility to bring bread and keep glasses full, and so on. So just because your waiter isn’t the primary person helping you out doesn’t mean they’re slacking on the job–it may just be how management decided to allocate labor.

        Moreover, most restaurants already require the waitstaff to tip the bussers a percentage of either their tips or overall sales, so they’re already being compensated for doing their job. And waiters are generally also required to tip out the bartenders, food runners, silverware rollers, etc, whereas bussers are not. So while tipping the friendly busser instead of the surly waiter undoubtably feels more fair, you may be inadvertently shortchanging the other support staff who did nothing wrong.

        Of course, rudeness is inexcusable in any circumstances, and it sounds like your solution may have been the best in this case. But in general I’d advise against trying to judge whose doing the job and who isn’t because you can’t always tell, and you might not actually be tipping the person who deserves it or punishing the one who doesnt. Just a thought :)

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    • Nick says:

      A former Chicago talk radio host (Steve Dahl) once claims to have done the opposite of this at a high end restaurant where he was taking a number of friends. Steve was famous for dressing very casually, and claimed that he was being treated poorly as a result of a condescening waiter.

      So the story goes that he took a stack of 20s representing a generous tip and laid them on the table, and explained to the waiter that this was his initial tip. Then he took a 20 off and put it back in his pocket, and said that 20s would keep coming off the table unless service improved. Which it supposedly did.

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    • sailingmusic says:

      I’ve spent about 10 years, off and on, waiting tables and bartending. This experience has two effects on me. I have a higher average and a higher variability than the norm. The variability comes from adjusting for service quality, but also for the total amount.

      If my family of four spends $25 at a sit-down burger joint and my kids make a mess of the table, the waiter will get 25-30% for the expected mediocre, but friendly service. If my wife and I go out for a nice dinner and spend $150 without creating difficulty for the staff, it would take very good service to get to 20%. My personal experience was at both ends of the spectrum and I know how hard it is to make cash at a cheap place.

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    • DanTheMan says:

      Friend of mine put 20 bucks beforehand in the hands of the waiter as a pre-tip in a crowded place. Best service ever!

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  4. Coop says:

    I’m a standard 20%’er when it comes to restaurant service… If a server is absolutely great, I’ll probably reach to 25% (probably only happens about 1 in 12 trips). If someone gives little effort and does a very inferior job I can probably dip as low as 5-10%… it would take a serious lack of caring or a wealth of poor attitude for me to leave no tip whatsoever.

    I’ve also found that those who have spent time in the restaurant industry tend to tip much more on average, as well as vary their tips on a larger scale based on service quality when compared to those who have never found themselves in this type of business.

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  5. Andreas Moser says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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    • John D-H says:

      This confirms a widely help perception in the F&B business that Europeans are very stingy when it comes to paying for service, which is what a tip is.

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      • keith says:

        It’s not that we’re stingy, but our culture doesn’t require us to tip because unlike in America our service staff get paid properly, so we can choose to tip entirely at our discretion.

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      • Shannon says:

        @Keith

        Well our culture doesn’t require us to pay for water, soda refills, or the use of public restrooms. Does that mean I get these things free if I travel in Europe? No. When you visit another country you’re responsible for figuring and out and following their social norms, whether you personally agree with them or not. It’s a sign of respect and cultural sensitivity, and if you can’t be bothered to do this then you should probably stay home.

        Also, American servers are not “paid improperly”, it’s simply a different model for compensation. The advantage of this compensation structure is that servers have more incentive to go the extra mile and make sure their customers are satisfied; those who can do this are rewarded accordingly while those who can’t will self-select out of the profession. The result is that customers receive better service and therefore get more value for their money.

        In comparison, the service I’ve received traveling in Europe is terrible: you practically have to hunt down the waiter to place an order, god forbid you want a refill, and if your food comes out wrong that’s your problem; why should the waiters trouble themselves to give you an excellent experience when they’re making the same money regardless? And the cost of labor is already reflected in higher food prices so its not as though this model is actually saving the customer money.

        Of course, its your right to prefer what you prefer. And fortunately for you Europeans we have plenty of restaurants that follow the no-tipping model. They’re called fast food restaurants, and if you don’t feel like tipping that’s undoubtably where you should go.

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      • keith says:

        Of course, in America I would always tip 20%. You didn’t have to take a cultural observation personally. If everyone was emotionally involved with the foibles of their local culture, Americans would run around shooting people all day.

        Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 37 Thumb down 37
      • ohminus says:

        ” When you visit another country you’re responsible for figuring and out and following their social norms, whether you personally agree with them or not. It’s a sign of respect and cultural sensitivity, and if you can’t be bothered to do this then you should probably stay home.”

        This is pure fantasy and I bet a monthly salary that its author doesn’t practice it. Man is a creature of habit.

        When I returned to Europe after several years in the US, I was very well-liked in restaurants because it took me a while to abandon US tipping practice – much like it had taken a while to adopt it. It is patently nonsense to expect people who are there for just a few days to change an activity they have conditioned themselves to over years.

        As for respect and cultural sensitivity – yes, US tourists are very famous for displaying these abroad. Compared to the Vikings or the Vandals, at least… So much so that I’ve seen them consider it rude that natives in France dare not speak English.

        “In comparison, the service I’ve received traveling in Europe is terrible: you practically have to hunt down the waiter to place an order, god forbid you want a refill, and if your food comes out wrong that’s your problem; why should the waiters trouble themselves to give you an excellent experience when they’re making the same money regardless? And the cost of labor is already reflected in higher food prices so its not as though this model is actually saving the customer money.”

        Ah, “in Europe” and “higher food prices”… how great that Europe is such a homogeneous entity.

        Funny how there are restaurants which receive great applause for their service also in Europe. Could it be that, if your experience was so consistently bad, the reason might be found with the one consistent factor in those experiences – you?

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  6. Leah Cabral says:

    We are the 20 percenter customer for us that is the maximum and it will only change if we get a poor service but the lowest it will go is 10%

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  7. John Deatherage says:

    Tipping is rarely about service or lack there of….. That waitpersons are underpaid is well known to the restaurant patronizing public. There is social pressure to tip to make up for their substandard wage rate.

    Unless they have been horrifically bad, I tip close to 15% (rounding). I think most people do the same. And nothing they can do will cause me to tip substantially more.

    FYI: I really enjoy Freakonomics! Keep it up!!

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    • Brian says:

      Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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    • Kevin Shmevin says:

      Tipping does not exist to “make up for their substandard wage rate.” It is simply an alternative primary payment model.

      The small additional hourly wage is secondary and supplemental. And in almost all states, if a waitperson’s tips do not exceed the standard minimum wage, the restaurant has to pay the difference.

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      • Kevin Shmevin says:

        I’m genuinely curious about why this has downvotes. If you’re one of the people who has a negative reaction, please reply letting me know why it bugs you.

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  8. Chris J says:

    One study I read and found fascinating when I was managing a restaurant was on how little food and service actually matters to a good meal.

    Basically if you are sitting across from a stunning babe and conversation is animated, you could be served dog food, and not only would you not realize it, but you would love it.

    When you are having a good time, even the waiters errors get laughed off, the patrons have no need to establish their dominance, and you will probably end up with a good tip.

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  9. Quin says:

    I tip based on service, but my wife hates that I do so. We have settled on giving up to a 20% tip, each of us allocating 10% as we see fit. She almost always gives her full 10% regardless of performance, whereas I start at 5% for good service, drop to 0% for poor service, and jump to 20% for extraordinary service. (I also generally round my tips to a close amount to avoid embarrassing delays for my slow mental arithmetic skills.)

    The exception is at a restaurant I go to every week with a group of friends (not counting my wife) for a book club. There I always get the special and a tea and tip $2 on a $9 bill because I have developed a personal relationship with the staff/owner.

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  10. Neil Christiansen says:

    I almost always tip 20%. I look at the bill and say it’s 67.82, I would call that 70 and tip 14. First off, it’s just easier math, and second I spent about 30 seconds waiting tables in my teens and it was a very hard job. I appreciate the work that a server does for me and feel obligated to compensate appropriately. I agree with your notion that most people tip what they tip and unless it’s especially bad service ( then it gets 10-15%) or really exceptionally good service (I’ve gone as high as 50%) I always just round up and give 20%.

    I also love your observations about wine and your ability to use the power of suggestion. Very very true.

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  11. Koufax says:

    We tip a little better at places we frequent somewhat regularly. My wife seems to be more generous with tips when our waiter keeps her water glass filled (she drinks a lot of water!). A few times we’ve had the good fortune of having a server “take care of us” , usually by doing something not expected and we’ll recognize that in the tip.

    My father-in-law is a consistent tipper, regardless of service. I was a bit surprised recently when our waiter clearly got our orders wrong, costing us an extra 20 minutes, yet still received the same tip. We received an apology from the manager, but nothing was offered (surprised about this too, usually a discount or token-freebie). Regardless, we won’t be returning there again, nor recommending the place to anyone else.

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  12. Jennifer says:

    I would agree with the notion that people tip what they tip. Both my huband and I are generally 20%-ers, but as my husband used to be a bartender, he has a much greater tolerance for “bad service” than I do.

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  13. Michael P says:

    I am usually a 20-25% tipper, and it does take unusually good or poor service to make me move out of that range. I do tend to tip proportionately more for less pricey meals and around the holidays, but outside of those cases, getting a round number (for either tip or total bill) is as likely as service quality to influence my tip within the 20-25% range.

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  14. David Bley says:

    Let me preface my tipping behavior by saying that I feel that being a waiter or waitress is a difficult job which is largely underappreciated at best and one which I would fail miserably at.

    My tipping behavior is based on the meal which I am being served and the type of service that I am receiving. If the waitperson takes my order, brings my food to the table and attends to my other needs (drinks, sugar free syrup, ketchup, steak sauce, etc.) , I tip 10% at breakfast, 15% at lunch and 20% at dinner. I do not calculate exactly but do a quick calculation in my head and round up to nearest convenient amount. This is based on an adequate level of service and the waitperson being civil (not rude). I will tip extra if the server provides a level of service which is extraordinary or if I tie up the table for a longer than normal time (i.e. I am using the restaurant to meet someone and we continue our conversation past the time it would take to eat).

    If I place my order at a counter, fill my own drink, and either pick my order up when it is ready or someone brings that order to the table, I do not tip. If I am eating at a buffet and someone keeps my glass filled, I will tip $1.

    I am very tolerant of the server. If they are having a bad day or not feeling well or being human, it is OK. I will not tip less if they are not as cheerful as they could be or if they are a little distracted. If they are rude or spiteful, that will reduce or eliminate their tip.

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    • Seminymous Coward says:

      Why is it different by meal? Also, if you’re going to vary it for that reason, most (traditional) breakfasts require more work and stuff than most lunches, don’t they?

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  15. Joe says:

    I somewhat agree, both as a former waiter and as a diner. I tip 18% to 20% about 75% of the time, with the other 25% of the time split between maybe 20% for higher tips due to small checks (I tend to tip $5 minimum for true table service even if it’s a very cheap diner where my check is $20 or less) or when my one year old is along (and creates a huge mess, as per usual), and 5% of the time lower tips due to extremely poor service – not refilling my drinks ever, or really screwing up the order.

    As a waiter, though, there is certainly some difference. I got on average better tips than most of the other waiters at my final job (at my first job, a Denny’s, as an 18 year old male I got far worse tips on the 10pm-6am shift than the women who worked there, for obvious reasons). Some of that was undoubtedly the fact that I was able to work more tables; but some of it was quality of service, as well. This restaurant was in Hyde Park (Chicago), so perhaps Levitt can attest to the fact that you don’t usually get very good service anywhere in Hyde Park. Perhaps the fact that I did give very good service meant I got better tips from folks who recognized that; or perhaps there is something of a cultural difference there (most of the clientele are middle class African Americans who came to our restaurant for low price decent food, and while they were often fairly picky about the details, were very complimentary when those details were done correctly).

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  16. ks says:

    We frequent fine-dining restaurants regularly, and our attitude toward tipping is: standard service gets 15%, good service 18%, excellent service 20% or even slightly higher. Thankfully, sub-standard service is rare, so we aren’t often faced with subtracting!

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  17. Marc M says:

    I think this overlooks two other Signifigant Factors: attractiveness of wait-staff, and group rounding.

    The first is fairly self-evident; the “hot” waitress/waiter gets the most tips, all other things being equal.

    The second occurs when a group of people are sharing a tab, and throwing their share of money in the pot, if it comes out to $19/person, with a 15% tip, you’ll probably get $20/person. It’s too much trouble to get exact change for everyone to be worth the buck apiece.

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  18. ks says:

    ..sorry, should also have posted about the wine question at the same time!

    We love wine, and usually order a bottle. I’ve taken some classes and have a WSET certification, but I by no means consider myself an expert–there’s just too much out there. My strategy is often to pick a less popular variety (steering away from Merlot, Cab, Chardonnay, and the like in favor of Txakoli, Cinsaut, Gamay, etc.) and to choose a low-to-mid-priced bottle. I find that people who make the lists often include those types of wine for themselves and their friends, and they are a great value (and delish)!

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  19. Tweeks says:

    I would be willing to wager that a single customer (as opposed to a group of customers) would be more influenced by the quality of the service. Since the “normal” behavior aspect of tipping is not observed by anyone but the server with a single customer, I would expect the “economic” aspect of tipping to take over. However with a group of people, social norms come into play and each person feels a pressure to leave a more “socially acceptable” tip.

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  20. sully says:

    At a high-end restaurant, where a meal might be over $100pp, I EXPECT good service. Any service less than good and my tip percent goes down quickly. At casual restaurants, I am not expecting exceptional service, but if its busy and i can tell the waiter/ress is doing her best in an understaffed restaurant, my tip percent goes up more quickly.

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  21. Scott says:

    If I go to a restaurant where I sit down and they bring the food to me, I like to tip using this formula 1.5a+0.1b where a is the number of people eating and b is how much the restaurant charges. So if I went out to eat with my wife and the bill was $20, I would tip $5. If the bill were $50, I would tip $8. I use this method because I don’t think that working in an expensive restaurant is that much harder than working in a cafe, but for some reason I still feel that the tip should reflect the amount on the bill.

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  22. Josh says:

    Check out Michael Lynn’s work. Recently in the Journal of Economic Psychology, Feb 2012, pp 90-103: Who uses tips as a reward for service and when? An examination of potential moderators of the service–tipping relationship

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  23. Clancy says:

    There may not be an individual effect, but there seems to be a society-level effect. It seems to me that societies and cultures where tipping is expected have a much higher level of service overall than ones where tipping is rare.

    But which is the cause and which is the effect? Or are they both effects of a culture of generosity and friendliness?

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    • Emlyn says:

      Based on my observations, I would agree with that assessment. I’m a Brit, and while in the US I try to tip like a local (20%?). Originally, I approached this negatively but ended up being blown away by the service I received.

      I am still somewhat perplexed by institutionalised tipping, and have been curious about the chicken-egg situation were it to miraculously become the norm in Britain.

      When at home I tip up to the nearest £5 note as standard, only deviating up or down (back to the “actual” price… sorry…) when the service is extremely good/bad; so I guess I support the original hypotheses (albeit, from the cheaper side of the Atlantic).

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  24. Mark Russell says:

    I tip because I am aware that service workers in Murka are considered little better than slaves, and are paid virtually nothing.

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  25. Ken says:

    I tip, very reluctantly, because I believe the wait staff are dependent on tips. i.e the American restaurant business model requires the customer to pay the staff’s wages. How bizarre. How American.

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    • Mira says:

      If we didn’t tip, and service staff were paid a higher rate (as in many other countries), customers would still be paying staff’s wages in the form of higher prices. At least with the tipping system, staff are motivated and incentivized to provide better service, and customers have the freedom to not tip if a server is rude or gives poor service. Having lived in another country where tipping isn’t customary (but staff make closer to $16-20/hr), I can honestly say I prefer the US system. The bill comes out to roughly the same amount (sometimes less!) here, but I usually receive FAR better service.

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  26. Why? says:

    Why do we accept this system of super low wages to be (partially) compensated by tips? Aren’t the good tippers subsidizing the relatively lower prices of the meals? In my view, waiters should be payed a living wage, irrespective of anything else. Then, they could be additionally rewarded by patrons with a tip without the guilty factor of “if I don’t tip well this waitress will not feed her children”. This would also lead the tips to be more directly correlated to performance on the job and thus become an incentive for good service.
    As it is, tips are expected and thus lose a lot of their performance based compensation aspect.

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  27. Random Thunking says:

    True story: I graduated from college into rather weak economy. The only jobs available were waiting tables, so I waitered for about a year. One evening two couple occupied one for my tables for about three hours (two hours longer than most, essentially taking a money-making opportunity from me). They paid the check with cash. when I brought them their change, a whopping $1.25, they said in a most generous voice, “Keep the change.”
    I said, “Wow, three hours work for a dollar twenty five!!”
    One of the ladies said, “Give it back if you don’t want it.” She held out her hand.
    I put the money in her hand saying, “Spend it at McDonalds.”

    From an economic standpoint, I was already at a net loss. The additional loss of $1.25 was negligible. But hopefully, that particular customer would be so put-off by the experience that they would stay away from restaurants or become more aware of protocol.

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  28. Michael says:

    The reader is dead on. I traditionally tip 20% unless service was completely underwhelming or if some part of my meal was comped in some way. I’ve always tipped a little more because I’m good friends with several professionals in the hospitality industry, and I know that most servers are paid less than minimum wage.

    I think the real questions are: 1) Why do people tip the way they normally do? ie, why are some people 10-percenters and others 20-percenters? 2) What exemplifies exceptional service to the point that someone is swayed to tip something other than their normal percentage?

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  29. Dr Duck says:

    Here’s one that never gets answered to my satisfaction:

    Suppose I go to the same restaurant two nights in a row, order the same meal at the same time and get the same server, who does the same amount of work. The one difference is that on the first night I include a $20 wine, and on the second I get a $50 wine.

    Why should the tip be higher on day two?

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    • Random Thunking says:

      You should tip more on day two. The reason being: the IRS has figured out how tips work. Your waiter pays taxes that are based on the amount he/she sells plus their paltry wage. So on day one you bought a $50 dinner and $20 wine, the IRS expects a $14 tip and the server is taxed based on that expectation. Even though the server has not worked harder, they will be taxed more. But, assuming at 20% tax rate, the difference in taxes paid is only $1.20, but difference in tip is $6. I feel less guilty by just ordering a glass of the house wine.

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      • Dr Duck says:

        Hmmm. So should we base our tips on the ‘fixed’ portion of the meal and just add a marginal amount to cover the taxes on the ‘extras’? This doesn’t seem satisfactory.

        The example, and your response, seems to demonstrate that we do not, as the question poses, tip based (only) on the waiter’s service. The amount of the bill is only crudely correlated with service, but it’s the only measure we have.

        Of course there’s a better way: eliminate tipping and pay reasonable wages, raising prices as needed. But we’ll never all agree to that.

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  30. John D-H says:

    I usually tip between 10 & 20% based on service level. I round up to the even dollar which probably benefits the lower priced restaurant server more than the higher end server. If I am considering a 10% tip I usually ask to see the manager to complain. I probably average 18%. So that is one data point. My daughters, who have both worked in restaurants and bars tell me that my rate is higher than what they see.

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  31. JB says:

    I am another one of the 15-20% er’s (after tax, rounded up). As a former scoop-slinger at an ice cream shop I understand how much a good tip can mean emotionally as well as economically. While tipping is not expected at a counter job, even a 15 cent tip made me feel that my hard work and cheery helpfulness were appreciated so I always try to do the same to others. If a server at a restaurant is having a bad day I’ll give sympathy along with 18% regardless of the state of my water glass, but if they’re not trying or just plain rude I’ll drop to 12% or even 10%.

    As for wine: it’s overpriced at restaurants anyway; I drink it at home and order complicated cocktails instead ^_^.

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  32. Dr Duck says:

    At least some of the level of service or quality we get (or perceive) is outside the control of the server, and we usually can’t know how much.

    Some establishments pool tips to reward more of the staff — would this practice have a good effect, by tying more of their income to the customer’s perception of service? Or would it just create resentment in the wait staff and encourage cheating?

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  33. nkemp15 says:

    I always tip 20% unless the service is exceptional or poor. I’ve always wondered if people have a good waiter but bad food, do they tip less? Because to me that doesn’t make sense. The cooks get paid the same no matter what. :-\

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    • Mark says:

      The food quality is not the server’s doing; if the server is sympathetic to your concerns about the poor food the cook had created, then by all means give them the 20%

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  34. Rick says:

    Why and how did the percentage calculation arise. The amount of work / service provided in my experience does not correlate well with the price of the food.

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  35. Guy Manningham says:

    So tipping is not a city in China? Haha. http://guymanningham.com

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  36. Joe J says:

    In general I agree with the original author, It takes a bit to get me out of my tipping habits. But I’ll toss out one other habit, I believe I tip more at places I frequent or am a regular, partially for future good service partially for good past service.

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  37. Placerville says:

    My tip to a waiter is 10% if they smile, take my order, get it right and deliver it within a reasonable period of time. It’s 15% if they return within 5 to 10 minutes (not when I’m done) and ask, “Is everything OK, do you need anything?” It’s 20% if they go out of their way to (cheerfully) correct a problem with the environment e.g., music too loud, glaring light, or other issues that will ruin my dining experience.

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    • Mira says:

      So the only chance a server waiting on you has to make 20% is if something is wrong and they fix it or are sympathetic to your needs? What if everything was great? Their best chance is only 15%?

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  38. Mark says:

    I find that I’m more likely to tip down than to tip up. It seems to me that poor service is far more common and good quality service (of which requires a significant increase) is quite rare. Does anyone else find this to be true? Perhaps my restaurant venue should change, or I’m just stingy?

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  39. Robin says:

    I concur. I won’t go out to eat unless I have 20% to tip. Even if service isn’t that great, I’ll usually tip the full 20% because I know that bad service can be the result of a lot of factors beyond the waiter’s control, like a couple of no-shows or a couple of unexpectedly large parties. The only time I’ll tip significantly lower is when I can see clearly bad service on the part of the waiter. For example, one time my waiter was goofing off at the bar for most of the meal. I had to go up and ask him three times to check on my order before getting my meal. I still tipped 5%, which I think was generous.
    If I get exceptionally good service, I might tip 25%. However, from the waiter’s perspective, I’m not sure that the marginal benefit of that extra 5% at most on what is typically a $25-$30 check is worth the extra effort.
    About the wine, I think he is right too on all counts. I know practically nothing about wine, but of course if I am trying to impress, I don’t want someone to know that Bud Light is my beverage of choice. So I pretend to care and ask the waiter what he would recommend. If it’s expensive, I order a glass for me and my companion, and if it’s on the cheap side, I’ll spring for the bottle. I still can’t decipher the hodge-podge of adjectives used to describe wines.
    I found out after my boyfriend (who also isn’t very knowledgeable about wines) and I had been dating for a while that his tactic was to go straight for the median price wine on the list (don’t want to look cheap or pay too much) and say “I heard that’s good.”
    Fortunately now we can forget about those games and admit that we like a 3-liter $9.99 Trader Joe’s boxed wine as much as the pricy stuff!

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  40. Eric M. Jones says:

    I learn a lot about a person by seeing what she or he tips. My wife and I are both heavy tippers, and it’s not an accident that I married her.

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  41. Maltese says:

    I tip based on 2 things, value & taste and how authentic the waiter/waitress responds to our needs. Not on how cute she is, or how sweet she is.

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  42. JamesBrett says:

    I waited tables through college and suspected that it is indeed difficult to change how much someone will tip. Most people are going to give a certain percentage of the total regardless of service.

    The biggest exception: groups of college girls paying with their daddies’ credit cards.

    I tip 20% unless service is incredibly poor or really really good (then it’s like 15 or 25%).

    Interesting, though, I observed that the one thing most likely to lower a tip is the food taking too long — which is almost entirely out of the waitstaff’s control.

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  43. Susan M says:

    My rule of thumb is 20%, more at breakfast because the food is so cheap. I will go up to 35% if the service is exceptional, down to 10% if it is lousy. I have never not tipped, although there have been times that I shouldn’t have.

    Other factors are caring and friendliness. Some things are out of their control but if it is obvious that the waiter cares and is trying to help, that matters for the tip. So does smiling, and being genuinly friendly.

    Being a waiter is an art form. Not only must you bring the food at the right time, make sure everyone has what they want when they want it, and check in at just the right times, but you must also know how to read people, how to relate to different personalities, and how to satisfy those personalities. Plus, waiters must take the heat when the chef screws up. Not an easy job and I would never want to do it! To those of you who are successful at it, I give you all my admiration.

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  44. Michael says:

    That describes exactly how I tip. Sometimes I make it 18% for really fancy restaurants because that seems to be normal.

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  45. Anna Turtle says:

    These comments (yes, I read them all) show that tipping is so idiosyncratic a waiter has no hope of pleasing everyone. It is also a job that should have been replaced by technology long ago. Transmitting a food and drink order to the kitchen, then delivering that food and drink order; this really requires a human being? We are in a time period in which humans can actually make money acting as waiters; congrats to them. Everyone can keep up their idiosyncratic tipping methods until waiters are phased out by something more accurate and efficient. It’s not all that important.

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    • John D-H says:

      Anna, you are certainly entitled to your view that this discussion is not important and that eating in a sit down restaurant with service is anachronistic. I believe that this experience has been a part of many societies for many centuries and I suspect tipping has in one way or another been a part of their experiences.
      I have enjoyed Freakonomics because they do not craft their observations to what one group or another wants to be the truth but rather to what is observable truth. I appreciate the many inputs here on how each person acts in a somewhat comparable environment.
      I suspect that the motivations and results in tipping can be compared to the motivations and results in voting in national elections. Which of course some people think is idiosyncratic, anachronistic and not all that important.

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  46. cthulhu says:

    A lot more similarity than I expected!

    I fall into the “adequate service – 15%; good service (which is usually the norm – most people try to do a good job!) – 18%; excellent service – 20%” group. For my convenience, I also tip on the total bill including sales tax; we essentially never order alcoholic beverages at a restaurant, so the wine question doesn’t come into play.

    I can count the number of times I tipped less than 10% on one hand, all because of jaw-droppingly-bad service. The worst was a hotel restaurant near LAX airport; I checked in about 20 minutes before closing time, there was one waiter, and he had mentally already closed shop for the night. I had to cajole him to seat me, to take my order, to bring me my iced tea, to refill my iced tea, etc. Once I had my food (I was NOT going to take him on before I had my food), I asked to see the manager, and was told the manager was not there. The service became non-existent after I had my food; I could not get my tea or water refilled again, and had to threaten to walk without paying the bill to get the check. After I had paid my bill, I left $0.25 on the table, and did something I have never done before or since – I publicly chewed him out for bad service. I got the classic LA response too – “I’m an actor; I only do this job between auditions!” Only in LA…

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  47. Madan says:

    Tipping should not be encouraged and a service charge should be in the bill which should be made optional. The person is paid for serving just like you and I are paid in our jobs. We do not ask for tips from our customers when we areworking in an organization. The same should hold here. By allowing tips we let the waiter discriminate between customers which should not be the case. I like restaurants which say upfront that there should be no tipping.

    20 percent is too high. I am from India, where 5 percent is the unofficial norm. People who pay more are invariably palming it off to their companies and on their own do not pay more than 5 percent. Once you accept that tipping is all right, then where do you stop. Why not tip the friendly bus conductor or driver or cabbie, or the man who opens the hotel door. There will be no end to this concept of tipping and hence should be done away with. The owner of the restaurant or bar or hotel can give a bonus for good service, just like we get in our offices if we work well. Why throw the onus on the customer who is made to feel awkward because he does not give the cited tip?

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    • Shannon says:

      Waitstaff in the United States are not paid a salary like the average office worker; their hourly wage is around $2-4/hr and they make their money through tips. The advantage of this compensation model is that waiters have a greater incentive to go the extra mile to give you excellent service and a positive experience. If restaurants used a typical salary model instead they would have to raise food prices to cover the higher labor costs, so you as the customer would be paying the same amount anyway but no doubt for poorer service. And you personally would be in fact paying more since it sounds like you’re not tipping in the first place. Ironically it’s people like you who benefit most from the tipping system since it allows you to free ride on people who actually follow the rules and tip. So you really have nothing to complain about, no?

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  48. LEEQ0 says:

    If I simplify the stream of thought, how to decide the price of tip, I’ would be below

    1. Checking Several factors of the restaurant –
    foods, interior, price of food, service, memories…
    It’s usually irrational and dependent upon mood largely..
    (It’s sometimes rational for food critics or wine critics.. But never 100% rational..)
    And the service quality affects this step mostly.

    2. Ordering factors –
    What are more valuable things between these factors??
    Everyone has their own ordering patterns
    but I think cultural factor is the most important thing between them

    3. Calculating the price or the score of the restaurant
    It makes a price of tip approximately.

    4. Last Check-up
    It can be an important step because altruism and usual habit can intervene the result of calculation.

    5. Price Determination(10%?, 15%?, 20%?)

    It usually happens quickly in our brain and someone could skip some steps.
    Through several steps, the service quality point usually cuts down.
    Therefore, if service quality would not go extreme, I think, it could not affect the price of tip significantly.

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    • Doug says:

      The tip should never be determined by the enjoyment of the food. If you don’t like what you ordered that’s on you. If it came out cold (or hot, if it was supposed to be cold) than that is on the waiter, usually.

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  49. Tarrou says:

    A couple things I’d like to note. I know europeans find the tipping odd, and I do to, to a point. But I do have to say, having traveled well, you won’t get service in Europe like you will in the states. All that weird tipping business does help on that front.

    Second is the policy I discovered of “tipping out”. Apparently, in many restaurants/bars, the waiters “tip out” or pay a percentage of their tips into a pool which gets split between the hostesses, the busboys, the bartender, etc. All well and good, yes? But some establishments, they “tip out” a percentage of their total sales, not the actual tip. This means that if the percentage of that bill exceeds the hourly rate (and the hourly rate is usually about $2.50) by the amount of time spent on that table, and they don’t tip, the waiter has literally paid to wait on someone. Now, I dated some who have worked in these establishments, and I’ve noted from their stories that it seems the people who make the work hard leave the worst tips, while “nice” people leave good ones even if they’re a bit ragged. It seems to be a scheme whereby the “nice” people subsidize the assholes’ behavior. If no one tipped, companies would have to pay far more. and prices would rise radically. Everyone would pay far more for service, instead you can go into a restaurant, run the waitress ragged, shout profanity and insults, throw your food, and still complain and get the whole thing for free, stiffing the waitress, who is actually paying for the delight of waiting on your uncivilized ass.

    The crazy thing is, it works. You should see what bartenders bring in. It may be uneven, it may be dependent on a fragile and easily avoided social convention, and I don’t minimize the work these people do. But they make a whole lot more money for their level of education/training than most professions.

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  50. CDE says:

    There seems to be a running theme in respondents answers. That is, those who worked in Food & Beverage service have direct experience of how fast-paced, intense, and physically-demanding the business can be. Generally, the comments suggest these folks (myself included) are generally on the ‘higher’ side of the tipping scale, perhaps because of their work experiences. This scenario reminded me of the question of Altruism that Levitt/Dubner posed via the inclusion of a ‘modified dictator/ultimatum’ experiment in one of their books. In the situation where 2 individuals have both worked before they receive remuneration, they are reticent to take the earnings from the other when given the power to do so (somewhat interestingly, even in the case of ‘just ok’ service from the waiter). This appears to be a real world example of that experiment at work. The take aways (for me):
    1) I seek opportunities to try someone else’s shoes on for size (physically and mentally); I’m often surprised what I learn about myself .
    2) Remuneration for work performed is still one of the most solid models. If the pay isn’t enough to support my family, I eventually will endeavor to find a role that will (perhaps outside of the food and service industry or perhaps building my own business). I’m not asking anyone else to give me a leg up…I’ll find my own way by retraining/reeducating myself if my current path isn’t working.

    For the record, I ended up in a very high-paying white-collar job, and I often say the for particular role in which I am currently working, nothing served my growth more than the sub-culture, deadlines, and demands of working in a restaurant — salad chef, bus boy, waiter, and bartender.

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  51. Ben says:

    My family usually tip around 10% of the bill, sometimes more if they overly impress. If they do just a bit above or below the average, the tip does not change.

    However, if the waiter/waitress is terrible there is no tip at all.

    In some restaurants around the UK, and probably worldwide, have a mandatory service charge; this may seem to be a brilliant idea, however, this favours the inefficient staff and does not praise the overly impressive staff.

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  52. frodygirl says:

    This is an discussion that commonly comes up in travel articles here in Australia as we don’t have a “tipping culture”. Our waitstaff are paid an actual wage (depending on location and experience) starting at around $20/hr an amount that it is possible to live on, even in Sydney. For this reason, tips are only a recognition of service, are not mandatory or expected, and are in many cases just the amount left over to round up the bill to the next multiple of $5 or to allow for easier bill sharing. Tips are also frequently shared, in many cases among not just the wait staff, but also the kitchen staff.
    When we travel, tipping is an convention we research to discover what the norm is in our destination. The American custom of restaurant owners not paying their staff a living wage for permorfing a job is considered another quaint custom of a country that… leads to sentences best not posted in a public forum.

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    • John D-H says:

      I love Australians who believe their culture is superior commenting on other cultures. I suspect the Australian aborigines find that as a big a laugh as the American Sioux and the Irish do. And this from a culture of convicts? Perhaps tolerance and less arrogance would be a good thing. Different people in different cultures support each other, and pay each other in different ways. What is the saying…? When in Rome do as the Romans. Many wait staff in the US find that Australians and Europeans are ripoff artists punishing our working people by imposing their own prejudices about tipping to personally save themselves a couple of bucks. Gee whiz, if you can’t afford a couple of bucks for the working folks in America, find another place to visit. This is our culture. Please be polite and participate when you are visiting here.

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  53. Michael Samuel says:

    I live in Australia where tipping is truly optional (eg. not expected at all), so I usually just pay with card (for the correct amount on the bill) and if the service or food is great I make a comment. I think people like that more than a couple of bucks anyway.

    When I travel in the US, the whole tipping thing just feels like a tax. I still compliment great food or great service vocally, which is usually responded to with confusion (especially in New York – they always respond to “thank you” with an awkward “mmm-hmm”).

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    • John D-H says:

      I got another confirmation about about cheapskate foreign visitors to America by someone who worked tonight. Despite an explanation of our customs on the menus, Germans have never tipped above 8%, thereby screwing the employee. Charming.

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      • Ben says:

        In his defence, what other job to you tip people for? The doctor who saved your life? The midwife who helped your wife with giving birth to your child?

        And why blame the consumer? What about the employer who is making the waiter/waitress reliant on their tips due to incredibly low wages? and what about the fact it’s their choice to go into that profession.

        And to generalise against all the Germans for probably, only a few, is incredibly 1) factually incorrect 2) borderline racism.

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    • Shannon says:

      Does your employer know your attitude on comments vs money? Because I’m pretty sure they’re going to be thrilled with how much money they can save on you; just a few well chosen compliments and they can cut your salary in half! And next time you go out to eat rather than serving you a meal restaurant staff can just lavish you with compliments; that’s better than mere food, right?

      Seriously though, your philosophy sounds like it makes sense in Australia but I hope that when you travel in the U.S. you actually do tip…because it IS expected here and it’s unfair to your server if you don’t (they’re not getting paid if you don’t). And if you’re complimenting the service yet leaving a substandard tip then it’s no wonder the servers are confused…it’s like saying “Good job…but fuck you!” Again, compliments are awesome (and a praising the server to the manager is even better) but until grocery stores, landlords, and doctors will start accepting compliments as legal currency you gotta pay your server in money too! :)

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  54. Jeff says:

    My wife and I go out to dinner a lot we rarely tip less than 25% during the holidays even 40-50% is not uncommon. When we do tip 20% it is because of okay service. Tipping is one of the few ways a consumer can have a direct impact on the income of an employee of a company. The staff takes notice over time and when we go back the service is better than before. As far as wine goes I know there are a lot of good wines for $15 (retail) but I’m willing to spend a lot more when I get to know a server and trust their opinion. Why shouldn’t we pay more for story of a wine the design of the label the whole experience after all there are real people that play a part in the final product and by paying more is a way voting for what you like. Food service to me is more like art the plating and originallty of the food along with the service is all very important. I might add at this point that we also go to locally owned and operated restaurants. I just don’t like chains. When you tip well you are telling the owners and management that the person they have serving you is asset to to company. When someone does right by me I let the owner know. The owner wants us to return and spend more money so it’s in their best interest to find ways to enhance that experience. Now at several places we dine they will open several bottles of wines for us to try even if we only want a glass.

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  55. Matt Doughty says:

    I am not sure if this has been commented on already, but something to bare in mind.

    Living in Europe, the idea of tipping a bar man, taxi driver, or any kind of service orientated professional in many ways quite anti to a lot of the rules we tend to go by.

    At a restaurant, 10%- 15% is pretty standard, and shockingly does depend on the service. But, having just got back from the US. It is an obsession without any solid grounding!

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  56. Doug says:

    The tipping % long ago stopped reflecting performance. And with pooled tips it reflects even less so.

    When ordering off a menu, accept that the prices come with a 20% surcharge and deal with it.

    If you leave less than 15% when tipping, you either can’t afford to be eating out or are just a mean spirited person.

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  57. scott foster says:

    I’m a 15%e’r unless the waitperson really needs to find a new line of work. If they or someone else is going to be seriously injured if they continue waiting tables then I will send them a message by giving a $0.25 tip.

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  58. AaronS says:

    I usually make it a point to tip 20%, even for rather mediocre service. Why? Because most of the places I frequent usually have decent service. I don’t like to “punish” someone who might just be having an off night. They have families to feed, too. Also, sometimes, things really aren’t the waiters fault (for instance, an improperly cooked steak).

    I have tipped as little as 10% (I have never found a good enough reason not to tip at all) for especially bad attitudes or poor service (e.g., leaving my Coke glass empty for most of the meal, etc.). But this is VERY rare.

    Also, around the Christmas season and New Years, I like to tip a bit more generously, knowing that these folks have families they’d like to treat, etc. But I’m not extravagant. I might leave a $10 tip for $35 meal, but I don’t have the wherewithal to leave a $100.

    I do tend to apply the brakes if I feel that the waiter is trying to game me. You know the kind–pretty, little blonde, nice legs, smiling, etc. I mean, really, does ANYONE think that by giving her and extra large tip for average service will cause her to decide to marry you? I don’t like being played, even by pretty women. Do that, and while I may still give you 20%, you can be sure that I will likely be looking for reasons NOT to.

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    • Kevin Shmevin says:

      I too get very annoyed when they employ those “tips for getting bigger tips,” such as touching me, using my name (unless I frequent the place or they actually know me), or flirting with me when it’s pretty clear that she wouldn’t be flirting with me if we met under different circumstances. I feel like they’re trying to play me for a fool.

      Yet, as much as I’d like to penalize the behavior by leaving a smaller tip, I just leave the same 20% as always.

      The one an only time I deviated from this and left a 13 cent tip was when I had a waitress who was shockingly rude and insulting. I emailed the restaurant about it, and they fired her the next day. (They told me they had received many complaints besides mine, so I didn’t feel bad.) So I guess, in the end, the low tip probably didn’t matter.

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  59. Brian callaghan says:

    As an Australian I view tipping differently than I believe most Americans do. On overseas trips, when I observe Americans tipping, it seems to be an automatic response, done without much thought. On a bus trip from Toronto to niagra and back, our driver took us to every two bit exploitation farm he could find. We were dumped at each place, shown an amazing array of rubbish, expected to purchase then bundled back on the bus. I heard him in conversation with a number of the ptoprietors of these places and he obviously had a system going on where he received payment for delivering us poor bunnies to their tourist traps. At the end of the day, he delivered us to our hotel then stood at the door of the bus with his hand out. Every American on the bus filled his palm with notes. For what?
    Needless to say I thanked him for the careful driving and getting us back safely ,which after all was his job, and shook his hand. He seemed more than a little surprised.
    In Australia we tip if the service warrants it, not because the poor sod is underpaid and tips are expected to make the difference. Why don’t Americans pay their staff a reasonable wage?

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  60. kevin says:

    Start at 20% and adjust accordingly. For places i frequent on a regular basis, I tip more and the servers take excellent care of me and my family. I also bring a lot of people in as well so the owners also take care of me. I also make sure to ask the server to pass along complements when I have had a particularly good meal.

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  61. Rodge says:

    I’m not sure how it really is in your country, but here in the Philippines, tipping does not only mirror the service provided, it also becomes an informal ‘investment’ into the service especially if you decide to come back to the establishment in the future. It’s a form of support given to a place that does its job quite well — something that is relatively rare here.

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  62. James says:

    When my order is for coffee only, or soup only, tip at least $2. When the tab includes a moderately priced wine, total $150 for two diners, tip 20% – $30. When the tab includes an expensive wine, total $175, still tip $30 – it’s no more work to pour expensive wine.

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  63. Angela says:

    As a college student, I try to tip without offending my server at the regular 10%. Occasionally though, I do find myself giving 20% when the service was really great; this might be affected by the fact that I am a student of labor, labor management and unions, so I am sympathetic toward service work in particular. I often wonder about how much I “need” to or should tip when I myself do not have much income to speak of. I have no qualms, however, on giving less tip when the service was extremely poor, though the one time this happened in Chinatown, NYC, the waiter refused to let us leave the restaurant saying that we had not tipped the standard 10%. This was after the waiters had repeated ignored me (I spoke the same dialect as the owners) and made faces at me when I tried to get the bill!

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  64. Steven says:

    I think the amount you tip is not always a function on the level of service you receive but more what is recognized as a social norm. I’m a European living in California and prior to moving to the US I had always been a 10% tipper. However, overnight I seem to have converted from a 10% tipper to a 20% tipper.

    My income hasn’t increased significantly from my 10% tipping days nor did I feel that the level of service I was getting had improved that significantly. The only explanation I can find for increasing to 20% was down to social norms and peer pressure. I am told by my friends here on the west coast that 20% is normal and so I conformed to what is socially acceptable. Whenever I visit Europe I revert back to my 10% tipping ways!

    One of aspect of tipping I don’t understand is why we all focus on a % of the check. This method results in a higher tip when choosing a more expensive menu item without a corresponding improvement in service!

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  65. Kevin says:

    I tip based on service level. My average is 15-20% depending on rounding but I will deviate considerably based on level of commitment. I’ve tipped the cost of a meal because the service was that good and I’ve left a $5 bill in a glass of water because the service was crummy.

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  66. sc says:

    well tipping and service are not related at all. I tip since it is how waiters get paid. I would prefer more honest model where waiting stuff get paid properly and tip is a real tip not just server pay in disguise of tip. also I got best service in other parts of the world where rule is simple – no tipping.

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  67. BW says:

    In answer to the question “Is tipping a low amount an effective way of communicating dissatisfaction with service.”

    From the servers perspective, a low or high tip isn’t necessarily a very good indicator of what the patron thought about the service. All servers are familiar with the “verbal tip” where someone praises how much they enjoyed the meal and your service but leaves a very small tip. The verbal and nonverbal cues about a person’s satisfaction are better indicators.

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  68. Dan says:

    Joshua works in California, a state that does not reduce the wages of a “customarily tipped” employee from the minimum wage. I’ve lived in CA and now in Michigan (which does reduce the hourly rate) and I tend to tip more in line with the service level (though I am usually a good tipper anyway) in CA because I don’t like the idea that I am expected to tip regardless of how well I’m served.

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  69. Jan Simon says:

    I think Joshua is exactly right. Thinking about how my friends and I tip, we tend to be 15-20% people with adjustments for really bad or really exceptional service or, personally, if I feel I’ve taken longer at the table than is customary for that establishment since I’ve deprived the server of tips he/she would otherwise receive if the table turned over more frequently. I think more people should take the last into account.

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  70. Kevin Shmevin says:

    There was this one bar in my hometown where I used to tip 200% because my friends and I always shared a giant tray of nachos that was only $5 on Monday nights, and the waitress always brought us free soft drinks. It totally would not have been right to only tip $1 for that.

    This isn’t hardly relevant. I was just reminiscing.

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  71. Benjamin Svoboda says:

    The act of tipping does present the patron at the restauraunt with an interesting dilema between maintaining a happy wallet as well as self image. I feel like when it comes to tipping, the service will not affect the amount given as much as who the person might be with. Where someone eating alone might give a standard 10% for fair service, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to suspect the same person tipping 15-20% for the same or lesser service if out with friends, family or most of all a date. I know it sure affects my decision when it comes time to lay down a few extra dollars.

    For this reason I think that a question with just as much intrigue as the effect of good or bad service on tipping would be a study done on tipping when around different groups of people in one’s life. This would be an excellent topic for the authors of Freakonomics or any economists to look into in the future.

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  72. Randyycia G. says:

    I think it all depends. Since I am a college student I usually always tip the same thing unless that waiter was just unbelievably awesome! Then i pull out a few more dollars.

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  73. Randyycia G. says:

    I think it all depends on the situation. Since I am a college student, we go out to eat a lot and I don’t have a lot of money. So I tend to always tip about the same thing. But if that waiter is unbelievably awesome, then sometimes I throw in an extra buck or two.

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  74. Cindy Q says:

    The norm for tipping in the area that I live is usually about 18-20%. Whenever I go out to eat I always try to tip accordingly, unless the bill is less than $9 then I will tip at least $2. Often times if the service is average or better than average I don’t mind leaving a full 20% tip because tips are usually what compile a large sum of the waitresses/waiters pay check.
    Only when the service is not very attentive (waiting 40 minutes for food, not getting refills, having to ask for everything, etc.) will I tip lower than the standard 18-20%. But it does take quite bad service to get the tip lowered.

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  75. Sean Heidger says:

    I think that the waiter says it all. I think it takes extremely bad service or outstanding service to change the percentage of the tip. This doesn’t include any experience with the food for me because they can’t control that, and they still deserve the tip. I base it on how they acted towards me and how often they stopped by the table to see how well you were doing. I usually tip on 15% of the bill. I think people also take into effect the type of restaurant they are in and how nice the place is. People at a more upscale restaurant expect better service so they might be more likely to change they way they tip.

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  76. Anna D says:

    I think the personality or charisma of a server can have a big impact on the tip. As a server at a casual bar/grill, I would have to agree that, in most cases, people generally tip within their own predetermined range, as long as the service is satisfactory. Having been in the service industry for almost two years, I would say I am pretty good at what I do in that I am always prompt and polite. I am by nature not a very extroverted person so I always remain somewhat professional with my tables, but I have noticed that the more outgoing and personable servers tend to make a good amount from customers they “click” well with. The quieter and more awkward servers definitely tend to average less per night than the more social ones. Therefore, I would say the personality of the server does have a significant impact on the tip, holding the quality of service (in terms of promptness, taking the order correctly, etc.) equal.

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  77. Juliana says:

    Just like Keith’s culture, tipping is also not required in mine. Our waiters are fairly paid and it might even seem offensive if you tip the waiter. By giving the waiter extra money, they might understand that you think they are inferior to you just because they are the ones “serving” you, while what they are doing is just making their fair money. So, even in America I’ll only tip a waiter if I think the service given was extremely good.
    And about the wine, I agree with Talley’s statement because if I ever have to order a bottle of wine, I’ll for sure ask for the waiter’s opinion, because I dont understand about wines at all.

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  78. Nathan Partyka says:

    There are so many different contributing factors to this topic that it’s hard to narrow down a general norm. There are people who have a set percentage that they will tip every time, there’s those who round things up, there are those who base every dining experience individually, those who are servers themselves so they naturally tip higher, and a whole lot more. In the end I think it comes down to the individuals themselves.

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  79. Randyycia G says:

    I think it all depends on the situation. Since I am a college student, we go out to eat a lot and I don’t have a lot of money. So I tend to always tip about the same thing. But if that waiter is unbelievably awesome, then sometimes I throw in an extra buck or two. And it also depends on the restaurant. I would automatically tip more at a fancy restaurant than a cheaper one.

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  80. Ryan S says:

    The original question was “I’ve always wondered how much the quality of service impacts the tip?” I used to wonder this as well when I was a waiter.

    This is measurable, assuming you can get the data.
    1) Collect tip percentage information from all the waiters/waitresses at a given restaurant. By using servers at the same restaurant, you control for various non-waiter factors (quality of food, atmosphere, clientele, etc.)
    2) Calculate average tip % received by each server over a period of time (to control for random variations, differentials due to attractive/unattractive shifts, etc.)
    3) Look at how much average tip % varies from server to server. You could then see “average tipping behavior” as well as how much good or bad service changed this.

    You would think that someone has done a scientific study on exactly this. I did a quick search on Google Scholar and found some possible connections, but did not find anything direct enough to link here.

    Back when I was a waiter, I did make an attempt to quantify this. There was one waitress at our restaurant who was rather nasty. Whenever we shared the same shift, I tried to ask her casually at the end of the shift how much she had made in tips. I then mentally compared it to my own tips. I might be a bit biased, but it seemed like I made A LOT more money than she did, perhaps on the order of 5% or so higher as a % of the total bill.

    One other random personal anecdote: it seemed that “being really good looking” could compensate for a whole lot of mediocre service.

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  81. Eden Enter your name... says:

    When I walk in the door I am assuming I will tip 20% or more. Usually more. I double the first number and round up. So if the bill is $86, I would double 8 to 16, then round up to $20. I end up tipping this way even if the service was just ok. It is a pinch to leave a really good tip on a check over $100, but I am prepared. I tip as much as I can whenever I can. It’s easy to be generous with an extra $5, so on a $25 check I might tip $10. When we really like a place and look forward to returning, we tip even more. We tip bartenders lavishly, and get a lot of free drinks. My husband calls this putting them “on retainer”. They are always attentive when we return.

    When I dine out with my children I am expecting to tip at least 30%. Tables with kids are a pain in the butt, and they leave much more mess to clean up.

    I was a waitress when I was in my twenties. I worked in a lot of different places, and I still identify with the staff. When I go into a restaurant I am polite and friendly. I try to make a connection with the server if I can. Most of the time I get very good service. I am aware of how busy my waiter is, and how much effort they are making. So I share the dilemma of Adam W. I will force myself to tip less for really bad service, but I know a waiter who was indiferent in the first place will probably not get the message, and just think I am a cheapskate. And my “bad” tip is still many people’s regular tip.

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  82. PAJones says:

    You could call me a “ten-percent round-up” tipper, where I tip an amount that is ten percent of the next highest multiple of ten of the subtotal plus tax of the amount given. Thus, if I pay 9 dollars for a meal, I will pay one dollar in tip, but for eleven dollars I will pay two dollars because the next highest multiple of ten is twenty.

    I can’t disagree with the reasoning of Mr. Talley. However to be frank tipping was always a mere social grace to me– just something one does because it is the polite thing to do, independent of any sort of rational reasoning behind it. This may be the essence of the “shotgun marriage” behavior that Dubner speaks of.

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  83. deanbrew says:

    I have to admit I didn’t read all 11 pages of comments, but I did read the first few and last couple, and I’m surprised I didn’t see any comments questioning the accepted relationship between the size of the bill and the tip amount. While I’m certainly aware of the longstanding percentage norm, which has somehow grown from 10% to 15% and now, according to many generous souls, to 20%, my tip is based less on the prices of what I eat, and more on the observed service. Why should servers get 15-20% of a bill in a diner, family restaurant, pub, chain restaurant and upscale eatery, when the price per diner may range from, say, $7 to $57? Does the server in the expensive restaurant do eight times as much work, or provide eight times as much service?

    If one is measuring tips as a percentage of the bill, then I distinctly over-tip at low-cost diners and restaurants, and under-tip at expensive places. Sorry to all of the waiters and waitresses, but there’s no way I’m tipping 15 to 20% of a large bill at a fancy restaurant. The higher menu prices might be attributed to higher ingredient costs, more extravagant preparation, higher rent, fancier decor and other factors (including snob appeal), but none of that necessarily results in more attentiveness, better food delivery, drink refills or other service-related value.

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  84. Cobb says:

    I tip very methodically. I take 20% of the total and then round off to the nearest buck, rounding down. I rationalize the rounding down because you shouldn’t tip the sales tax. I never tip for takeout, and I never calculate the tip on the receipt. I just write the total I want to pay – always round figures, makes my expense reporting easier.

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  85. Miles F says:

    One beautiful aspect of the “American server compensation model: is that it is truly the ideal of incentives vs. rewards. This derives directly out of relationship between service (inputs/investment) and compensation (tips). Alternatively, what if there are other incentives at play that are far more significant in determining the amount that is left as a tip for servers?

    For example, I like to think that I tip approximately 15% (generally rounding up from 15%) based upon quality of service but when I’m completely honest this idea isn’t nearly as true and simple as I stated. There are a large number of factors that easily change this oversimplified model including: who I’m with, the attractiveness of the server (does the attractive server flirt with me?) and the many aspects of the food.

    In conclusion, sure my tips are nearly always going to be approximately 15%; but if you are willing to have some basic conversation past how I prefer my steak and possibly flirt a little (yes, I want the smiley face drawn on my receipt) you’re likely to get well past the meager 15% average.

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  86. beeker says:

    $1 per $5 on a meal ticket, rounding up to the nearest easy math, and $1 for every drink while standing at a bar, coffee or alcohol. So I guess I’m a 20% with an emphasis on arithmetic. Having realized that not every day is my best day, I try to cut the server some slack if s/he is pouty or sour. Who knows, maybe I’ll improve the next customer’s service

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  87. Joseph Richardson says:

    I’m shocked that no one seems to have mentioned this.

    http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/245/allure-of-the-mean-friend

    Check out “Act Two: Does Niceness Pay”. It’s a small experiment on exactly the question you propose.

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  88. Jane says:

    Tipping varies based on the experience people have, of which service provided by the waiter is only a minor part. Nice weather, good company, cute neighbors, good choice of entrees – it can all outweigh the waiter’s contribution to the enjoyment of the meal.

    However, sometimes waiters have more control over the diners’ experience. If the waiter is uncommonly good-looking, has a unique manner, tells a great story in-between describing specials, or can somehow create drama on the spot — has a chance of getting consistently higher tips, then those same customers normally pay.

    One lady in a Jewish dinner was asking me and my girlfriend why we were out on a “school night”, and recommended chicken soup because it looked like we were heart-broken – we were not, but she got great tip.
    It used to be that women were never offered a check, when dining with men, so the waiter who actually asked me and my male dining companion who should get the check got 25% – way higher than the rest of the service warranted.

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  89. Romeo says:

    I don’t care what the bill is. I don’t tip by percentage. I tip by service. My tipping formula has been the same since college.
    I tip $5 for every person I am playing for. Since I have a family of four, my tip is usually $20.
    I remove one dollar for every time I see the bottom of a glass for more than a minute. I generally end up tipping somewhere between 10-15.. That’s about two hours of wages if they were my personal waiter. Since I am having to share them with other tables, and I generally average less than an hour in the restaurant, I think that’s more than fair.

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