Your Official Guide to Restaurant Tipping Etiquette

Tip your server, folks. We all know we're supposed to leave 15 to 20 percent when we eat at a sit-down restaurant, but what's the tipping etiquette for less clear-cut situations like fast casual, take out, and the coffee shop? And is there ever a time when it's okay not to tip? Fear not, we've got advice and guidelines for you, as well as a way you can really make your server's day.

First and foremost, yes, you should be tipping your servers. In sit down restaurants, many servers make just over $2 an hour. If your view is that they should find a better job or that the law should change so they make more money, it doesn't change the fact that you are taking advantage of their work, so pay what that work is worth. If you think that you can't afford to tip because it's so expensive, then you also can't afford to eat out.

Rules and norms around tipping are changing. Some places in the United States are passing laws that raise the minimum wage for wait staff so that they don't have to rely on tipping, and some restaurants are enacting no tipping policies, usually by including a service charge automatically in the bill.

Tipping etiquette can get even more confusing these days with the different kinds of restaurants; here are some good tipping practices.

Tipping Etiquette at Restaurants

tipping etiquette

Sit Down Restaurant: Spanning from red-checkered to white tablecloths, this restaurant is one where your whole restaurant experience happens from the table. 15 to 20 percent on the amount of the bill before tax is added is considered customary, although many say that at least 18 percent is baseline these days, with 25 percent if you receive extra service.

The exception to tipping the full amount is if you have truly bad service, meaning the server is abusive, inappropriate, completely absent, or ignores your questions or requests for help in navigating allergies or other menu concerns. In all of these cases, leaving less than 15 percent or even no tip at all is fine, but really you should speak to the manager in any of these cases or simply leave if you haven't ordered your food yet.

Fast Food and Fast Casual: Generally not at fast food chains. Fast-casual or counter service places may have a tip jar on the counter; you're not obligated to leave a tip, but if service was good, tipping etiquette says to drop a dollar or two in the jar after you get your food.

Food Truck: If the truck has a tip jar, drop a dollar or two in it if service was good and fast. The truck workers don't rely on tips like restaurant servers do, but tips are appreciated and can help you build a good relationship with your favorite food truck.

Coffee Shop: It's not necessary, especially if you're just getting a cup of drip coffee, but if your barista is fixing a complicated order, a small tip such as rounding up or giving a dollar is good. If you're a regular customer at that shop, tips (or no tips) will be remembered.

Bar:  A dollar or two per drink is the norm. If your bartender is mixing a fancy craft cocktail, go for the higher end of that range. If you spend a long time at the bar, run a tab, or have an attentive bartender (advises you on what beer to choose or gives you a small sample), you should tip 15 to 20 percent of the total bill.

Delivery: You're paying for the service of not having to leave your home, so yes, tip your delivery people (and no, the delivery charge from the restaurant doesn't go to your delivery person). According to the Emily Post Institute, good tipping etiquette is to tip 10 to 15 percent of the bill, but if your order has a lot of items or is complicated, make sure your tip is at least $5, even for pizza delivery.

Take Out: Yes, you pick up your food, but someone packed it up, added utensils and napkins, and handed it to you with a smile. 10 to 15 percent or a couple of dollars is good.

Gift Cards, Comps, and Discounts: Tip on the regular amount. If your server brings you an extra glass of wine, add the estimated price of that wine to your total when you calculate the tip. If you use a gift card, tip on the cost of the meal.

One Way to Make Your Server's Day


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I had a super nice table tonight #tipthebillchallenge

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While it's definitely not the norm, there's a new challenge going around as a way to show appreciation to servers. The "Tip the Bill Challenge" is showing up on social media with restaurant patrons leaving a 100 percent gratuity for their server. Customers and servers are posting pictures of their bill with the hashtag #tipthebillchallenge or #tipthebill and it's a joy to see.

It's unclear how the challenge got its start (and before the cynics proclaim that it was probably a server that got the whole thing rolling), but the fact is that it's one of the better challenges to make its way around the internet lately. Servers as a whole are unappreciated and waiting tables is not an easy job, so it's nice to see that some of them are getting well-deserved recognition.

While not everybody can tip 100 percent for good service, if you can, it's a good way to practice good tipping etiquette and exercise some generosity and thoughtfulness in this crazy world. If you can't tip the whole bill, at least tip well.

Watch: Only Southerners Will Understand These Food Combos.