Tipping is an important part of restaurant etiquette and is certainly a sensitive topic. Tipping behavior can be confusing to recent immigrants and can be confusing to students who are just beginning to patronize upscale restaurants on their own or are going to bars for the first time. This page presents guidelines you can follow or ignore, but by reading it you will at least get the local business and consumer perspectives. Many students in Davis rely on tips for their livelihood, so you can think of tipping as supporting higher education. Note that this page is about gratuities. You may be looking for Cow Tipping, as the rates at which bovines get tipped vary from region to region. Unlike humans, bovines prefer to get tipped 0%.

General principles

The rule-of-thumb is that one should give a minimum tip of 15%, which is approximately double the tax. Others feel it should be less for poor service and more for excellent service. In some countries, tipping is never done. Many establishments have all the workers pool their tips, and then divvy them out again. Some industries have grown to expect tips (restaurants, hotel staff, etc.), yet other industries rarely get tips. Some think this is unfair.

The state of California is generally respectful of employees rights, and provides a number of tipping related legal guidelines. Independent of tips, all workers must receive minimum wage. Many (especially those who work in service industries) like this system because some can make a substantial income from tips.

Flat 15% vs. Service Quality

Variable argument: This may encourage the server to provide better service. Fixed argument: Perhaps the server is working as hard as they can, but just aren't any good. Their living costs are fixed (they can't pay less to their landlord for crappy service, can they?), so they should get the same regardless.

2005-10-28 10:22:45   Here's my practice:

  • If the service is excellent (refills are assumed and brought out in new glasses before I'm done with the drink I'm working on, food arrives hot and fresh, server comes back to make sure everything is alright) then I tip 20-25%. If the service is truly exceptional (bringing extras without being asked, being extra on-the-ball) I have been known to tip between 75-100% because it is exceptionally rare.
  • If I have no complaints about service (everything came out in a timely manner, server asked to refill drinks appropriately) then I double the tax and round up.
  • If the service was bad (no drink refills, no 'how is everything?', food comes out slowly with no update from the server), I drop the tip WAY down, usually to about 5%.
  • If the service was just terrible (extra charges for things I feel should have been free - like water, takes a long time to get seated and a long time to get the order taken even when the restaraunt is visibly slow, etc) I do not tip at all and I leave a note saying why if I didn't get a chance to tell the server in person.

I consider the Tip to be a feedback mechanism. If I routinely tip the same amount, the server will never get any feedback. If I tip the same amount and give verbal feedback, the server will not listen because they know they get tipped the same amount anyway. Consequently, money speaks. —DomenicSantangelo

  • Some of these things (such as extras, how refills are handled, and extra charges) may be restaurant policy rather than good or bad service on the part of the individual server. Do you take this into account when determining the tip? —JessicaLuedtke
    • Policy is policy. I believe that it's the server's responsibility to make those policies as transparent to me as possible. You might notice as a worker (assume retail/service for the sake of discussion) that policies and procedures - P&P to the initiated - are often on the forefront of your mind. But as a customer, what do you think when an employee tells you, "that's our policy"? I think, "I don't give a rat's ass WHAT your policies are. Take care of me however you have to and get me out of here." Thus, policy isn't as important as the way the server handles the situation. Take refills for example. My preference for a moderately priced restaurant is that the server refill soft drinks by bringing me a new one, in a new glass, before I finish the first one. Let's say policy dictates the the server has to give refills in the same glass (gross?). That's fine, just don't make me eat my ice before you come refill me! Extra charges — as I said in my Mustard Seed comment, service was terrible there. Partly it's because she offered "ice water, sparkling water, or bottled water?" before we even sat. Sparkling sounded nice. It also cost like $9, a fact we hadn't been offered. I generally don't care what crap costs, just tell me. Her service was just straight sleazy, right out of the car salesman's book. </rant> —DomenicSantangelo

2007-01-28 18:12:21   I tip based on quality of service. I judge the quality to my personal standards and leave what I think is an accurate. Hell I tip on Shirley Temples, which is a soda with grenadine, it still comes from a bartender so I tip. I can't wait to go to a non tipping country and tip. —StevenDaubert

I heard that the IRS taxes servers based on the assumption they're tipped 10%. So if you don't leave at least 10%, the server could actually lose money by waiting on you. In my opinion, you should always tip at least 15%. —CharlesMcLaughlin

I have a handy card that shows 15% and 20% for all whole numbers between $1 and $100. I always tip 15%, but I'll sometimes give 20% on what looks like a really busy day, especially if the waiter handles the extra work relatively well. —TerryCliff

Mandatory Service Charges For Large Groups

I think this is a reasonable policy. First, 15% gratuity is the rockbottom minimum tip you should give provided the waitstaff doesn't majorly screw up. Second, most waitstaff get paid peanuts by the restaurant, and make their money primarily from tips. The 15% surcharge guarantees that the waitstaff get just compensation for a particularly heavy workload. If you disagree with these policies, you have these options (1) eat at McDonalds, (2) go to a foreign country where the waitstaff get decent salaries and never receive tips, (3) complain to restaurant owners and tell them to raise the salaries of the waitstaff— by simply holding back a tip, you're focusing your annoyance at the wrong people. That is, you exploit workers who are already exploited by their management. As for the 15% gratuity charge, if you feel that your party of 8 or more has not received adequate service, you're well within your right to complain to the management. Any restaurant in their right mind will waive the charge. Remember, you're the consumer and a restaurant would rather calm an upset customer than have their reputation smeared. CraigBrozinsky

If such policies were not in place the server would make less money than if the party weren't there. A big top takes more time to manage as a server, and the other tables in his/her section can suffer because of it, probably costing the server additional tips. Large groups are usually not paid for by a single individual, so in many groups there will usually be the one person in the group who will contribute less than their fair share. As a result a server would get a smaller tip because of the cheapskate in the group. A server is very likely to get more money off of 2 four tops than a single eight top. —RogerClark

OK, my observation is on the poor comparison. A mechanic is paid for the parts AND the labor as 2 separate charges. At a restaurant food and service are combined into a single charge and are not as easy to separate. The other issue is that mechanics charge around $70-75/hr for labor. While that labor rate covers overhead as well as wages, I am sure a mechanic doesn't work for minimum wage. - RogerClark

Fixed gratuities for parties of 8 or more are used because quite often a waiter will be servicing only one table if it is 8 or more. no tip or a small tip could mean thats all they get for the night. tips are often taken into account when calculating how much a waiter makes in salary. to the comment that they are already making a wad of money for having you eat there, the gratuity never goes to the restaurant but actually goes to the waiter. this practice usually is only reserved for upscale places. usually i tip well and if there is decent service 15% is less than what i give. my revenge is that if they put the charge I don't add the extra 3% i would normally give. -MattHh

Note (6) that these are considered the employer's property and not the employee's property. The employer may give the workers 10%, 5%, or nothing at all if they choose.

Tipping for Drinks

I typically leave an extra buck per drink. depending upon the place and the service. if it is a really nice place, I typically leave less. Though when loaded I have left lots more. —rocksanddirt

I've been working in bars for a long time and I would say in general bartenders are happy with a dollar a drink. For beer, wine, and your typical vodka/tonic style drinks this seems to be the norm. Those drinks are simple and quick to prepare. If the bill is $9 and you pay with a $10 bill leaving the buck as change is pretty typical. On drinks that require more time (blended drinks, mojitos, flavored martinis) tipping more is a good idea and always appreciated. I think it also kind of depends on the situation. If your sitting at the bar and getting served promptly, hanging out, eating, and/or having fun you should tip accordingly. If your at a bar later at night, its usually busier and your just coming up, ordering drinks and then moving on. Tips are going to be less in this situation. There are a lot of variances to consider, how quick the service is, how good the drink is, how many different types of drinks were ordered, and how often you frequent the establishment.

I understand that tipping is completely optional. I get the whole "we should be happy about getting any tip in the first place," logic. There are always going to be people that don't tip, its part of the industry. My suggestions above should generally get you standard service in most places. I always tip more than that,(usually a couple bucks a beer, and $3-$5 on the more intricate stuff) but I'm biased so I won't attempt to argue that this should be the standard. Although I, of course, think it should be. Whats unique about bars as opposed to other service industry occupations is that the tip doesn't usually end the experience. Most times you will be coming back up to bar for additional beverages. Consequently, your tipping is noticed whether it be bad or good. If good, the service gets quicker, the drinks get stronger, and sometimes free drinks "appear." If bad or nonexistent, it starts to take longer each time and you get looked over. As a matter of pride I never short-pour a drink (less booze) because of tipping, but it does happen. If you leave a waiter a bad tip, chances are you won't see them again for a while, but when you leave a bartender a bad one they see you again much sooner. You would be surprised how much quicker your getting served when your leaving 2 or more dollars a drink. My point is that tipping in a bar can be very beneficial to the customer. If your not a good tipper or don't believe in it thats fine, just don't be surprised about the level of service you receive. A convincing argument could be made that service should be standard whether you tip or not. But that will never be the case, its too uneconomical. Serve more people that tip, make more money. I'm not saying that the its justifiable for the level of service to drop drastically (it does happen) but there will always be a decline in service at a bar if your a bad tipper. Personal feelings on your rights to tip or not tip don't matter, your current economical situation doesn't matter, if you tip its rewarded if you don't things can take a turn for the worse. jarrettnoble

  • in general, it sounds like you always give more than 20% per drink. how do your tips work if a cocktail server takes your order, and does tipping the waitress mean the bartender doesn't get the tip, or is that usually split? CraigBrozinsky
    • Craig, cocktail servers (not always female) usually "tip out" the bartenders at the end of their shift. The exact amount varies, of course, but it is typically 10-15% of their tips. I usually sit at the bar proper to drink, or order myself, but if I were to have cocktail service I'd upgrade the tip accordingly. —JeffSpeckles

Thanks! Also, how much should you tip a server at a restaurant if you bought an expensive wine? For example, if you like to tip 20% for food, get $100 worth of food and two $50 bottles of wine ($200 bill). —CraigBrozinsky

  • I worked for a few places in Napa a while back and usually most wait staff or bartenders expected the addition of wine to be incorporated into the total bill before gratuity percentage is calculated. I can understand how this can become very expensive and honestly its not a very hard task. From your example I would maybe tip 8-10% on the cost of the wine and probably end up leaving $30 total. But its not uncommon for people to leave a 5% tip on the alcohol. If you drank that much in cocktail's I would tip more because more work is involved. One thing to consider is when a server closes out at the end of a shift, total sales reflect alcohol as well. In some restaurants the servers tip out the hostess, busser, expo, bartender, and kitchen a percentage from sales as opposed to a percentage of total tips earned. Although we are able to split food and alcohol totals at Sophia's, some places don't do that. Therefore, the server could sometimes be tipping out more because their sales have been inflated by the alcohol cost. From a bartending perspective if I was tipped $10 on opening two bottles of wine I would be very happy. Its really up to you and how satisfied you are from spending $200 (hopefully you are for that much.) Some people tip the total bill, some people don't. I can understand both sides, but personally lean towards tipping more, but I am biased. jarrettnoble

Tipping on Discounted Items

Happy hours are happy for the customers, but sad for servers. During happy hour, customers tend to order twice as much food, work the servers twice as hard, and innocently tip based on the discounted food. That means the server is getting one-fourth the tip they would for doing the same work at a sad-hour. Make sure to tip based on the normal price of the food, and do the same when using coupons.

  • Interesting. I always tip on the non-discounted value of the meal — if I have a coupon or if the meal is free for some reason, I always tip as if I paid for the full price. Happy hour specials, however, I've always seen the same as lunch specials: the figure given is the stated menu price. Does anybody tip for a lunch special at the price for the full dinner entree?

Tipping for Delivered Food

  • If there is a delivery charge already included, do you still tip?JR
    • Back when I worked at a pizza place, the buck they charged for delivery was to pay for the driver's gas expenses. So I guess it technically went to the driver, but only to offset the huge cost of driving around town in his own car. The expected tip in that situation was your standard 15%. Off of most pizza orders, that's only gonna be two to four bucks. It may be a bummer to shell out the extra cash, but at least you don't have to leave the house.

*I have a friend who is a delivery driver, and he says that anything over $5 is exceptional.

Tipping a Barista

Question: If you plan on tipping a barista with change, like $5 for a $4.50 mocha, should you wait till she gives you the change and put it in the cup, or tell her to keep the change? —ApolloStumpy

  • I wouldn't say "keep the change" unless I'm paying with a $20 or something. I think it sounds kind of mean to say "keep the change" to $0.50. I usually just take the change and dump it in the tipjar, or hand them the money and walk away if I'm leaving the change as a tip. —DomenicSantangelo
  • Baristas at Safeway Starbucks cafes are Safeway employees and are forbidden from accepting tips. If they are given tips, they are required to put the money into the cash register as property of Safeway. Pocketing tip money would get them fired. —MaxLucas
  • The Downtown Starbucks location does NOT have a 'tip' option when you pay by credit card, that really makes me mad, since I usually use a credit card. But if I have an extra few dollars I usually tip a dollar per drink.

Tipping an Owner

  • What if the person serving you IS the owner? For example, the barber in the basement, John Salido — he's a very nice man and an excellent barber, but I feel weird tipping him because he's the owner and thus all the money goes to him anyway.. and I probably need the money more than him. -KrisFricke
  • It's a bad assumption to say that because someone owns a business, they are well off. Also, most of the companies fixed costs (ie. rent, utilities, equipment, supplies) are still present despite lack of employees. So to say that "all of the money goes to him anyway" is far from the truth. I think if you're pleased with your service from a business owner, that's all the more reason to tip, because they are solely responsible for your good experience, and they work hard to give it. — PeterAnselmo
  • I was talking with a friend the other day, and he is from Southern California and he works at a restaurant just like I do, and we were talking, and he was saying how his manager would wait tables etc. to help out the waiters/waitresses. — NikhilDahal
  • I have tipped owners before. I've never been turned down, and I've always been thanked. —CovertProfessor

Tipping During a Non-Traditional Meal Service

  • What is the standard tipping practice during a buffet? Dim sum service? or other non-traditional sit down meals? I assume a buffet would be less, because there is less service. Dim sum might be somewhere in between the standard service and the buffet. What are people's thoughts? —MattHh
    • I usually leave a few dollars for the people cleaning up at a standard buffet (sort of different at the sushi buffets with the tip jars for those making rolls for you on demand though). I do not think it is standard to leave tips at most buffets though since I usually take a look around and nobody else leaves cash on the table. —hankim

Tipping on Tax

It is standard practice to not tip on tax. However, sometimes its just easiest to calculate the percentage of the total bill. Techniques like doubling the tax inherently are not tipping on the tax.


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This page does have relevance to the community. Many Davis residents work in service industry jobs where tipping is involved. Furthermore, I would venture a guess that about 99% of the Davis community are involved in interactions where tipping would be appropriate. Relevance measures a document's applicability to a given subject or query. - If relevance is defined in this way, then - Any community members inquiry on tipping in relation to other objects within the community creates applicability - which therefore creates relevance. The wikizens are merely trying to create a forum for the eternal question on when a tip (if any) is appropriate and at what percentage that tip should be. As long as people tip in Davis and there are people to receive these tips there will be relevance to tipping in the community. jarrettnoble