woman paying at cafe

The Do’s and Don’ts of Tipping

If you have plenty of money and a generous heart, tipping is a relatively easy way to be kind to another human being. For most people, though, it’s an annoyance. And some full-on despise it. You’ve already paid for the meal, they reason, so why tack a tip onto the price?

Besides that, there’s often math involved—typically a percentage. And the calculation frequently is done on the fly, while you’re talking, finishing your cocktail, wrapping up your business (or dinner roll) and looking for your keys.

Also, it’s inexact. There are no real rules for who or how much you’re supposed to tip – just a few general rules of thumb. (Which are not the same thing.)

And yet, this is how the world works. Or, at least, the United States. There are workers – and some are extremely hard workers – who rely on gratuities for a large part of their earnings. It’s become customary to acknowledge their service by adding a little extra to the bill.

And if you don’t, well, you’re kind of a jerk.

Gratuity Guidelines

So it’s important to know some gratuity guidelines — the do’s and don’ts, the whom and whom nots, the when and when nots of tipping etiquette. Here are a few of the basics for being a thoughtful tipper (starting with the assumption that no tip is ever required, but not tipping can sometimes be a very bad idea):

The Valet

Let’s start outside the restaurant with the valet. Make sure you have small bills ready. A dollar to $5 on your way in and out is the average in this situation. If you don’t have to pay a fee for the parking service, you may want to add a bit more.

The same goes for if the attendant helps with special needs or is especially friendly or fast. If you took an Uber, tip your driver through the app or in cash. Uber’s policy is that tipping is optional , and Uber doesn’t take cash—but your driver will. A few bucks – 10% to 15% of your fare – should do it.


Inside, it gets more complicated. If you make a stop at the restaurant’s bar, there are a few things to consider. In general, you should tip $1 or $2 for every drink. However, if your drink is much more complicated than opening a beer – perhaps a cocktail with multiple ingredients, special ice cubes, garnishes and other flourishes – a little extra is in order. if you run a tab, the typical gratuity is 15% to 20%.

Host or Hostess

You only need to slip a tip to the maître d’ or hostess if they got you a great table on a busy night, or if they’re especially accommodating to your kids. Should you decide to grease that palm, make it memorable—$10 to $20.

Tipping in a Restaurant

When it comes to tipping the server at your table, you’ll hear all kinds of suggestions about how it’s supposed to go. But the bottom line is that you should tip approximately 20% of your bill—before the tax is added on or any coupons are subtracted from the total.

If that seems high—if you’ve always heard 10%, 15%—you’re right, the expected percentage has gone up with time. On the plus side, it makes calculating the tip much easier: Just move the decimal point one place to the left, round up or down, and multiply that amount times two. (So a bill for $38.76 becomes $3.90 x 2 = $7.80.)

If the bill for your table already includes a mandatory gratuity (which isn’t a tip but a service charge and is usually 18% for a larger party), don’t take it out on your server. She probably isn’t happy about it, either, because it usually means the server is getting less money.

According to compensation data gathered by Payscale , about 25 percent of the average restaurant worker’s total income comes from tips. That breaks down to an average base salary of $9.90 an hour plus $3.40 per hour in tips. If you usually tip more than 18%, feel free to leave the difference in cash.

On the flip side, some restaurants and chains are adopting no-tipping policies , and if that’s the case – and it’s prominently noted on the website, menu or door – you can stand down without feeling uncomfortable.

The boss has likely decided to pay his employees more per hour, maybe even offer better benefits. If you’re unsure, check on what’s behind the ban before or after your meal – don’t make it a debate at the table and put your server in an awkward position.

If you linger longer than the average customer because you’re having a good time or have children in your party who are being difficult or making a mess, come on. Be nice.

Keep in mind that at many restaurants, your server will be sharing the tip with others . The hostess or maître ‘d, table bussers and sometimes the kitchen staff often are part of a pool, and everyone gets a cut. Yes, your server gets the largest share of the money, but if you stiff your waiter because you think he was rude or the food was cold, everyone’s income goes down.

On a similar note, don’t take it out on your server if you don’t like the food or if you think the portions are too small. Your server is your liaison with the kitchen, and you can ask for a do-over if you don’t like the way the dish is cooked.

But if you are seriously unhappy, you should ask to speak with the manager. If your gripe is legit, your meal might be discounted or completely written off the bill.

Cash vs Card

Here’s another reason to bring cash: The restaurant may deduct a percentage of the credit card processing fee from a server’s tip. (Although not in California .) So even if you pay for the meal with a card, you might want to leave your gratuity in cash.

This may not be feasible if you need the receipt for business reimbursement or your taxes. And if others at the table are putting their share of the gratuity on their cards, go with the flow. (If you only have cash, consider giving it to someone paying with a credit card and let them take care of your part of the bill.) When it’s possible, though, cash is still the most efficient way to tip.

But please don’t leave change. Your server could end up carrying those coins around until he or she settles up at the end of the shift – which could be eight hours or longer. Round up or down, but put those quarters and the lint that came with them back in your pocket.

Restroom Attendant

What about the restroom attendant? They’re a dying breed, but you still see them from time to time – and not only at high-end restaurants. Is it fair that this person is guarding the paper towels with a stare you’d expect from a Doberman?

No. But if you take advantage of some service – a squirt of soap, a stick of gum, a shot of hairspray or cologne — you should tip a dollar or two. If you’re drunk and/or sick and the attendant is funny or patient or exceptionally kind, make it more.

Finally, on your way out, there’s the coat-room attendant. This one will be tough to avoid, but a dollar should do it.

And then there are these tipping guidelines for situations that are seriously up to your discretion.

•  The tip jar at the takeout counter: There’s no obligation, but if your order is large or complicated, or it’s obviously been carefully packaged, drop $1 to $5 in the jar. (And coins are okay here.)

•  The entertainment: If the band has a tip jar, there’s some expectation that restaurant patrons will help fill it. Drop a buck or two in there if you enjoy the music. Or really blow their minds and buy a CD.

You may have noticed there’s a theme here — that when it comes to a night on the town, cash is still king. The people you tip will likely prefer it, and it will make your life easier, too, if there’s a batch of small bills in your wallet.

Your ability to access an ATM could mean the difference between gliding through the evening without a glitch and a floundering, red-faced fail.

About SoFi Checking and Savings®

Enter SoFi Checking and Savings®, a checking and savings account. You can use a SoFi Checking and Savings debit card at 55,000+ ATMs worldwide and the fees will be reimbursed.

Speaking of fees—SoFi Checking and Savings has no account fees (subject to change). SoFi also makes it easy to check your balance and track your spending with the SoFi Checking and Savings app. Make your restaurant meal, and the whole night out, memorable for all the right reasons.

If you need cash on the fly—or want to come prepared to generously tip your servers—SoFi Checking and Savings delivers easy access to your money.

Learn More

All your finances.
All in one app.

SoFi QR code, Download now, scan this with your phone’s camera

All your finances.
All in one app.

App Store rating

SoFi iOS App, Download on the App Store SoFi Android App, Get it on Google Play

ABOUT SoFi SoFi helps people achieve financial independence to realize their ambitions. Our products for borrowing, saving, spending, investing, and protecting give our more than one million members fast access to tools to get their money right. SoFi membership comes with the key essentials for getting ahead, including career advisors and connection to a thriving community of like-minded, ambitious people. For more information, visit SoFi.com. Want an easy and convenient way to manage your financial life? Get the SoFi app. For iOS and Android.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

TLS 1.2 Encrypted
Equal Housing Lender