We talked to restaurant and bar insiders to get their perspectives on how to handle a variety of situations. Most of them suggested taking a generous approach — that didn’t come as a surprise, considering they might be benefiting from the extra money. So we pressed for more than just guidelines. We wanted explanations.
When you're dining at a full-service restaurant
Tip 20 percent of your full bill.
That 15 percent standard? Forget it. Most diners are tipping above that figure — and for good reason.
Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema has weighed in on the issue in his weekly chat: “20 percent is the accepted standard right now, unless the service is not up to snuff,” he wrote, later adding that he arrived at that number based on his examination of “different financial/etiquette/consumer sites online and also years of experience in the industry. In 2016, a gratuity of 15 percent of the bill tends to reward ‘average’ service and is considered a decent starting point for tipping.”
When you grab a cup of coffee
Round up or add a dollar if you’re a regular or ordered a complicated drink. Customers tend to round up to the nearest dollar or so when they do tip, said Chris Vigilante, founder of Vigilante Coffee Co. That happens more often when they become regulars and get to know their baristas.
When you have lunch at a food truck
Drop a few dollars into the tip jar, but a little less than you would at a dine-in spot.
Food truck workers aren’t just handing you food, said Najiba Hlemi, executive director of the DMV Food Truck Association. They’re often also prepping in the morning, cooking during lunch and washing down the truck after service. Still, employees aren’t relying on tips like some restaurant servers are, so tips are appreciated but not expected.
When you pick up something at a fast-casual eatery
A dollar or so is reasonable if the service was good.
For a time, Taylor Gourmet got rid of its tip jars, but the sandwich chain brought them back, partially because customers were asking to leave a tip, co-founder Casey Patten said. (Plenty of fast-casual eateries don’t have them.) The average tip is probably a dollar, he said, which equates to about 8 percent overall.
When you're drinking pricey craft beer instead of run-of-the-mill domestics
Tip a little extra.
There’s no question that you’d tip more for a porterhouse steak than for a hamburger. But some customers think there’s no difference between tipping $2 for two $4 bottles of Miller Lite, and tipping $2 for two $12 snifters of Belgian strong ale.
When you order carryout from a restaurant
Consider a 10 to 15 percent tip, or at least a few dollars.
You may not be getting the full dine-in service, but someone has taken your order, packed up the bag and handed it off to you. [Restaurateur Jackie] Greenbaum said she at least rounds up a few bucks on carryout. “A service is being provided,” she said. “I’m not saying it should be much.”
When you order delivery
Similar to takeout, 10 to 15 percent, or a few bucks.
The Emily Post Institute suggests 10 to 15 percent of the bill or $2 to $5 for pizza delivery, depending on the size of the order and difficulty of delivery. “I think delivery people should be tipped more,” Lost Dog’s Passante said. After all, they’re bringing food directly to your door.
When an owner serves you
Tip as you would a waiter.
Don’t overthink it. If an owner serves you, they’re your server. Just because they’re running the place doesn’t mean they haven’t earned a gratuity.
When you're drinking only water at the bar
Tip as if you were drinking booze.
Not everyone sitting at the bar wants to drink alcohol — or a non-boozy drink, for that matter. When [restaurateur] Trevor Frye took a month off drinking, he’d order a soda water with bitters, or another nonalcoholic drink. “I might not get a check for a soda and bitters, but I’d tip like every round I’d have was a full drink,” he said. “I’m sitting in a space where someone else could be sitting and drinking a $10 cocktail.”
He didn’t want the bartender to lose money just because he was drinking water, so he’d usually tip about $2.
When you've run a tab with the same bartender all night
Tip 20 percent, but maybe throw in a few more bucks.
From a bartender’s perspective, there’s a difference between a group hanging out for hours at one end of the bar and a couple at a high table that orders two glasses of wine and leaves. “There’s a direct relationship between the amount of time and service a group requires” and the amount they tip, said Brian Harrison, a bartender.
When you order drinks at happy hour
Tip as you would if the drinks were full price.
the bottom line is this: For a bar-goer, the difference between tipping on the happy hour price and the regular price means a buck or two. For a bartender, that can really add up.
When you're paying for drinks as you go vs. paying at the end of the night
It depends on a few things.
Usually, if you’re tipping a buck each time you order a beer, you’re tipping less than the bargoer who runs a tab and tips 20 percent at the end. Still, both approaches are considered fair.
“If you’re just coming up to the bar and getting a drink and walking away to stand on the other side of the room, then leaving $1 is acceptable,” McAuliffe said. “If you’re sitting at the bar for 20 or 30 minutes, and getting water,” and asking bartenders for help choosing a beer, “it should be 20 percent,” he said.
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