Source: Anonymous reader of The Gate.

30 Percent Gratuity: The New Default Tip at Restaurants?

Almost a year has passed since you were asked in this article as to whether a gratuity of 25 percent became the new default at restaurants — noting that during that time, the current 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic emerged with a vengeance — and many readers of The Gate weighed in with their opinions on this controversial topic…

30 Percent Gratuity: The New Default Tip at Restaurants?

Is suggesting a gratuity of as much as 30 percent — as shown at the bottom of this receipt — okay or acceptable? Source: Anonymous reader of The Gate.

…but in response to a photograph of a receipt which was featured in this article titled What is Wrong With This Photograph? Part 61: Reader Edition, Jeannine — who is a reader of The Gateasked the following question in the Comments section of that article: “When did it become ok to suggest a 30% tip?”

That is a good question. The photograph of the receipt in question is shown above; and at the bottom of that receipt is a suggestion to leave a gratuity of either 20 percent, 25 percent, or — believe it or not — 30 percent.

In the not-so-distant past, gratuities for waitstaff of restaurants in the United States ranged from ten percent to 15 percent before the latter became the accepted norm, which then eventually crept up to 18 percent — and then, apparently to 25 percent — before seeming to reach the unofficial current plateau of 30 percent for servers.

Gunshow meal restaurant
Photograph ©2019 by Brian Cohen.

The Department of Labor of the United States provides a useful tool which is called Minimum Wages for Tipped Employees for 2019 that allows you to view which states:

  • Require employers to pay tipped employees full state minimum wage before tips
  • Require employers to pay tipped employees a minimum cash wage above the minimum cash wage required under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act — $2.13 per hour
  • Minimum cash wage payment is the same as that required under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act — $2.13 per hour

Not Tip at All?

Columbia Restaurant
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

What if the server offers substantially lousy service and does not deserve to be compensated at all? Do members of society have an obligation to leave a gratuity to that person regardless of the lack of service provided?

A tip should be deserved, not expected; earned, not required — regardless of the amount. If you are a service provider, did you offer a service of value to your customer — and did you do it exceptionally well? If so, that is how you will get a tip out of a customer. If not — well — that is up to the customer to decide. Not you…

…and increasing a gratuity to as much as 30 percent as a potential default will not always guarantee better service at a restaurant. Should restaurants increase the prices of the food to adequately cover the wages of their servers and leave tipping to be purely optional at the discretion of the patron instead of having it considered an acceptable societal obligation?

Some people believe that the word tips is derived from the acronym to insure proper service. Perhaps — but politeness and respect towards the service provider goes a significantly long way towards ensuring proper service; and that can be far more effective. Most people deserve to be treated with respect and addressed politely. Respect and politeness can be far more valuable than mere money. Throwing money at someone who does not earn or deserve your respect — let alone perform the service in question properly or at all — should be considered insulting to a person with moral character.


Ben’s Best Kosher Delicatessen
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Similar to giving away vouchers for free but you must pay for the envelope in which they came — which was a workaround for nefarious sellers seeking to bypass the rules, restrictions, terms and conditions of frequent travel loyalty programs — is the day coming where food in the restaurant will be free of charge and the mandatory tip will be 100 percent of what the bill would have been?

I understand the argument that service personnel — mainly in the United States — depend on gratuities due to low and even sub-standard compensation paid to them by their employers. They do deserve to earn a living and be compensated for their work. If those service personnel choose a job or profession which is reliant upon gratuities, then they need to perform their role as best as they possibly can — and unfortunately expect the occasional deadbeat to not leave a well-deserved tip. Others may argue that service personnel earn more than people think as a result of gratuities — but I am not about to tackle that debate here at this time.

Also, I have tended in general to tip more generously in recent months due to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic — regardless of whether I dined in or took food out to go — because employees of restaurants and other dining establishments did not even know how long they would have a job, let alone not earn enough money to pay their bills. That does not mean that I rewarded bad service — nor does that mean that I condone the tipping culture in the United States in general. Their problems are technically not my problem, as I should not be asked to support employees of restaurants simply because they are not paid enough in wages; but I am trying to do my part to ensure that the economy is not as bad as it could be because of the current 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic.

As for a gratuity of 30 percent as a default, I am vehemently opposed to paying almost a full third of the total bill as a tip to a server unless my overall experience in the restaurant was excellent or outstanding — I hope that that does not become the new normal in terms of dining experiences in the United States — and I am interested on reading your thoughts and opinions on this issue as well.

Gratuities and tips have long been controversial with regards to travel and dining — to the point of contentiousness from all sides of the issue, as evidenced by the following articles which I wrote for The Gate over the years…

Other than as indicated and where specified, all photographs ©2015 and ©2019 by Brian Cohen.

  1. I am a generous tipper – I dare say, over generous in the eyes of my frequent dining partner. But I have done that work in the past and I know how strenuous it is to do it well.

    That said, 30%!?! Nope. Not happening.

    I happily offer around 20% for conscientious and friendly service. And occasionally, I will add a touch more for exceptional service or adherence to my food preferences. I generally gave this tip even for take-out during our pseudo-shutdown. But I just cannot justify a 30% tip in any situation unless when leaving a dollar tip for coffee and toast as leaving coins alone does seem petty.

    I am curious to read if anyone is actually in support of tipping almost 1/3 of a tab.

  2. ¨Respect and politeness can be far more valuable than mere money. Throwing money at someone who does not earn or deserve your respect — let alone perform the service in question properly or at all — should be considered insulting to a person with moral character.¨ Wow. Written like a man who´s never had to wonder if he can pay the next bill or feed his kid. How about respect, politeness, and a decent tip? I agree with your basic premise that 30% is crazy, but you went a bit off the deep end there.

  3. IMHO If I’m able to afford and go out and eat during in this world’s situation and the servers need to make money to survive (I assume) then I’m tipping well above what is the norm. Generally 50-100%. 20% is pre-COVID tipping minimum, at least in the US.

  4. I have always thought tips stood for “to insure proper salary” because here in the US it’s a societal norm.

    It is also a farce that restaurant owners pay staff less because prices to consumers are less. I have traveled all over this world and a burger is roughly 15 bucks no matter where you go (non chain). The difference is here in the us it is becoming the norm to tip 30%. I tip 15% and if service warrants it 20%. If I am friends with the server, because of frequenting the establishment so much, I’ll tip 30-40%.

    I do it. But I don’t agree with it. It’s an ugly American custom. I think countries like the UK do it right. Go in, sit down, decide what you want and go up and order and take a number. I don’t need someone to bring me my entree and expect a 5 dollar tip for doing so.

  5. I tip fairly well IMHO, most of the time over 20% and even 25%-30% on some occasions. But 30% as a (new) tipping norm does not sit well with me, and will incentivize me to either avoid the establishment(s) that promote it and/or move further towards carry-out/take-out for dinner.

  6. Civilised countries pay their workers enough that they don’t need to depend on the servile transaction of tipping to make a living.

    I prefer to visit civilised countries.

  7. Tipping is a relic of slavery. The US was one of the last civilized countries to abolish slavery. Tipping however, has remained.

    1. “Tipping is a relic of slavery?” Or so says Politico, but that opinion may be slanted. Actually unpaid internships and apprenticeships and trainee wages are the real relics of slavery harking back to when young “unemployed” blacks could be bound to trades. Have a case among my cousins where the white father dies and his brothers sought to bind his children to tradesmen to remove them from the farm that their black mother inherited and thus force her to sell it having no labor to run it. Indeed many black, white or whatever, can recall from their early years working for no to little pay to gain “experience.”

  8. Problem is we do it to ourself, we allow that to become the default. We continue to be overly generous and we raise the expectation bar. Ill never forget the time I was working in Italy went to eat with a group and I left a nice tip. I quickly became scolded by the Italians in our group who quickly removed my tip and said we dont do that here! You dam Americas are destroying our culture with your tips.
    Another time I was in Turkey left a tip (+20%) and the waitress chased me to my car saying I forgot money on the table, I explained it was for her service and she still refused insisted I take it.
    The default tip is all about the tipping culture we created and because of our generous tips servers are paid less, restaurants cut cost & were expected to pay their default salary. Tipping is a custom which is bad for everyone, it makes the customer fell pressured & gives servers unpredictable salary. Compared to other countries where they just increase the food price and pay servers fairly without stress of tips.

  9. This tipping situation in the US has gotten badly out of control; and it is a sign of a societal problem, a problem which comes with so many long-term adverse consequences for personal finances (for the tip-dependent restaurant/bar staff who aren’t controlling owners of the restaurant/bar) and even national finances, that it’s long overdue that restaurants be required to put their employees on salaries or with fixed wages that don’t include a presumption of any customer tips to supplement their pay from the employing restaurant.

    Instead of tipping restaurant employees at 20-30%, better to use that money to donate to groups that push for the tip-dependency culture to be ended and replaced by better (and much higher) minimum wage standards for the hitherto tip-dependent restaurant/bar staff whose formal hourly wage is fixed at below that minimum wage applicable to department and grocery stores’ employees.

    The problem that needs fixing: the industry being allowed to have a formal minimum wage (for its hourly employees) that is well below a living hourly wage. Government can and should help reduce the tipping dependency and all the problems which that dependency indicates and comes.

  10. “Their problems are technically not my problem, as I should not be asked to support employees of restaurants simply because they are not paid enough in wages; but I am trying to do my part to ensure that the economy is not as bad as it could be because of the current 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic.”?

    Technically, their problem is all of society’s problem. And if wanting to do your part to ensure that economy is better in the future for all, then it’s long overdue to stand up and work for this industry’s employees to also be the beneficiaries of having employers who are subject to having at least the same legal minimum wage requirement as is applicable to most other types of employers in the US.

  11. In some cities, like Seattle, servers get a minimum wage of at least $15.00. People are STILL expected to tip 20%.

  12. And a lot of restaurants now, including the one in the photo, unless it is within a tax-free state, based on the amount, suggest those percentages AFTER tax, which makes the tip actually 4-10% higher, if based strictly on the order pricing.

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