#NewRules: The Complete Guide to Tipping in 2013

Experts break down the etiquette for tipping in every situation imaginable, from cocktail bars to delivery during a hurricane.

tipping

We're living in a new and dangerous era of eat and drinking out. For every new dining format that claims the zeitgeist, the question of how—and whom—to tip looms ever larger. What do you do if you're dining at Del Posto, where at least six different people are assigned to look after you and you alone? Or sitting at the bar at wd~50, where the restaurant's combined expertise and skill is consolidated into the same guy who's topping up your water and mixing your drinks? What about a 20-plus-course tasting menu at Brooklyn Fare handed to you directly by the chef?

The very concept of tipping has been slammed a lot lately, with big-deal chefs and restaurants kicking around the idea of doing away with the system altogether. After all, it's pretty much just us and Canada left, and the reasons most people tip well have nothing to do with how good the service is (women get better tips than men; tell someone your name and they'll feel guilted into tipping more).

The issue is that in many states, New York included, minimum wage is lower for tipped employees; the Department of Labor factors in a "tip credit" that they calculate will make up the difference, so employers don't have to pay up. Depending on where you are, your server could be making as little as half the minimum wage, with the expectation that you're going to make it up to him with your gratutity. For restaurants to do away with tipping altogether, they'd have to cover the increase in costs themselves, passing the buck back on to you in the form of higher prices. In the end you're forking over roughly the same amount—it's all about giving you the illusion of control.

Since there's so much riding on your shoulders, your main goal should be to make sure everyone is making a living and you don't look like an asshole. Much of this depends on how much you trust the restaurant management to be giving their staff a decent wage, and to be tipping out appropriately. If you're in a Danny Meyer joint, you can pretty safely assume they're not running a modern slavery racket out of the kitchen and everyone is being treated fairly. If you're somewhere where your waiter is drawing smiley faces on tabs, touching your arm desperately whenever you interact, and upselling you at every turn, know that they're making dirt and you're their only hope. Don't give that place your business again – but while you're there, tip well anyway.

To help you navigate this confusing game, we’ve broken down 15 scenarios that require tipping, from getting your morning coffee to a dinner out with eight of your closest friends, and rounded up a group of professional eaters, writers, drinkers, and servers to drop some real knowledge. Forward this to your grandparents, your boss, and your cousin who just moved here from Michigan who can't stop complaining about the price of cocktails here. But first, read it yourself to make sure you're doing it right.

The Expert Panel

Ryan Sutton, Bloomberg New York food critic; founder and editor of The Bad Deal and The Price Hike
Rosie Schaap, Drinks columnist for the New York Times Magazine; bartender; and author of the memoir Drinking With Men
Lizzie Post, author, the Emily Post Institute; great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post (yes, the Emily Post)
Jimmy Carbone, owner, Jimmy’s No. 43, a craft beer bar and restaurant; founder of Food Karma Projects, an organizer of socially conscious food events, including the annual 5Boro picNYC and Pig Island
Tyler Martin, retail operations manager, Roasting Plant Coffee

 

RELATED: How to Tip at a Cocktail Bar

RELATED: How to Drink at a Wine Bar

RELATED: 20 Things Everyone Thinks About the Food World (But Nobody Will Say)

Click to start the list
  • Yeap

    $1 per drink at a bar. Just double the tax when you dine. Bingo.

    • Chris S

      @beba8cb525e6643188e6395cbb2b7bb2:disqus SMH

    • upset with morons

      Double the tax? You’re an idiot. Try getting an education and doing the math instead. Maybe next time you’ll notice there’s no tax on alcohol, as it’s included in the price. And last time I checked, tax rates differ depending where you dine. Go back to your Bingo hall.

      • Huey Newton

        Double the tax would be 14% in my area. That’s reasonable…

  • mattrp

    So the guy with the handtowels ‘never ever’ gets a tip because you can get your own? Well, that renders this entire article meangingless. I can clear my own plates, hang my own coat, schlep my own takeout, even collect my own food from the pass (they call that a buffet)… but the guy whose job it is to stand in the bathroom handing out towels to (a) stop it getting trashed and (b) discourage people from sniffing coke together… he gets nada? Bollocks.

    • yep

      I cannot stand bathroom attendants or even the idea of them. That said, I think coat checks could be more multi-faceted. Let’s get some mints, cigarettes, ibuprofen, condoms and the like sold out of those little cubbies (where space allows).

    • Chris S

      @mattrp:disqus The point is not really that you don’t tip those people because you can physically “get your own.” It’s more that these things are unwanted services, so the customer should not be forced to play the game and tip on something extraneous. You could argue that servers are also extraneous (since technically all restaurants could have a buffet), but that is much more of a stretch. Many times the bathroom attendants don’t even work for the establishment but come in and set up shop to try to make some cash…respect the hustle, but it doesn’t operate within the tipping microcosm of the restaurant. At some old school places, like ’21′ Club, where the attendant has done the job for his whole life, there’s more of an incentive to tip.

      • mattrp

        “The point is not really that you don’t tip those people because you can physically “get your own.” It’s more that….”

        That’s great but I wasn’t commenting on your opinion, I was commenting on the article. That is the reason Sutton gives for not tipping those guys. It doesn’t make any sense given the rest of the piece. Personally I tip the bathroom guy some but not all of the time, based on nothing more than whether I’m feeling generous. To exclude them absolutely and out of hand as Sutton does is nonsensical, based on how much he emphasises tipping elsewhere.

        I disagree that it is an unwanted service – and besides we are talking about tipping which is by definition optional. You don’t want it, don’t pay.

        Your point about a hustle doesn’t add up because (a) how is the customer supposed to know if that’s the case, and (b) even if it is a hustle, the restaurant is in on the game; why penalise the attendant? It’s the same as employers paying sub-minimum wage.

        • Chris S

          @mattrp:disqus Establishing a precedent is more nonsensical than tipping based on “nothing more than whether I’m feeling generous”? Hmmm.

          With the bathroom attendant situation, I think it ultimately boils down to whether or not you use the optional services. If so, tip. If you are put in a situations where you are not given a choice—i.e., the only way to get a hand towel is to take one from the attendant—it is less imperative.

          Also, even with these proposed rules, tipping DOES NOT MAKE SENSE. Customers are playing a game of correcting for sub-standard pay without having perfect information.

  • peggy

    If you think a serious barista deserves less than a bartender at a place that serves craft beer or a place that serves “serious” cocktails, you should be kicked in the teeth.

    • Chris S

      @98951c1c7ed217e5591b8e5a41703f7c:disqus but why? Give the reasoning before kicking teeth.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=2901595 James Liu

    So. You’re saying that a bartender at a dive bar deserves $2 for cracking open a PBR and a barista who makes you a Chemex deserves nothing or just your change unless you’re super into the shop? Because it’s the barista’s job to make you the coffee anyway?

    What are you smoking? Because I’d like to have some. Because apparently I have way too many brain cells to live in a world inhabited by dumbasses like you.

    • Chris S

      @facebook-2901595:disqus The key question is whether the barista’s base salary is lower than the bartender’s. It’s less a matter of which of those activies requires more “skill.”

      • YuQuan Tan

        No one really knows what they make right off the bat. But you see the divey bartender opening/pouring beers tends to knock out more drinks to customers in a minute verses the barista.

        The way I see it, the barista should be be tipped more than the quick beer bartender

  • Oscar Galvez

    0 to $ 1.00 tip for a serious Barista, ummm that is like saying that writers should put their books or articles for free after all what they write is just product of their inmagination…. What I have always have found ofensive is people that want to give monetary value the skill or work of others is just DISRESPECTFUL

    • Chris S

      @08727287bb636a9c72b66e74ab56dd17:disqus The fact that people are forced, via the practice of tipping, to imperfectly “give monetary value to the skill and hard work of others” is exactly why we should abolish it altogether. However, if you’re disturbed by that concept in general you should probably not live in a capitalist country.

  • DingoGranny

    My daughter worked in carry out for a popular BBQ chain. The to-go staff there portions and packages the food as well as taking orders over the phone and cashiering. They should get something.

  • dabrams

    Some open bar events don’t allow bartenders to put out a jar. Just because there’s no jar doesn’t mean they are getting paid well or don’t deserve a tip.

    I also don’t agree with the $0-1 dollar tip for baristas. I did that for 5 years and woke up ever morning at 4 am to make you poor tired b*****ds customized sugar-filled coffee treats and I don’t deserve a tip? But the guy you saw last night as your fancy cocktail bar does? I’m providing something that is just as difficult to craft and helps you pull out of your sleepy hangover!

    • Chris S

      @90124877a8d8c0cba8c82353c011e31b:disqus was your base salary fair, or did the coffeeshops expect you to make the bulk of your money through tips as you would at a bar?

  • Pancho Villa

    Lol Ryan Sutton the cheapo… 1$ tip for a drink. Where are you drinking? Happy hour at a sports bar? Not all restaurants pool the tips especially some of the more high end ones, so when you leave little or no tip to the bartender you’re screwing over him. If you order food, even an appetizer, tip in full. If you just have some drinks 20% is not even expected… but 1$? What is this 1920? Tip the poor bastards because most get paid below minimum wage and depend on tips to make at least minimum wage. If you don’t like tipping move to Argentina; no one tips over there.

    • Chris S

      @d9a306ddc3d79f0f714e26986d6bb3a4:disqus He said he tips 20% at the bar. He only tips $1 per drink when the restaurant refuses to transfer his bar tab to the table. Different situation.

  • bells

    100% agree with bringing the autograt up to 20% or more. A lot of people are offended by an autograt, but keep in mind that selectively autograting certain diners is a huge liability for the restaurant. Restaurants need to have a consistent policy to protect themselves. Every restaurant who has an autograt policy should be 100% consistent with it and they also should be informing guests that the gratuity has been added.

  • D.R.

    What about at coffeeshops? Or when you pay at the counter like at a deli?

    • Chris S

      @c4a3082116ee277eef9d1911a7a44a0e:disqus coffeeshops are covered ($0-$1). Delis don’t require tips since you are paying for standard goods as you would in a supermarket.. though if you get something cooked and want to tip the cook, that is a nice gesture—look for a tip jar.

      Would also say that if you have a corner bodega that you go to all the time, a holiday tip, as you would for your super, is not out of the question.

      • Mark

        “That’s a nice gesture.” Thank god you don’t have to be a cook at a deli Chris. You would probably see it more of a “quality of life” issue versus a “niceness” issue.

        • Chris S

          @disqus_kYd56OhQTt:disqus how do you go about tipping at a deli? You can’t tip at the cashier, and there is not always a tip jar. Do you give money to the cooks directly?

  • shouldawoulda

    20% at a standard restaurant all the time no matter what? If some idiot waiter gives me horrible service I should be guilted into tipping 20% because maybe a busser or cook will get shorted? If we’re obligated to tip 20% regardless of service then it’s no longer a tip – it’s a fee, and this entire article (and the whole notion of tipping) is useless.

    • Chris S

      @13e64ccc84bde2fec713b03a335a44af:disqus read the article. It explains why you should fight bad service by not going back to a restaurant and by talking to a manager (a much more effective ways of bringing attention to the bad service), rather than by skimping in the tip, which may mean shortchanging many staffers who had nothing to do with the problem. That said, if EVERYTHING is terrible, from the way you’re treated at the door to the quality of the food to the cleanliness of the plates to the waiter’s attitude, feel free to tip down.

  • Brian

    Obviously few or none of you work in the service industry because you might realize our tips are how we feed are kids, pay our car payments, and put a roof over our head. I have worked in two Five Star Diamond award winning establishments making $2.13 an hour, the Texas standard which has only gone up about eight cents in over a decade. If that wage went up many places you love to dine at would not be open and not to mention your favorite server or bartender might not be there too often due to overtime. So with bad service tip 20% of the pre-tax total, If you loved the service 20% of the total bill (wine included) maybe even a few extra bucks because after my tip out and the taxes I pay, Im lucky to see ten percent. That being said if you cannot afford to tip you frankly cannot afford to eat out.

  • Downtown Diner

    Disagree with the “expert” Ryan on #1 and 2. Restaurants that don’t transfer tabs are doing so for many reasons. One, so the bar gets tipped our appropriately. Two, in a large and busy restaurant, the time spent on finding out where you sat with what server, etc, is a waste of time for that busy bar staff that you just stiffed by transferring your tab.

    • Chris S

      @2ead8fe59d61af7852fada4356f306bf:disqus Don’t want to put words in his mouth, but I think Sutton would argue that the second point is BS—it shouldn’t matter that transferring the tip is harder or a “waste of time.” That’s exactly why the servers are getting tipped, to go the extra mile and do those sorts of things. As for not tipping the bar based on bar tabs settled at the table, that’s an inefficiency on the restaurant’s part and not one the consumer should have to deal with.

  • Charles Powne

    Interesting article. A couple questions: 1) do we tip less in states with high minimum wages like Oregon or Washington? 2) The reasons for tipping the craft-beer server seem applicable to baristas, or vice versa: tipping someone for pulling a beer tap and setting the glass on the counter is that person’s job, so if I already know what I want I don’t see why I’m paying him or her extra, unless I’m in a state with a low minimum wage…

    • Chris S

      @charles_powne:disqus these are great questions that highlight exactly why tipping is so murky and ineffective. Should we as consumers be experts in the in-ands-outs of states’ minimum wages, cost of living, the skill it requires to do various jobs, etc etc? It’s way too much to put on the consumer. The point about craft beer bars is reasonable—I’d say you can tip based on what you ask of the bartender at a craft beer bar, as opposed to following a hard-and-fast 20% rule. That said, remember that $1 on a $5 pint is indeed 20%, even though it sounds like the lowest possible tip.

  • Kelly

    Tipped wage in Texas is $2.13 per hour.

  • Philly’s Best BYOBs

    I’ve never heard of this website.

    • Chris S

      @phillysbestbyobs:disqus YOU HAVE NOW!

  • Steve

    I’m so glad I live in the UK where the only place you really *have* to tip is in a restaurant, and even then it’s nowhere near 20%. Don’t get me wrong, I love visiting the USA and follow all the tipping rules when I’m there but it grates handing over all that extra cash. I only ever tip $1 a drink in a bar, and even that feels excessive, when you’re paying $7 for a beer. $2 is scandalous. Even on a semi-busy night, serving just 20 drinks in an hour, that would be $40. Come on, for working in a bar, that’s a pretty decent hourly wage.

  • Steve

    I’m so glad I live in the UK where the only place you really *have* to
    tip is in a restaurant, and even then it’s nowhere near 20%. Don’t get
    me wrong, I love visiting the USA and follow all the tipping rules when
    I’m there but it grates handing over all that extra cash. I only ever
    tip $1 a drink in a bar, and even that feels excessive, when you’re
    paying $7 for a beer. $2 is scandalous. Even on a semi-busy night,
    serving just 20 drinks in an hour, that would be $40. Come on, for
    working in a bar, that’s a pretty decent hourly wage.

  • Jessica

    This one has been plaguing me for a while…

    How much tip, if any, do you leave at a place where you order your food at the counter and take a number to your table. The server will bring your food to the table, but you bus your own dirty plates/silverware.

    Thanks!

  • Mark

    I agree with other commenters and would argue that tipping $1-$2 at a dive bar and $0-$1 at a serious cafe is poor advice. Wages vary way too much to generalize like that and I would argue that a bartender’s wage is similar enough to a skilled baristas wage that they should be tipped similarly, especially considering bartenders can make literally hundreds of dollars more per shift than a barista. Furthermore, while it may be helpful to some customers who have never worked in the service industry, establishing this kind of generalized culture about who to tip and when, seems a little detrimental. Lastly, the opinionated “pro-tipper” who suggests against tipping baristas, Mr. Martin, is a salaried manager at a cafe and is rarely found behind the bar.

    • Chris S

      @mark “establishing this kind of generalized culture about who to tip and when, seems a little detrimental”

      How so? Without some sort of framework, people think of tipping as playing robin hood to the world, and then it just becomes a game of “how generous do I feel?”…and most people aren’t that generous. Better to establish standards that make sense as a general framework, otherwise it’s impossible for consumers to know enough about all aspects of the service industry to gauge tips correctly.

      “I would argue that a bartender’s wage is similar enough to a skilled baristas wage.” Would you argue this or do you know this? If so, this seems like an enormous problem for the cafe industry, because even if people did tip at coffeeshops, they are buying far fewer drinks (probably just one) at a lower price ($2-$5) than at a bar, so if the barista is living off tips, he or she is going to be an incredibly tough spot.

      • Mark

        I know this as a barista who has been a bartender and a server and has worked for $4 an hour and up to $20 an hour in this lifetime. But you’re the expert and thank you for creating such a beautiful and official guide (and calling out my employer by name) and encouraging people not to tip there.

        • Chris S

          @disqus_kYd56OhQTt:disqus Okay, so what #newrule do you propose for coffeeshops? Should people do a flat tip? Or adjust tip based on time/skill/expertise of barista?

  • Cocktail Queen

    WOW- $1 per drink???? Bartenders/mixologists are just like chefs! Don’t be cheap when you see your bartender making you craft cocktails…tip 20% of your bar tab…..-which you should close before you sit down….bartenders will get a WEAK tip out if transferred.

    • Regan H

      You did read the article, right? $1/drink is only mentioned to send a message to restaurants that don’t transfer bar tabs. The rest of the piece specifically suggests 20% or higher for bartenders.

  • Gabriel

    Shoe shine? What if he owns the stand? Any difference?

  • hamhandable

    I am a barista at a place one might call a “serious coffee bar,” and I appreciate any tip, no matter how small- this includes the seven cents you got as change. No one is rolling pennies, small change adds up fast and we regularly swap that small change with bills from our register. If every customer were to tip with whatever change they were given that would add up to a lot of cash by the end of a shift.

  • Eric

    I I like how the industry has been pushing the 20% tip the last few years as the standard. I worked as a waiter in the 90s and we were quite content with 12-15%, that’s typically what we averaged and if someone tipped 10% you shut your mouth and were happy even for that.

    These days I tip 15-17% depending on the service, maybe something a little higher if they really do something special. I also live in Canada where our restaurant bill gets whacked with an extra 15% sales tax, why should customers be expected to tip on top of that? A lot of people actually use the sales tax as the amount to tip, it’s a decent benchmark. So what is the industry stance on sales tax?

Newsletter

Feed your inbox.

Subscribe