Here's How Much You Should Really Tip At Restaurants Right Now, According to Experts
You finished your delicious meal, and it's time to pay the bill. The server hands you the check, and you take a look at that big bold number at the bottom—and the questioning immediately ensues. How much should you tip? Is 20% still expected, or do servers look for more after the pandemic? And if the service is bad, should they get a tip at all?
The answer, unfortunately, isn't exactly a simple one.
"The answer to [this] is so subjective and causes so much discourse in the hospitality world," says Billy Helmkamp, owner of Chicago-based bars The Whistler and Sleeping Village. "You can ask ten people who work in the industry, and you'll likely get half a dozen different answers. Ask ten different bar or restaurant guests, and you'll surely get ten different answers."
Plus, the pandemic didn't exactly help the already complicated question of how much you should tip.
"This question has become infinitely more complicated since COVID," says Izzy Kharasch, president of Hospitality Works, a consulting service that mentors executives and owners of more than 700 businesses in the restaurant and hospitality industry. "Pre-COVID, the answer would have been between 18% to 20%. During COVID, tips went up substantially because those who continued to work during the pandemic received well-deserved additional gratuities. Customers even gave tips to people in professions that never normally received gratuities."
But what is the right answer? According to Helmkamp, you can never go wrong with being a little bit more generous than usual. "For myself, I stick to a minimum of 25%," he says. "But a $20 tip on a quick shot and a beer is not unheard of."
Kharasch and Helmkamp seem to both agree that a 20% to 25% tip would be considered the standard for tipping at restaurants. Kharasch even points out that he'll lean more toward tipping 25% if his order is small and the service was "excellent."
Unfourtanetly, diners aren't meeting tip standards.
While the restaurant industry and workers have been hit hard due to the pandemic, the rest of the world is also grappling with how to financially manage their budgets—especially with growing inflation prices and a crashing economy.
"I hear a lot of people now tipping far less because the service is far below acceptable and I believe that this will be the new direction the public will move to," says Kharasch.
Nevertheless, industry workers believe that even bad service should at least receive the standard tip, given that "bad service" can be variable. Andrew Koss, a server at La Palapa Cocina Mexicana in New York City, points out that you never know the full story behind bad service—the server could just be having a bad day. Even if the service isn't the best, Koss says he gives the standard 20% and just adds more if the service ends up being excellent.
"Working in the industry, I know how hard it can be, so I try to go out of my way to tip well no matter what," says Helmkamp.
In conclusion, still going for the typical 20% in restaurants is what many industry experts would recommend—and add more if you want to be particularly generous after receiving the service you enjoyed.