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Experts confirm what the perfect amount of money to leave for a tip is

Kit Roberts

Published 
| Last updated 

Experts confirm what the perfect amount of money to leave for a tip is

Featured Image Credit: Grace Cary/LittleCityLifestylePhotography

Tipping culture in the US is set apart from many other places in the world, and one question which torments many a diner is the exact amount to tip.

The precise origins of why tipping is so engrained into US culture are difficult to pin down.

One theory published by TIME magazine suggested current tipping practices came to prominence in the post-slavery Reconstruction Era.

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How much to tip often causes tension at the end of a meal. Credit: 10'000 Hours / Getty
How much to tip often causes tension at the end of a meal. Credit: 10'000 Hours / Getty

Restaurant jobs were one of the few occupations which formerly enslaved people could find, but businesses were not willing to pay them for their work so they relied on a gratuity from customers to get by.

Another theory is that it become more widespread as a result of prohibition. The ban on alcohol saw restaurant profits slump, and business owners effectively passed labour costs onto customers via tips in a bid to save money.

Regardless of why tipping is now so engrained into US culture, the fact is that in 2023 minimum wages are so low in the USA for service workers that many rely on tips to be able to get by.

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The federal minimum wage for employees who receive tips is just $2.13 per hour, though it must be at least equal to $7.25 an hour factoring in tips.

In simpler terms, in the United States tipping is not optional.

Previously, the gold standard in a restaurant was that you should tip 15 percent of the total bill. However, it's now up for debate as to whether this is actually enough for staff to cover costs.

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Server Neil Gallagher told Bloomberg: "When I first started almost a decade ago, a 15 percent tip was normal. Now if I received that, I would be questioning what I did wrong."

It's not even clear that service quality actually affects tips that much. Credit: Tomekbudujedomek / Getty
It's not even clear that service quality actually affects tips that much. Credit: Tomekbudujedomek / Getty

In an interview with the same publication, Jacqueline Whitmore, etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach, suggested a tip of between 15 to 20 percent, but adds this is only for a sit-down meal, not fast food.

Meanwhile, etiquette expert Thomas Farley, who goes by Mister Manners, told Inside Edition you should tip 20 percent at a restaurant.

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Others insist 18 percent is the bare minimum, with 25 percent considered the gold standard with the rising cost of living.

Pub owner Paul Kushner told Bloomberg: "If you can’t afford to tip 18 percent on your bill, you can’t afford to go out."

There are also recommendations about whether service is 'poor' or 'good', with poor service theoretically meaning a smaller tip. However, it is a hotly disputed topic whether service quality actually has much impact on a tip at all.

So, it seems if you are going out in the US, 20 to 25 percent seems the gold standard to give for a tip.

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Nonetheless, the US remains an outlier when it comes to placing this much emphasis on tipping, with not just restaurants but even bars and coffee shops expecting a tip.

In Europe, there is some culture of tipping, though it is generally seen as an optional extra rather than subsidising the business' labour costs.

Meanwhile in Japan, tipping is generally frowned upon, as the understanding is that you are already paying for great service, so to offer more is simply not necessary.

It does seem that the best way would simply be to pay staff a liveable wage and perhaps raise prices to compensate. This would avoid putting customers through the unpleasant and awkward process of having to figure out how much to leave.

But until that happens, if you're in the US, it's at least 20 percent.

Topics: Community, News, US News, Food and Drink

Kit Roberts
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