A formula for how much to tip in restaurants.
There are plenty of tipping calculation guides on the web, all written by people so terrified of being called tight that they vastly inflate what is a reasonable amount to tip. It leads to a system where you have to carry round thousands of small notes, handing them over to any service employee who is wise enough to get in your face.
It also leads to staggeringly idiotic articles like this one by Oliver Thring. Thring is ostensibly writing about a site where waiters gather to bitch about people who leave what they see as poor tips, but it soon descends into absurd justification for some of the worst practices in the restaurant industry.
Thring says: “Undertipping is less of a problem in the, where most restaurants whack 12.5% on to every bill regardless and where there is, in general, less of a tipping culture.”
That’s simply not true. Only really, really cynical restaurants do this, and they are thankfully in the minority. The legality of this adding service afterwards approach hasn’t yet been tested, but I suspect it has no chance if it ever gets to court. For every other industry in the UK, inclusive pricing – the printed price is what you pay – is the norm. Restaurants shouldn’t be an exception.
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Thring also says: “Nonetheless, there are British punters who routinely exercise their option to deduct optional service, even when nothing was wrong with the meal. They should be discouraged from doing so.”
This is insidious bollocks. The restaurants should be discouraged from adding it. The punters who exercise their option to remove it are doing the right thing.
In the last paragraph, Thring comes up with this gem: “Eating out is a contract between staff and punter, and the latter should willingly pay a fair price if the food and service have been good.”
This is patently not true. Eating out is a contract between restaurant and punter. You book with the restaurant, you eat at the restaurant, you pay the restaurant. The staff are employees of the restaurant. The punter’s ‘contract’ is as much with the staff as it is with the farmers that supply the ingredients.
But there’s still plenty of confusion about what to do in restaurants. So I’ve put together a formula for what you should tip. If you think I’m being “cheap” or “tight”, there’s a high chance that I think you’re being “gullible” and “mindlessly stupid” – so it’s all good, we’re even.
Tipping formula for UK and Australian restaurants
Service is included at UK and Australian restaurants, and staff are paid at least the minimum wage. There is no need to add anything extra for service. Should you wish to add a bit more to the bill for whatever reason, that is up to you. Feel free.
If the restaurant has added an extra service charge to the bill, you should ask for it to be removed. And, if you want to make a point about this insidious practice, the tip should be zero.
Tipping formula for US restaurants
The US is slightly different. Tipping is an unfortunate part of the culture there. Staff are paid measly amounts and rely on tips to make a living wage. It’s a hideous system, but tips are expected rather than merely appreciated as kind gesture on the behalf of the diner.
If service is not included on the bill: Generally, service is not included on the bill and it’s up to you how much you leave as a tip. Some say leave 15% – 20%, others say “double the tax” – tax is added to the bill afterwards. Complete morons who just want to show the world how amazing they are will say anything from 25% upwards.
Realistically, it should start at 15%, unless service is especially poor or brilliant. However, if you want to calculate things more precisely, how about making the following alterations?
- Minus 1% for every time you’re asked if you’re enjoying your meal beyond the first ask. (Once is OK, any more is just an intrusive nuisance).
- Minus 1% every time your dish is described to you in elaborate detail before it is put in front of you. Make that 2% if the same elaborate detail was on the menu when you ordered.
- Minus 1% for every minute over five minutes it takes to get the bill when you’ve finished.
- Minus 1% for every minute over five minutes it takes to pay the bill once the bill has been given to you.
- Minus 5% every time you make a request to a waiter other than your designated server, only to be told that said designated server is the only one allowed to fulfil the request.
- Add whatever you like if you feel the service has been in some way exceptional.
- Minus everything if the waiter makes a single comment about the level of tip you have left.
If a service charge is added to the bill afterwards: This is rare, but it happens sometimes and it is most definitely not standard practice. However, some restaurants – or individual waiters – do add an arbitrary percentage (usually 18%, sometimes 15%, sometimes 20%). This is often applied to selectively to certain groups regarded as poor tippers – foreigners, particularly.
If this is the case, the right thing to do is ask if the extra charge can be taken off the bill in order for you to leave a tip you deem appropriate. You may wish to ask why it has been added, and whether this is applied across the board or selectively to certain people. Then follow this formula:
- If the waiter removes the added service charge without complaint, as above.
- For every sentence trying to justify the addition of the service charge, minus 5%.
- If the waiter says the charge has been applied because you are a foreigner, or have a certain accent, or are black (yes – it’s sometimes added because black people are seen as poor tippers), ask for the manager. Then insist that the charge is taken off, and leave zero tip, explaining to the manager that racial discrimination constitutes service so poor that leaving no tip is absolutely justified.