Do You Agree With the New Standards of Restaurant Tipping?


What's considered an "acceptable" tip in the restaurant industry is trending north as a number of expensive restaurants now frequently make a tip suggestion of 20% or higher.

While tipping is never required, the expectations placed on consumers are getting a lot more specific, with 20% widely considered a baseline tip for good service, and 25% and up the norm for superlative service.

In many ways, the restaurant patron has become the one who is being graded on performance.

Let's look at this trend from a few perspectives.

A Healthy Tip Keeps the Cost of Your Meal Down

When you go out to eat, you're not just paying for food, but you're also paying for service.

This dictates that a tip, though not required, should be anticipated as part of the cost of your evening out. The restaurant's owners are then free to aggressively control costs on the menu — and offer lower prices. Factor in consumers' increasing expectations for quality of service and the effects of inflation, and 20% does not seem that excessive.

If you believe that service is part of the cost of a meal out, then higher tip costs shouldn't bother you. On the other hand, if you view a tip as a reward or a courtesy, then the "cost of the meal" argument suddenly loses steam.

If the Price Dictates the Tip, Then It's Not a Tip

The other side of the coin is that simply ascribing tip to the cost of a meal is, by definition, not "tipping." It's taking something that was intended to be a bonus or an act of graciousness and courtesy on the part of the patron and turning it into part of the cost.

People who feel this way might likely feel that a recommended tip of 15% is acceptable for average to "good" service and anything more should be at the discretion of the diner.

Reward or Part of the Meal's Cost?

Is the tip in fact part of the cost of your meal, or is it a voluntary offering to thank your server?

The answer isn't exactly clear cut, but I think it involves a little bit of both. Most servers who receive tips at their job are paid at a fairly low hourly rate — the federal minimum wage for tipped employees is just $2.13 per hour! That means their tips have become more than just "Hey, you did a good job. Go buy yourself a soda." Tips are wages.

It's a part of how they make their living, so a reasonable amount is fine to be "suggested" or expected of the patron.

On the other hand, suggesting higher tips or expecting them from consumers unfairly puts diners in the position of having to feel pressured or out-of-line while they're trying to enjoy a meal.

Honor System

From an ethics and business standpoint, a higher-than-normal tip should be up to the discretion of the consumer.

In an ideal world, this would work on the honor system, where patrons tip a reasonable amount and give more if they received better service. Suggesting a certain tip before service is even provided does take away some of the incentive for both parties: The server to do a good job and the customer to give out of gratefulness.

How do you feel about the tipping standards? What do you think is a reasonable tip for service at a restaurant?

Disclaimer: The links and mentions on this site may be affiliate links. But they do not affect the actual opinions and recommendations of the authors.

Wise Think is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to