4 Tips for Restaurant Tipping

Here’s a common and thoroughly modern restaurant scenario: You and a pal have just polished off a couple of pizzas and a good bottle of wine at the neighborhood trattoria. The bill comes, and there’s a little pile of Perugina mints on top — and a service fee! Cue a 10-minute conversation about whether or not to leave a tip.

Between service fees and near-ubiquitous adoption of iPad checkout — and its tipping suggestions — tipping has gotten more complicated. And because we all want to do the right thing, it can be a little stressful.

As food professionals, Ingredient folk all dine out (and order in) a bunch, and the state of tipping is something we talk about a lot. So it feels like a good time for a listicle.

Here are some practical tips for fair tipping. As you read them, leave room for the idea that exceptional service — from a seasoned professional who knows the menu and can recommend a great wine — can turn a meal into a wonderful experience, one that calls for a larger tip.

On top of a service charge
More and more restaurants are adding service fees, ranging up to 20% of the bill. In most cases, the fees are meant to create pay equity between the front and back of house staff. In some cases they also contribute to benefits and help restaurants mediate the ongoing impacts of Covid, like higher food costs and fewer tables.

Should you tip on top of service fees? We like the advice of Minnesota food writer Jason DeRusha, who writes that tipping a full 20% on top of the bill defeats the intention of the fee. However, if the service was great, consider adding a flat amount on top — say $5 to $10 depending on the check.

On top of “gratuity included”
Apparently, it is a truth universally acknowledged that tipping in large groups is complicated so more and more restaurants are adding a gratuity to the bill when there are six or more diners.

Generally, restaurants will add 18% for the gratuity, in which case you do not need to tip. If it’s lower, say 15%, you should add enough to get it to 20%.

On a sit-down meal
For dine-in service where there isn’t a fee, a 20% tip is still the standard. Most sources we found said that even if the service was terrible, they’d still tip 15% because that money represents a significant portion of the server’s income.

Here’s an easy way to figure out a 20% tip: Round up, double, and move the decimal point one digit to the left. For example, the tip on $24.50: $25.00 x 2 = $50.00 = $5.00 tip.

On counter service, takeout, or delivery meals
Even though you’re not getting table service, people still have to prepare your food for you, and there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes hustle and organization that goes into getting it right, bagging it up, and handing it to you — at the counter or at your house. So yes, if there’s a jar or an option to tip on the check, you should.

Standard tip on counter service (including that afternoon coffee), takeout, and delivery is 15%. Here’s an easy way to do the math: move the decimal point one to the left to find 10%, round up, and then add half that number on top. For example, the tip on $24.50: $24.50 becomes $2.50 + 1.25 = $3.75 tip.