Tipping your server after they’ve attended to your needs throughout the course of your meal is your choice. You are not obligated to leave a tip. But given that wages for wait staff tend to be low, and it’s a physically demanding job that requires excellent customer service, it’s a kind gesture that shows your appreciation.
They rely on that kind gesture more than you may realize.
It’s also important to note that some restaurants requires servers to “tip out,” which means they have to give a percentage of their total sales to cover hostesses, bussers, and other service staff that don’t have the opportunity to make tips themselves.1 So if you leave a bad tip — or no tip at all — your server actually has to pay out of pocket to make up the difference.
Why do we tip?
The tip you leave your server is a way to thank them for their attentiveness and good service throughout your meal. Your tip is for that service, not for the food they brought out. If you didn’t like the food, leaving a bad tip only punishes the server. Remember, they had nothing to do with the food preparation.
If you have an issue with the meal itself, but the service was excellent, a generous tip for the server is still in order. You can, and should, address the problem with your actual meal with the manager after that.
How much should I tip?
It’s generally accepted that a 15 – 20% tip is the minimum amount you should leave your server after a meal at a sit-down restaurant. If you can afford it, it’s also kind to tip on the after-tax amount. A tip isn’t necessary if you’re doing takeout and you’ve picked up your own food.2 You also aren’t obligated to throw change in the tip jar at fast-food counters, although it’s a nice gesture if you’re so inclined.
What if the service was poor?
There are lots of reasons why you might feel you didn’t get the kind of service you deserved, but leaving a poor tip — or worse, no tip at all — might not be the best course of action. It may feel good in the moment to stick it to the server, but remember that servers are human. They have bad days too, and often situations beyond their control can contribute to delays or long wait times. Imagine if your pay was reduced every time you had an off day or every time someone else on your team dropped the ball. A far better course of action is to leave the minimum tip and then speak to the manager if there were long delays or you feel your server was rude or unhelpful. You might even get a free meal or some coupons out of it.
What if the food wasn’t good?
Food prep and quality isn’t the server’s responsibility, so they shouldn’t be penalized when food isn’t up to par. Tell your server if your food is cold, overcooked, or too salty, and give the restaurant a chance to make it right. If you’re still not satisfied with the food, tip your server for trying their best and then speak to the manager about the poor food quality.
What if we’re just having drinks at the bar?
In North America, many bartenders rely on tips for a livable wage. It’s generally accepted that the minimum amount to tip your bartender is $1 or $2 per beer or glass of wine and $3 per cocktail if you’re sitting at a bar. If you’re ordering drinks for a crowd, remember to tip on the number of drinks in your order. In the UK it’s not necessary to tip a bartender, but if you get exceptionally good service it’s kind to offer a small sum. Tripsavvy recommends offering the price of half a pint of beer and saying something like, “have one for yourself.”
What should I tip when I’m travelling?
It’s good to remember that common tipping practices in your country may not be the same in other parts of the world. For example, in the UK you generally don’t tip at all if service is poor,3 and in many European countries, a service charge is automatically added to the bill, making tipping unnecessary.4 If you’re planning a trip to another country, make sure to do a bit of research so you don’t end up over- or under-tipping when you’re eating out.
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420122 CAN/US (09/21)