# Tell me I'm not cheap!December 5, 2010 7:45 AM   Subscribe

Do you calculate your waiter's tip based on the pre-tax or the with-tax total?

Despite the gazillion tipping questions on MeFi, I remain confused!

My partner and I went out for dinner last night to celebrate our anniversary. I paid, but asked my partner what he thought we should tip. This is how I found out we calculate tips differently. I took the subtotal (pre-tax), which was \$122 and change, and calculated a 20% tip on that (I tipped \$25). But my partner contends that I should be using the with-tax total, which was \$137, as my starting point for calculating a tip.

This notion confuses me; why would one calculate a tip based partly on tax? Tax has nothing to do with the food or service that has been provided. My partner feels that the food and service are reflected in the amount of tax on our bill, and therefore the with-tax total is the appropriate amount to base the tip off of.

Have I been inadvertently tipping less well than I thought I was all my life?? It doesn't amount to a huge difference, but I want to make sure that I'm actually tipping well when I intend to tip well (as I did last night).
posted by just_ducky to Food & Drink (76 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

I always tip with-tax, at least 15% (I mean, maybe if the service totally sucks or I'm flat broke, I tip lower). Never occurred to me to do it any other way. I'm not sure that means I'm doing it "correctly", though.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 7:53 AM on December 5, 2010

As a waitress, I expect people to tip on the with-tax total. It has always been that way, with me and with everyone I know who works in restaurants.
posted by greta simone at 7:55 AM on December 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

I tip post-tax, just because it's easier on credit card slips, but really, the difference here is \$2 or so, right? No waiter is really going to care about \$2 on a \$100+ check.
posted by downing street memo at 7:56 AM on December 5, 2010

I tip pre-tax, unless it's a relatively small amount (and not worth doing the extra math). I'm sure that the waitstaff would prefer you to tip higher for whatever reason.

Canadians tip lower (about 15%) - our waitstaff have (slightly) higher salaries. Though the American 20% is creeping up here now.

I wish tipping would end, and that all waitstaff were paid good salaries.
posted by jb at 7:56 AM on December 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

I always tip approximately 20% of the total, after tax.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:56 AM on December 5, 2010

20%+ after tax
posted by ghharr at 7:58 AM on December 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

I tip pre-tax, usually by just doubling whatever I was assessed in tax.

Tipping post-tax is foolish because then you are tipping for both the service and the law that assesses the tax. You only tip for service.
posted by dfriedman at 7:58 AM on December 5, 2010 [5 favorites]

I tip on the with tax number as I like to use the most generous method. Fwiw, in a diner or low tab situation, no matter what, I tip at least a \$1 per person even if that is a 50% tip. And, while we are discussing tips, always tip your flower delivery person unless you are hosting a funeral. Disclosure: Former flower delivery guy here.
posted by AugustWest at 7:59 AM on December 5, 2010

My dad tips on the pre-tax amount. I tip 20% on the with-tax total, but I'm not sure that's the "right" way to do it -- I just do because I always have and it's the first number I see.
posted by J. Wilson at 8:00 AM on December 5, 2010

20% post-tax, and round the tip up to the next whole dollar.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 8:00 AM on December 5, 2010

The tip is your valuation of & thanks for the service you feel you received, which itself is not related to either the price or the tax, but just your subjective judgment. The percentage of price or tax is a rule-of-thumb for arriving at a nominal amount, which we then tweak according judgment. (Not really news, right?). Another handy rule is triple the tax (makes 15/20% in a 5%/7% meal-tax state). So pick one that works for you and go from there.
Personally, I use 2/10 the bottom line (price+tax) for no other reason than that it's convenient, I can afford it (if I can't, why am I eating out?), and its easy to do in my head. As the meal tax rate rises, I might revise that, though.
posted by TruncatedTiller at 8:02 AM on December 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

>Tipping post-tax is foolish because then you are tipping for both the service and the law that assesses the tax. You only tip for service.

"Foolish"? That's a strong statement for an arbitrary rule. If you were really just tipping for service, the service would be the same whether you ordered the \$10 hamburger or the \$22 filet. And if it's not just about that, and it's about how much you have to pay, then you can make a decent argument that tax is part of that.
posted by J. Wilson at 8:04 AM on December 5, 2010 [6 favorites]

Honestly, how much is tax? 5%? So we're talking 20% of 5%, which is 1%. Regardless of which way is the better way to calculate a tip, that's the difference between 20% and 19% -- not enough to make you cheap.
posted by J. Wilson at 8:06 AM on December 5, 2010

I tip 20% on the after-tax total, because it is the easiest thing to figure out after a few drinks and also makes me feel the most generous.
posted by orme at 8:06 AM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I do it post-tax because that's the easy number to use. Like someone said above, the difference isn't very large (about \$2 on the bill in the question, and a lot less on a more modest dinner), so I don't think it is a very critical question. I know people who use the tax line as the basis of their tipping (eg if tax is 8%, doubling the tax amount gives you a just-over-15% tip without you having to do percentages in your head after drinking a bottle of wine), but I've always just used the grand total and did the math myself.
posted by Forktine at 8:07 AM on December 5, 2010

After reading dfriedman's response, I would say that since money is fungible it makes no difference what your basis is. I tip on with tax number 20% lets say. I could use the pretax number and tip 22% and come to the same place. I guess what I am saying is that it is expectations. A server does not know what method you used unless you state it. A supposedly great tip might turn into a good tip in a high tax state depending on the server's way of looking at it.
posted by AugustWest at 8:07 AM on December 5, 2010

I tip on pre-tax amount. Why would I be expected to tip a tax?
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 8:08 AM on December 5, 2010 [4 favorites]

When a restaurant POS adds an automatic service charge (for those "parties of six or more" or whatever), it's always on the pre-tax amount, and the same goes for catered events where service is included in the total. It drives me crazy when people under-tip, but I wouldn't even consider including the tax in the calculation.
posted by bcwinters at 8:08 AM on December 5, 2010 [6 favorites]

Thanks for the answers so far! This thread has opened my eyes!

To clarify - I live in a Canadian province with a 12% tax rate, which is probably the most awkward possible tax amount from which to attempt any rule of thumb tipping.
posted by just_ducky at 8:08 AM on December 5, 2010

I tip 20% of the pre-tax amount, but this is in Canada, where the tax rate is 14%. I don't see why I would tip on tax.
posted by OLechat at 8:10 AM on December 5, 2010

That's a strong statement for an arbitrary rule.

Indeed: the concept becomes irrelevant when you get to a country that charges VAT inclusively on sit-down meals. It's all about combining an uncomfortable gesture with an uncomfortable set of working conditions for wait-staff, and either way works as long as you satisfy those conditions.
posted by holgate at 8:13 AM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Even in the States, some areas (like Seattle) have over 10% sales tax in restaurants and bars. Living in Seattle, I always heard the "twice tax" rule of thumb, which made me expect that tips were calculated based on the pre-tax amount.
posted by mbrubeck at 8:16 AM on December 5, 2010

When I lived in DC (and so ate there, but also in MD and VA), I'd tip pre-tax, so as to be fair to waitresses who worked in lower-taxed VA.

Now, I just tip post tax, because it's easier, and because, frankly, I don't want to deal with a waiter who thinks he's being under-tipped. Which is stupid of me, as I'm tipping 20% anyway.
posted by orthogonality at 8:16 AM on December 5, 2010

Tipping on pre-tax amounts is a real douchebag move. Please don't do it.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 8:17 AM on December 5, 2010

taxes differ state to state. I usually tip 15-20 percent pre-tax...why should a waiter be tipped for what the State gets? He or she is not a state worker.
posted by Postroad at 8:18 AM on December 5, 2010

Not everywhere has a 5% sales tax. Tax can make a huge difference, especially in places like San Francisco, where an additional tax is applied to restaurants on top of an already high sales tax (9.5%). When I visited California a few months ago was when I decided it was time to start tipping pre-tax.

We're 6% in Connecticut, so I triple the tax to get a basic tip and then usually add a bit for good service.
posted by smalls at 8:18 AM on December 5, 2010

Wow, I thought it was universal that people tipped based on the bill itself rather than adding in a percentage of the tax as well. It seems weird to (effectively) tip your waiter for the privilege of paying some extra money to the state.

When restaurants add an automatic gratuity charge because you have a large party, isn't it always based off of the actual charges, before tax is added in?

(I don't count tax in my tip basis, but I tip over 20% of that, so I don't think I'm ripping anyone off.)
posted by dfan at 8:25 AM on December 5, 2010

Post-tax, 20% for good service, 25% and up for awesome service, and I always tip in cash, handed directly to the server. Adding the tip onto your cc charge leaves them at the mercy of their manager, which can often be a crapshoot.
posted by elizardbits at 8:25 AM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Tipping on pre-tax amounts is a real douchebag move.

What an idiotic thing to say without backing it up with reasons. Do you have an actual reason for asserting that, or do you just sort of feel that way and therefore think everyone else should, too?

I've always tipped on the pre-tax amount. The tax is not part of the meal cost, as it's added on after the meal cost is totaled. The waiter/waitress deserves to be tipped based on meal cost and performance, and nothing else.

Suppose I ate at a chain restaurant in an area with a 5% sales tax, ordered certain dishes and got decent service, and then paid based on the post-tax total. Then I went to another branch of the chain in an area with 10% sales tax, ordered the exact same dishes and got just-as-good service, and again tipped on the post-tax total. Now, please explain to me why the second waiter deserves a higher tip than the first waiter.
posted by cerebus19 at 8:26 AM on December 5, 2010 [17 favorites]

Please remember that the IRS expects servers to pay taxes on tips - and that the IRS has methods of estimating what cash tips should have been.

Have not worked in a restaurant in years, but understand tip-out is still based on what is rung - that is, sales + tax. This is for swanky chef-owned and big-ass giant corporate chains where the servers have to wear flair.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 8:32 AM on December 5, 2010 [4 favorites]

Suppose I ate at a chain restaurant in an area with a 5% sales tax, ordered certain dishes and got decent service, and then paid based on the post-tax total. Then I went to another branch of the chain in an area with 10% sales tax, ordered the exact same dishes and got just-as-good service, and again tipped on the post-tax total. Now, please explain to me why the second waiter deserves a higher tip than the first waiter.

Just food for thought: Maybe the waiter at the second restaurant also lives in that area and routinely has to pay 10% sales tax on the things s/he buys. You of course can't know that—people often live a ways away from where they work—but it's something to consider. Maybe the second waiter really could use a higher tip than the first.
posted by limeonaire at 8:36 AM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Tipping on pre-tax amounts is a real douchebag move.
Seriously, this statement doesn't seem very well thought out.
In my Connecticut example above, if a person triples the 6% sales tax on a \$100 bill, they are tipping \$18. If they tip 15% on the post tax \$106 bill, then they are tipping \$15.90. To call the 18% pre-tax tipper is the douchebag over the 15% post-tax tipper seems pretty silly.

If I'm tipping the 18% pre-tax amount and then adding a bit, you can bet your ass I'm probably tipping just as well as (or better than) the post tax tipper.
posted by smalls at 8:37 AM on December 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

After tax. 20% unless it's a buffet. Almost always round the total up to the next dollar.
posted by Bruce H. at 8:39 AM on December 5, 2010

I tip on the post-tax amount. That said, I find this matter to be totally arbitrary and have seen no convincing argument for calculating the tip on either quantity, or that custom demands either.

In any case, the difference is going to be small, even when the tax amount is relatively large. Here in Seattle, sales tax on a restaurant meal is 10 percent. If you round up to the nearest dollar, then the difference in a tip calculated pre- and post-tax will always be 0 or \$1 until the pre-tax bill reaches \$54.57, and then it will always be \$1 or \$2 until the pre-tax bill reaches \$104.57, and then \$2 or \$3 until it reaches \$154.57.
posted by grouse at 8:43 AM on December 5, 2010 [4 favorites]

Canadians tend to tip on the pre-tax amount (due to the higher sales tax here) while Americans tip on the after-tax amont. 15% is more common here vs. the American 20%.

Of course the actual percentage and whether it is pre-tax or post-tax is arbitrary. If your partner thinks you should be tipping 20% on post-tax then he really just means you should be tipping 22% of the pre-tax amount.
posted by pravit at 8:46 AM on December 5, 2010

You just have to accept, whenever the depressing subject of tips and tipupmanship comes round, that there is no rationale that provides equivalent moral satisfaction.

It's a bit like the BCS.
posted by holgate at 8:51 AM on December 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

Generally:

1. Take the pre-tax amount.
2. Move the decimal one point to the left. Double this amount. Ta-da! 20% pre-tax tip.
3. Round that number up to the nearest whole-dollar amount. (This mitigates any "douchebagginess" associated with pre-tax tipping.)

I don't think this ever results in an "I'm a cheap bastard" outcome. Sometimes it might end up more like 18% but I think that's fine too.

If I ever found myself (hard to imagine!) computing a tip on a check of several hundred dollars, then maybe I'd reconsider the pre- or post-tax issue. However, typically the only times I run up a check of that size is in a large party, where often they'll add the gratuity anyway.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 8:52 AM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Asking the question doesn't make you cheap in the least; spending time carefully explaining how tipping pre-tax allows you to save an entire 1 percent on your bill just might. Tipping is not just part of the server's compensation, it's thanking a person for *serving* you. I'm not trying to slam anyone specifically here, but someone once told me that if I have to think that closely about the final total on the bill, I shouldn't be going out to dinner, and it's stuck with me.

I tip a minimum of 18 percent with tax, usually more like 20, and occasionally more like 50. I leave a tip at my local watering hole when all I order is a glass of sparkling water with lime. Waiting tables is strenuous work that takes skill and finesse - I would not be good at it, and I appreciate the service.

It's fine to be cheap (half of what I'm wearing right now came from EBay), but be cheap with yourself, not other people.
posted by deliriouscool at 8:53 AM on December 5, 2010 [5 favorites]

It seems weird to (effectively) tip your waiter for the privilege of paying some extra money to the state.

I see what you're saying, but to me, it seems weird that I'd pay the server more if I ordered a \$100 bottle of wine than if I ordered a \$50 bottle of wine. His/her tasks & service are going to be exactly the same. Why should the server get paid more just because my tastes are expensive? (Just a hypothetical - I'm not expecting an answer to that.)

Tipping's never made sense to me, and I've never understood it. What I do understand, though, is that the server relies on my tips to make a living. I always tip 20%+ on the post-tax amount. I've never had service so atrocious that I was tempted to leave less, but I'm sure that makes me very lucky.
posted by pecanpies at 8:53 AM on December 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

These numbers and ratios are totally arbitrary. There is no hard-line correct or incorrect choice here. When your waiter/waitress goes to the grocery store or the mall to spend their tips, the merchandise they put in their cart or carry to the register is priced in currency, not percentages.

I think this problem is insoluble because on one hand we're supposedly rewarding for good service, but on the other hand we're not supposed to be so presumptuous as to judge the service we've received. Sticking with a fixed percentage is a way of opting for the latter goal, but undermines the former.
posted by jon1270 at 8:58 AM on December 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

In this column by Frank Bruni, NY Times food writer and restaurant critic, he doesn't have a hard and fast pre-tax or post-tax rule, but rather treats them as figures to help you calculate the level of tipping based on your perception of the level of service you received:

"Now it’s my belief that 15 percent of the pre-tax amount is the absolute minimum for anything but unequivocally dismal service; that 17 to 18 percent of the post-tax total should be considered for above-average service; and that for truly exceptional, superior service in a restaurant where many people, including a sommelier, are attending to each table, 20 percent of the post-tax total is decidedly generous but hardly extravagant."
posted by needled at 9:01 AM on December 5, 2010 [5 favorites]

I do pre-tax, varying between 10 and 25 percent depending on quality of service (10% for horrible service, 25% for outstanding service).
posted by three bear minimum at 9:06 AM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Having worked for tips, I always tip wait staff 20% of the total (including tax) at a minimum. (Unless the service is really terrible, in which case I leave coin change-- that sends the unmistakable message that I was not happy with the service, even more so than not leaving a tip. But it's a move reserved for the most egregious of service transgressions. I'll usually try to resolve things with the server directly or maitre'd before I go full on dick mode with the tip).

And yes, if you can't afford to tip, you cant' afford to eat out. Get a to-go order.

This not tipping on the tax thing is new to me. When did that shit start? It sounds like an over the top ideological response for such a meager amount. Rand Paul would be proud.
posted by KingEdRa at 9:11 AM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Post-tax. ie, the total at the bottom. Until this thread, it never even occurred to me to tip pre-tax, and I was a server for years. Huh.
posted by changeling at 9:12 AM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

This not tipping on the tax thing is new to me. When did that shit start? It sounds like an over the top ideological response for such a meager amount. Rand Paul would be proud.

It was what I learned growing up in the 1970's, so it predates that. Knowing my parents, I doubt that it was some sort of rationalization for being cheap.

From doing a bit of web browsing this morning, it actually appears that tipping on the tax is the newer guideline, historically.

For what it's worth, Wikipedia says "While the amount of a tip is ultimately at the discretion of the patron, the customary [restaurant] tip until the 1980s was from 10-15% of the total bill before tax, for good to excellent service, and since then has risen to 15-20% before tax." I don't know what their source for the earlier numbers is, though.
posted by dfan at 9:19 AM on December 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

I always tip on the pre-tax total. I learned this from my Mom, who waited tables for years.
posted by kylej at 9:33 AM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

If I am happy with the service 20% after tax. If it sucked I tip 15% pre tax.
posted by beccaj at 9:37 AM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I tip pre-tax, by multiplying the taxes by two, because I'd like to tip about 25% for good service (and taxes in my province are 13% total).

I also tip pre-tax because I know the server, in a restaurant where they 'tips-out' the kitchen staff, will do so based on a percentage of their total sales before tax. This seems fairer to me.
posted by sunshinesky at 9:55 AM on December 5, 2010

I was taught to tip pre-tax, but in fact always tip post-tax, just because that's the big number at the bottom of the bill that's easy to see. Also, nowadays I usually eat out with two small kids who leave a mess on the table and around their chairs, so I kind of feel I owe more than others do.

But of course the main point is that all answerers above are correct who say that is purely a matter of social convention, whose answer cannot be determined by reasoning, only by empirical investigation of current custom.
posted by escabeche at 10:09 AM on December 5, 2010

Just to add to the mix, I live in Oregon, where there is no sales tax of any kind (ok, certain cities have restaurant taxes, but this is very rare and they aren't cities near where I live). So the total is the total, and you tip on that. I find the idea of tipping on the post-tax total a little bizarre.
posted by peep at 10:16 AM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

But of course the main point is that all answerers above are correct who say that is purely a matter of social convention, whose answer cannot be determined by reasoning, only by empirical investigation of current custom.

Unfortunately, there is no consensus in current custom.
posted by grouse at 10:16 AM on December 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Pre-tax, every time. I'm not tipping on what the local taxman decides to gouge on top of the meal.

And then it's 15% only if it was good service. 20% only comes into play when it has been EXCELLENT service, not just doing their job. If I tip less than 15% I make it a point to explain to someone why (usually a manager). Mediocre service means they ought to get into another line of work. I'm not tipping anyone 'just because'. And when it's been truly exceptional service that, too, gets brought to a manager's attention. They certainly deserve to know when staff is getting it right.

But it's a two-way street, you should always be nice to your servers. If you're a jerk toward them it's hardly reasonable to expect them to treat you any differently.
posted by wkearney99 at 10:29 AM on December 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

I always tip pre-tax. Worked as a server and bartender throughout college.

Tipping on pre-tax amounts is a real douchebag move.

Um, ok. How about real douchebag moves you can make in a restaurant? They include:
-Making the waitress chase you out to your car because you "forgot" to pay, then having the exact bill amount, no tip, ready in your hand.
-Tipping me with a change purse of pennies, nickels, and dimes which add up to a 4% tip.
-Not tipping, explaining loudly that you're European (or "______") and don't tip.
-Not tipping, no explanation, just leaving and scrawling "NO" or X on the tip area of the check.
-Trying to hug me or shake my hand in lieu of a tip.
-Tipping me 3%, 5%, or 10%, and explaining that in America, we shouldn't tip service (please explain it to my management, not me).
-Tipping me 50% of your \$10 check and assuming this means we are special buds at the bar, which apparently means that the third time you come in, your fat 55 y/o self corners the frightened 21 y/o bartender by the drink coolers and tries to kiss her.

Anything less than 15% tip is not the convention in the U.S. I always tip 20%, at a minimum. As a former server I wouldn't do anything else, knowing how tough it can be to make it as a server. I tip more when I have excellant service or something else moves me, but the percentage is always based on the pre-tax bill.
posted by arnicae at 10:30 AM on December 5, 2010 [9 favorites]

I tip on the post-tax amount, at least 20%. The difference between pre- and post-tax is pointless for me to worry about because I am making considerably more than the server. It is surely more relevant to the server.
posted by gaspode at 10:43 AM on December 5, 2010

Just food for thought: Maybe the waiter at the second restaurant also lives in that area and routinely has to pay 10% sales tax on the things s/he buys. You of course can't know that—people often live a ways away from where they work—but it's something to consider. Maybe the second waiter really could use a higher tip than the first.

Yeah, maybe. And maybe the customer routinely has to pay that extra sales taxes on things s/he buys and "really could use" the savings that would result from leaving a lower tip.

It's interesting how so many of us here are so certain we're right, yet we're coming to such different conclusions. The fact that some of us were willing to answer without knowing where in the world the OP lives (before the OP clarified this) shows how readily people convert their own specific cultural conditioning into universal moral rules. While we can sit here and tell you you HAVE to tip this percentage of that figure, most of us (like me) probably live in a foreign country and are not attuned to Canadian customs.

As you seem to have realized based on your best answers, there is no absolute rule about what amount you should base your tip on. Money is fungible, so the waiter has no way to know whether your tip was based on the post-tax amount or a slightly larger percentage of the pre-tax amount. Your mental process doesn't ultimately matter except insofar as it affects the bottom line.
posted by John Cohen at 10:44 AM on December 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

I always tip on the post-tax amount, but I prefer 18% as the default. I go higher when there is a reason. I rarely go lower. But always base on post-tax. And if you have a coupon or something, always tip on the amount you would have paid.
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:47 AM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

We always tip pre-tax. Why base a tip on a portion that is taxed?
posted by 6:1 at 10:58 AM on December 5, 2010

I used to tip 20% on the post-tax amount. Then I moved to Toronto, where my cheapskate Canadian friends (just kidding, guys!) are all categorically in the "you tip on the pre-tax amount" camp. I have drawn a line in the sand at tipping anything less than 20% on the pre-tax amount, though.
posted by chalkbored at 11:05 AM on December 5, 2010

I figure 20% on the pre-tax total, and then add a couple bucks or round up to the nearest five on top of that (so effectively it probably comes to more than if I were calculating post-tax). Logically it seems weird to me to calculate post-tax; I think of taxes and tips as two independent percentages added to the restaurant total. Also, as has been pointed out above, restaurants (in the US anyway) themselves calculate gratuity pre-tax.

What I would consider cheap would be a tip calculated to the penny based on a percentage of the pre- OR post-tax total, because that suggests you're paying only what you think you are absolutely required to pay. Generously rounding up will likely make the question a moot point.

But yeah, it's all pretty arbitrary.
posted by torticat at 11:07 AM on December 5, 2010

That 12% HST is a pain, I concur. Back when it was only 7%, the standard in my circles was to double the tax and round up - making it 15% pre-tax, give or take. How much you round up depends - if it was a \$20 tab, round up to the next dollar. If it was \$100+, round up to the next \$10, etc. If you were paying cash, whatever was easiest without having to wait for the server to run back and get change. If you loved the service and wanted to tip extra, 3x the tax worked.

Now generally I tip 1.5 times that 12% tax, with the same rounding strategy. Makes it 18% give or take - no sense stiffing the wait staff because our provincial gov't is full of dumbasses.

And yes, canadians generally tip less than americans. Wait staff get the same minimum wage everyone else does, minimum - there is no lower minimum because it's assumed they'll be tipped.
posted by cgg at 11:17 AM on December 5, 2010

Logically it seems weird to me to calculate post-tax; I think of taxes and tips as too independent percentages added to the restaurant total.

But that's not logic; it's habit derived from regional practice. It still seems weird to me, coming from VAT-land, that with a few exceptions, the advertised price in "sales tax" places is never what you end up paying, and the idea of calculating an ex-VAT total for tipping purposes seems equally absurd.

If you really want to do this "properly", then you need to ask your server what his/her hourly is before tips, work out an appropriate hourly and benefits, then make up the difference. But that's not likely to happen, and instead you end up with ongoing tip anxiety.
posted by holgate at 11:32 AM on December 5, 2010

Pre-tax or post-tax? No offense, but this is a silly question.

The important thing is and always has been the percentage that you tip, which we should all agree to express in terms of the pre-tax amount because respondants here come from places with different sales taxes.

So, to the original poster: You tip 20% pre-tax, your partner tips 22.46%. There's the difference.

And from looking over the answers, it looks like 15% through 23% of pre-tax is the norm, skewed towards amounts that are easy to calculate.

Personally, I double the tax and round up, which winds up as 20% of pre-tax where I am. Meh.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 11:34 AM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

All of you arguing post-tax and anything less is a real douchebag move are.. douchebags. Sorry, I said it. Yes, times change, but there is no question that pre-tax is the historical precedent (as far as I am concerned, I'll take Emily Post's opinion on this one).

Furthermore, if we follow the natural progression of things, what was once 10% and is now 20% will soon be 30, 40, and eventually 100%. Great.. then nobody will have to pay wait staff a wage at all! This is a horrible outcome, and I don't think the "they have to live off their tips" argument holds water. It just gives rich corporate chains more excuse to keep their wages well below even minimum wage.

Finally, those trotting out the tired line of "if you can't afford the tip you can't afford to be going out" - I only argree to a point. If you're stiffing your waitstaff because you're poor but still want a fancy meal, shame on you.. that doesn't mean those with less money should be shamed into never entering a restaurant. That's some elitist shit right there!

(full disclosure: I tend to just move the decimal and multiply by two.. in more cases than you might imagine, for me anyway, they don't itemize and it's just a credit card bill or a verbal total so I tip post-tax on most occasions. Nevertheless, I absolutely adjust for quality of service when the wait staff wanders out of the decent-to-great range)
posted by mbatch at 12:20 PM on December 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm not saying they're right or wrong, but the only people I know who bother to make the distinction of tipping on the pre-tax total are cheap in all other aspects of their lives.

People do notice and you have to decide if that's the way you want to live your life.
posted by 2bucksplus at 12:32 PM on December 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

I just double the first one or two digits of the final bill, which is already stretching my limited math abilities, and then round up as needed.
So, say, \$8 on a \$45 tab. Or, in this case, \$26 on a \$137 tab.
It's all about making the math easy.

(I make sure to tip more on delivery food though, even though I seem to be the only one. I've never understood why you would pay a waiter \$10 to bring \$50 worth of food across a room, but give less to the guy who has to haul it 10 blocks in often crappy weather.)
posted by CunningLinguist at 12:50 PM on December 5, 2010

For all of those arguing that the difference between pre-tax and post-tax matters not to the waiter because it is only \$1 or \$2, multiply that by 20 or so tables, 5 nights a week. Now you're talking about a difference of \$400-\$800 a month, and that makes a HUGE difference on the average waiter-salary.
It's only a buck or two to you, but it might be a rent, child-support or car payment to your server.
posted by conifer at 12:54 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

For all of those arguing that the difference between pre-tax and post-tax matters not to the waiter because it is only \$1 or \$2, multiply that by 20 or so tables, 5 nights a week. Now you're talking about a difference of \$400-\$800 a month, and that makes a HUGE difference on the average waiter-salary.

This is true if the percentage is strictly fixed. In reality, the customer has a lot of leeway to adjust the percentage. If the goal is to be generous to the waiter, I see no reason for a set-in-stone rule that this has to be accomplished by tipping X% of the post-tax amount, rather than by tipping a-little-more-than-X% on the pre-tax amount.
posted by John Cohen at 1:13 PM on December 5, 2010

Pre-tax. 15-25%, depending on the service. Tom Sietsema, restaurant critic of the Washington Post uses pre-tax. Every restaurant that does the calculation for me or adds it because of a large party has always done it pre-tax, in my experience.

Couldn't disagree with 2bucksplus and solipsophistocracy more, by the way.
posted by jindc at 1:27 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I tip on the post-tax amount. I've just always done it that way - it's never occurred to me to do otherwise.
posted by SisterHavana at 1:35 PM on December 5, 2010

As a waitress, here's my train of thought:
You tip less than 15% pre-tax - I'm pissed, I tell the other servers and your face might as well be on a wanted poster. The next time you come in don't expect any smiles.
You tip 15% pre-tax - I think, "meh". You get the same level of service next time.
You tip 20% pre-tax or 15-20% post-tax: I am quite happy and will go out of my way to help you in the future.
You tip over 20% post-tax - I'll bend over backwards and put on a cartwheel show the next time you come in.
posted by pintapicasso at 1:56 PM on December 5, 2010

Hey, current waiter here.

I use the after-tax total as the basis for figuring roughly what percentage a table left me, and so does every other service-industry person I know. So, in your case the \$25 you left as a tip would be to me a roughly 18% tip.

To me, that's a fine tip, but nothing I'd write home to my mother about. Unless you tip really well or really badly, I'm much more likely to remember how nice to me you were anyway, so I wouldn't sweat it too much.
posted by joshuaconner at 1:58 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've worked in a restaurant and have seen probably thousands of credit card slips with tip amounts. It's easy to tell when people are using a 20% tip rule, and almost everybody tips on the post-tax amount. If you want a purely "this is what the common case is" answer, there you have it.

From the point of view of a waiter or bartender, here's the three things you can do to not make them hate you. This all presumes you got good service; if you got crappy service, tip less, and if you got great service, tip more. You're not cheap, you can afford it, right?

1) Don't do that thing where you make the total amount of sale + tip come out to be an even dollar amount. Why do people do this? Are you trying to make your total credit card bill come out to an even dollar amount?

2) DO make your tip an even dollar amount, or at least a multiple of 50 cents. Rounding up or down doesn't really make much difference to the server (unless your bill is very small, in which case tip at least a dollar -- tipping in change is kind of insulting).

3) Make your writing legible and check your math. If a bill comes to, say, \$20, and you write \$4 for the tip but \$23 for the total, chances are the server will only get \$3 not \$4. If you think the service was really good, you can write "Thanks!" or whatever (some people do this), but make sure you also tip monetarily. A "verbal tip" doesn't pay the bills.
posted by axiom at 2:03 PM on December 5, 2010

My sister has a hospitality degree, and years of restaurant experience - she's adamant about tipping pre-tax. I never noticed before she mentioned it recently, since the post-tax amount is usually larger/more prominent. But that just makes me inclined to tip on the pre-tax amount even more.
posted by litnerd at 3:20 PM on December 5, 2010

I tip 20% on the pre-tax amount, but I also tip on the pre-discount amount if I use a groupon or were given an employee discount or whatever. Sometimes I go higher. I rarely go lower.

I also don't use the double-the-sales-tax method because I live in the Baltimore-Washington metro area and I cannot keep local tax rates straight.
posted by kalessin at 4:04 PM on December 5, 2010

I grew up in a place where there is no tipping, but moved to Canada and the USA. Since then, I've spent years trying to figure out the tipping system to avoid any faux pars, and my conclusion is that the simple answer is 1) there isn't an answer, and 2) someone is always going to be offended about something (especially if they've had the misfortune of working service in a country that doesn't respect them enough to give them a proper wage, serving people who likewise don't respect them.)

So don't sweat it. Don't care about it. Don't be drawn into pointless arguments over methods or what is "right", just accept that there is no cultural agreement, don't try to make sense out of madness, the system doesn't work, just quietly leave your tip and leave it at that.
posted by -harlequin- at 8:23 PM on December 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

Thanks so much everyone- I appreciate all the responses. My intention has nothing to do with justifying being cheap, and everything to do with not being inadvertently cheap, though I'm still inclined logically to agree with those who think that the tax and the tip are two separate issues. I also realize that ultimately, the amounts I'm talking about are nominal, and the methods used to calculate tips are arbitrary.