Do You Tip Too Much at Restaurants?

I just got done reading an article put out by the Huffington Post about tipping. It really got me thinking about the subject and I realized that like the author, I have a tendency to over tip. I leave 20% on average because it’s easier to calculate and I often reason with myself that many people are poor tippers so I’m closing the gap by being generous. It wasn’t until I read Tipping Too Much: How You Can Save Money A Few Cents At A Time by Cindy Whitt that I was approaching the situation completely wrong. Here’s why I now feel this way:

Every budget-minded person knows that drinks add money to your bill and unnecessary calories to your diet. The way we get around this is by drinking water with our meals. With soft drinks and juices costing nearly $2.00 each visit to a restaurant, we can save nearly $10 a month on our weekly meals out by choosing water. This amounts to at least $120 per person per year. If you have a large family, you know how much this type of savings adds up. A family of four can save nearly $500 a year by making the switch.

Tipping When Dining Out

I clip coupons. I wait for items to go on sale. I budget carefully so I can enjoy vacations, new clothing, and an occasional movie in the theater. I know how to stretch a dollar so why wouldn’t I apply the same logic when dining out. Why should I tip as much as my friends who order appetizers or drinks with their meal? It’s another area of personal finance I’ve a learned a thing or two about this month.

Whitt determined that by tipping the right amount, she would be able to enjoy two additional meals out a month with drinks. She even checked with the Emily Post Institute to make sure she was correct in her line of thinking. The astonishing news was this: You should calculate your tip according to the pre-tax amount listed on the receipt not the total. This little tidbit of knowledge helps you save a few more cents each meal out.

Tax is charged regardless whether you use coupons at a restaurant or not. You are paying the tip as a percentage of the meal you purchased not the tax that is being added onto the bill. 15% is customary and 20% is reserved for those times that service was so exceptional that it knocked your socks off. Many a mediocre server has been rewarded by my lack of knowledge. I’m no longer going to be overly generous especially when the service I receive leaves little to be desired.

What is your take on tipping? Do you go the extra mile to make sure your waiters and waitresses are provided for? Do you think it’s tacky to use a calculator to figure out your tip? Do you feel wait staff should simply get bigger tips regardless of service quality because they are paid a low base wage? I’d love to hear your feedback about the subject.

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Filed Under: Food


About the Author: Charissa Arsaoui is a freelance writer with a love for thrift. She contributes to many different personal finance blogs.


It's not fair for you to say that suddenly you get to tip me less because you rummaged through your paper and found a coupon. You saved your money, but now that's not enough? You need to take an extra discount out of the payment I receive from you for bringing you your bottomless water glasses? 

Also, I get taxed too. As a matter of fact, with my 2.38/hr wage, I get taxed so hard that I never see a paycheck, and I usually have to pay in to state taxes every year to cover shortfalls. So why don't we just consider the minimal amount of money you save from excluding yourself from tipping on the sales tax as a way to help your fellow man out. Cause frankly it's just cheap and tacky. 

Going back to the water... it's really fine to order water. It's not a big deal. But if you are to look at it in a larger perspective, you could see that it is a choice that will eventually lead you to paying more for food later in life. You see not many places will charge you for water, which is exactly why you save money, but it doesn't mean that the glass of water is without cost to us. It's minimal, but follow me... You have a glass of water that maybe costs the restaurant a fraction of a cent to produce, now double it with a refill, now factor a slice of lemon (it's more expensive than you think), now you have the handling which includes service as well as sanitation and storage. It's still really cheap. It's maybe a nickle at best. But that is a nickles worth or product that we can't turn a profit on. Same goes for extra crackers, extra dressing, etc... that bottom line is not considered a loss, but it will factor into why we charge you more money for the same things every time we write a new menu. That's why a soda is more that 2 bucks now, because we know you are not drinking one soda. 

This is all knitpickery, but I feel your reasoning is... similar. 

15% to 20% or more on the TOTAL  


Having worked in the service industry back in the day, having worked my butt off to provide excellent service and having been tipped fairly and unfairly, I can say for myself as being a conscious minded tipper who won't have a sweat over tipping or undertipping whatever the fair decision may that be. I definitely don't agree and won't give money away for free when the service has been lame.


I don't know guys. I'm not a particularly froogle person and I have worked in low-paying jobs (gas station attendant) but I have to say that I have a bit of contrary perspective on tipping. Yes, a waiter/waitress works to bring you your meal and ensure you're happy and satisfied but this is really just their job. When I worked at a gas station when I was young I'd pump the customer's gas, check their oil, wash their windows, bring them change and generally try to ensure they had a great experience. I think I received about 3 tips in 2 years for this. I was paid to perform my job and that was fine. Of course I would have LOVED it if people threw extra money at me but I didn't feel a sense of entitlement. This idea that we should all feel bad for the poor souls working these jobs and subsidize their low wages just doens't fly for me.


Having said all this, I'm not saying I don't tip. I usually leave around 15% but I just had to chime in here to say that the argument that these people are somehow "owed" this money is a bogus from my perspective.


For the author of the original article - I'm sure the waitress refilled her water each time she refilled the soda.  No less work for the waitress than the friend who ordered soda.  


The author must be lucky and have never had to work in food service or she would realize that that a portion of that $1.52 probably also goes towards tipping out the restaurant (for the busboy, etc).  With the wage of waitstaff at less than $3/hour, I would  never begrudge them $ 0.48.  If you are that concerned about 48 cents, you probably should not be eating out.  Taking into account the time I spend at a table eating and the attention I get, I would never tip below $2.00.

Christian L
Christian L

Jeremy,I seldom have service that makes me tip less. I'm in a college town with tons of ambitious waiters and waitresses who depend on tips. It makes a difference; they work hard. Usually I tip about 17 percent. I've never used a calculator. My dad taught me simple ways to do the math based on 10 percent (half of it is 5 percent, so you can add that amount to the 10 percent to get 15 percent).


-Christian L. @ Smart Military Money


 @dd3420 But did you only earn $2.13/hour as a gas station attendant when the federal minimum wage was $7.25? 

Jeremy Vohwinkle
Jeremy Vohwinkle moderator

 @Christian L Thanks for the comment, Christian. I actually forgot to update the author of this post as it was actually written by one of my guest contributors, Charissa. 


But I'm with you. It is pretty rare to encounter a situation that warrants a poor tip. But I have no problem leaving just a 10% tip if the service is just awful. Doesn't happen often though. Otherwise I almost always tip around 20%. And when possible, I try to leave a tip in cash even if I'm paying for the meal by credit card. I know servers usually appreciate that. 


 @skippy241 I did earn mimimum wage (at the time was $6.50 I believe) which is about an extra 4 dollars an hour. I do understand this discrepency. But if you want to complain about it, complain to the restaurant management or complain to the government who allows people to earn below-minimum wage. I'm sorry to say but vinanizing customers for not subsidizing these wages enough isn't fair in my books. It's not our responsibility.


Christian L
Christian L

 @Jeremy Vohwinkle  Oh right on. Yes, I prefer to tip--and pay in full--with cash. If the service is really bad, I'll leave $1 tip regardless of the bill. I've maybe done that twice in my life.And thanks Charissa. Sorry I didn't direct my first comment to you!


-Christian L.


@dd3420 @skippy241 The problem with that logic is that if restaurant owners actually paid servers the full minimum wage, your $9 burger would suddenly be an $18 burger, also they wouldn't rely on sales skills, therefore the job would be no longer competitive and the service you would receive would suck. These are all things that have already been thought of which is why the government allows the food industry to remain the same. 

15% to 20% for standard service, higher for excellent service (on the full total after tax and before discounts and coupons)

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