Tipping Chart: Low vs. Average vs. High Tipper Survey

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Tipping. Everyone’s got an opinion. The thing I hate most about tipping is the feeling of “I’m not doing this right”. To better understand it, I read a book about tipping by a veteran waiter. There are now several “tipping guides”, but I like Everything You Don’t Know About Tipping via Abnormal Returns because the author has a similar perspective. He’s not ranting about how tips should be abolished or how we should tip every person we meet 30%. He just wants to understand expectations and avoid the “dreaded Ambiguous Tipping Situation”. Am I under-tipping? Am I over-tipping? Should I tip at all? Here are the results:


I put on my Weird But Earnest Guy Doing a Survey About Something hat and hit the streets, interviewing 123 people working in New York jobs that involve tipping. My interviews included waiters, bartenders, baristas, manicurists, barbers, busboys, bellmen, valets, doormen, cab drivers, restaurant delivery people, and even some people who don’t get tipped but I’m not sure why, like acupuncturists and dental hygienists.

Later in the post, the author explores how being a low, average, or high tipper means for your budget in terms of dollars. Keep in mind that the numbers are for New York City.


I’m probably in the “low spender” range, as my little-kid lifestyle doesn’t include frequent visits to establishments that involve tipping. On the other hand, I have discovered the joys of tipping a skycap at the airport and seeing 3 car seats and multiple suitcases disappear at the curb. For the most part, I think that tipping on the “expected” level shouldn’t break your budget. These are mostly optional services; It’s not like you have to tip the grocery store cashier, the gas pump, or your landlord.

For me, tipping goes in the bucket of “I would change if I was omnipotent, but in reality I’m going to waste my life energy on it.” I simply aim to keep everyone happy (or at least satisfied) and move on with my day. This guide may not be perfect (there’s always someone with a gripe) but it helps.

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  1. What about the restaurants where you order at the counter but a waiter then delivers the food to you (Nando’s Peri Peri to name one). I tip at the local Italian restaurants that do this but not some of the larger chain restaurants.

  2. The Frugal Millionaire says

    Just curious…my wife and I frequently eat at “buffets”, where you get your own food and the servers are only responsible for supplying beverages and removing dirty plates. On the one hand they do not do as much as regular servers (i.e. get the orders right, deliver the correct order to the proper person in a timely manner, etc., etc.), but it always feels cheap to tip less than 15-20%. Any suggestions/opinions?

    • Debbie M says

      A friend once asked a waiter at a buffet if we should tip. He gave an evasive “if you want to” answer. So she asked if he made less than minimum wage. He said yes. That means we tip.

      As to how much, i can’t give the kind of well-researched answer given in the article. If they have way more customers than they could handle if it weren’t a buffet, especially if I get my own refills, I might tip a lower percentage than usual. But otherwise, especially if drinks are refilled often and plates are taken away often, then what the heck, it’s usually pretty cheap anyway. (Except at those super-expensive Mother’s Day or Easter buffets where they add the tip to the bill anyway and often don’t let you adjust it.)

  3. When I grew up, my parents usually only tipped 10%, and I’ve done the same. I’ll only tip 15% if they go above and beyond. So, I guess that makes me cheap.

    In my opinion, tips should only be given if they go above and beyond. I’d gladly pay a bit more at restaurants to enable owners to pay waiters a higher base pay with tips not expected by everyone. I think service improves if waiters aren’t expected to get a 15-20% tip regardless of how good their service is.

    • The average tip was 15% back in the 80’s. Unless you’re a senior citizen yourself, it seems your parents were tipping below average.

  4. Joshua Katt says

    No tipping debate ever discusses this but when this (ridiculous) system was setup and 15% was the standard, because it is a PERCENTAGE, it automatically compensates for cost of living inflation immediately. As opposed to most of us who have to wait a year between COLA raises. What was sufficient on the same $1 meal in 1900 and a $10 meal in 1950 and $100 in 2000 should all be the same, Then someone woke up & got greedy and began programming & pushing 18, 20 & 25% automatic calculations on tabs. That INCLUDE the sales tax on the amount further bumping it up another 8-9%. This screams greed and/or mismanagement like the state sales tax increase, they are giving it away at a faster rate than it can be normally earned.

    I do agree with Jonathan’s philosophy, I’m not going to change the world so I tip the minimum to ensure the job gets done without repercussions and more when critical like Skycaps.

    Contrast this to when I used to deliver newspapers in the snow for 5+ years, when the publisher raised the price of the paper, my tip would stay the same or even go down as a form of getting back at them.

    • Joshua, what you say makes sense that tips shouldn’t have to go up because they are a % and should be tied to inflation. Thats what I thought but then I looked at the numbers. Food costs have actually not kept pace with wage growth and minimum wage for servers has been fixed at $2.13 for 27 years. So it doesn’t work out. In order for waitstaff to have the same income levels the tip rate had to go up from 15% to 20% to offset the slower food price and minimum wage increases.

      • That’s another issue. You have people who live in backwards tstates that give servers special minimum wages that are below minimum wage. In CA, minimum wage is minimum wage. You’re still expected to tip on a percentage.

        It’s insane to me that the person who orders a steak and a beer should tip more than the person who orders a hamburger and a water, butthat’s the world we live in.

  5. i do live in NYC so appreciate the numbers shown here. Used to eat out more frequently, but decided to save more $$ (that’s why i’m here on MyMoneyblog!).

    Another reason is that I’ve gotten tired of the expected tipping culture (18%+) that inflates restaurant bills, so have resorted to grocery shopping and preparing majority of meals at home. Zero tips. When I order food from the Chinese takeout, I go over to pick it up. Zero tips. I do tip when at the bar, usually during happy hour deals.

    Call me cheap, but my bank balance is much healthier (my heart probably too).

  6. This article doesn’t mention the most ambiguous tipping situation: the nightclub bathroom attendant. I’m sure that the author doesn’t run into these types of situations anymore being a family man, but it is always the most awkward situation for me.

    I’ll try to give them a few dollars on my first trip to the bathroom, but if I come back a second or third time… no thank you, I can get my own hand soap.

    • Haha, it’s true I haven’t seen a nightclub attendant in a while. I would just pace it out and give a dollar each time if you’re giving a “few” dollars the first time. Otherwise, just tip the first time, look him in the eye, say thanks, and call it a day. I think karmically you’re good. You know, unless your friend puked all over the toilet…

  7. I don’t understand this: “Even if the service sucks never go below 15%”

    Really? Isn’t getting at least adequate service part of the reason for tipping?

  8. hi jonathan, what car do you drive and rent on vacation that fit 3 car seats? thanks!

  9. What’s the consensus on Uber/Lyft? I need guidance.

    • I think the official policy is still that you don’t need to tip, but “tip creep” is also occurring here as many people do tip and you can now do so via the app. If they help me with bags, I definitely tip. If I put in a car seat in their car, I definitely tip. Otherwise, I’ll usually tip a bit if the service is good. But there have been situations where I haven’t tipped for surcharged or below-average service. (Unlike for dining, where I usually tip something no matter what.) I have no idea if this is “correct” or not.

      • I appreciate the feedback. One datapoint is better than zero. For me, I didn’t tip when Uber discouraged it. Now that they don’t discourage it, I’ve been confused.

  10. Debbie M says

    Also missing is maids. It took me a long time before I knew we were supposed to tip them. When I first looked it up, it seemed like $1/night was the right amount, at least for the kinds of cheap hotels I use. Many years later, i was still reading $1/night, which made no sense; now I leave $2-$5 depending on the price of the hotel and whether it’s my last night there (I assume they have to do more work the last night, so I leave more).

    • Michelle says

      Same, but I read somewhere that you should leave it each day/night because there may be a different person working on different days, so I try and remember to do that with a note saying ‘for housekeeping’.

  11. I don’t tip anybody. I look forward to the argument if somebody says something.

    • Debbie M says

      In most states, wait staff make $2/hour plus tips. And they get taxed based on an estimate of the tips they will be getting, so most of that $2 goes toward taxes.

      • Yes and I am going to retire early. I don’t care about the wait staff.

        • Debbie M says

          Then don’t go to restaurants. Home cooking is cheaper, even if you don’t pay any tip.

          • I didn’t pay a tip today either. Not just in restaurants.
            That tip money is still in my pocket. I am glad.
            I don’t bow to the 30 seconds of pressure when It is time to leave the business establishment.

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