Should I tip at all USA restaurants?
August 15, 2023 3:41 PM   Subscribe

I certainly think one ought to tip, 20 percent when you can, at all restaurants when the food is brought to your table. But at sandwich shops and fast food places — where the waitstaff just gives you the food at the counter — does the duty to tip have the same moral weight? I’m sure seeing a lot of suggestions to that effect when I use my credit card to pay at such joints.
posted by PaulVario to Food & Drink (37 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Yes - please tip! Usually there'll be a tip jar out or you'll have the option to press a 20% before signing your name. The only time you shouldn't tip (besides if you can't afford it) is if the tip/service charge is already included in the bill. Retail wages are nuts - the tips are important!
posted by Geameade at 3:46 PM on August 15

yes, I always tip, although I think 20% for counter service is high.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:57 PM on August 15 [2 favorites]

Are literal fast food restaurants like McDonald's doing this now??? I don't think this is a thing, there's no way I know to give a tip at the drive thru window.
posted by rikschell at 3:58 PM on August 15 [1 favorite]

I always tip, especially now.

These are staff and employees who are now working in environments where hardly anyone is masking, COVID is still running rampant, they are still being exposed to it, and if in the USA? Probably don't have access to high quality health insurance. Not to mention that the cost of living is high everywhere, and not going down.

I can afford to tip the bakery clerk when they give me my croissant; I just budget that in my costs for eating out, and I just eat out less to offset that. Those tips are importnat to the employees. If it's a jar, I throw in a buck or two. If it's a credit card terminal, I give them 20%.
posted by spinifex23 at 3:59 PM on August 15 [6 favorites]

I say yes, but for something with a bit more weight are you in a tip credit state? If you're not in one of 7 states (Alaska, California, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington State, & Guam) then they still get pay reduced as if you had tipped, and the threshold for "tipped-wage employee" is usually around $30/month. If you're in one of 14 states, that's the federal $2.13/hr.

In theory the employee could request the employer make up the difference, but given almost all states are at-will I've rarely heard of that succeeding without risking the employee's position.
posted by CrystalDave at 4:02 PM on August 15 [2 favorites]

There is not the same expectation to tip 20% at places where the employers are not "tipped employees" but rather receive at least the minimum wage (for example, Starbucks workers make at least minimum wage). But if you are not receiving table service and you are at a place that is not staffed by tipped workers, you can tip at your discretion. It's nice but not culturally expected in the same way.
posted by virve at 4:04 PM on August 15 [16 favorites]

There are lots of articles and opinion pieces out there (and past FPPs here) about the sometimes inappropriate spread of tip requests, and people tend to have strong feelings about this. Personally, I treat it on a case by case basis. Sometimes it feels unnecessary or even wrong and I decline, but with food service in particular it is frequently most appropriate to tip.

Are literal fast food restaurants like McDonald's doing this now???

I don't think McDonalds is, but some other chain places are. There's a chain sandwich shop I go to here in town and the people there do a really great job. It isn't table service, but they are providing genuinely great service and I'm happy to tip them, for example. It's the same with the taqueria I go to most frequently. They have a tip basket, and deserve it.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:11 PM on August 15

I do not tip for someone handing me a bag with a sandwich in it. I think that's bizarre. I tip for personal services--like a hair stylist or a waiter at a sit-down restaurant, but if my interaction with you is under three minutes long, I'm not tipping on that. Yes, they make minimum wage, and that's not much, but I interact with a lot of people who make minimum wage, and it doesn't make any sense to me that the ones who process my Apple Pay for my tacos are deserving of a tip more than the ones who sweep out the grocery store or unload the bags of rice. Maybe I'm old and out-of-touch, but this move to tip at fast food joints is bizarre to me, especially at chain restaurants. It's just another way billionaire CEOs put the onus on ordinary people to compensate their employees appropriately instead of knocking 2% off of their massive profit margins by paying better. Count me out. I'm happy to donate to charity, but not like this.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 4:16 PM on August 15 [43 favorites]

Subway is requesting tips on online orders now. It is new and a Minnesota location. I tip them $2 because they are not just making my food but also putting it in a bag and making it easier for me to grab and go. I think this is new at some point this year, but they may have always had a tip jar at the register.
posted by soelo at 4:20 PM on August 15


I was thinking about this earlier this morning after feeling coerced to tip for coffee and a donut. "How did we get to this?" I wondered. "How did we reach a place where it's acceptable for all sorts of food service folks to ask for a tip and for us to be okay with that?" I feel like a frog boiling in water.

I've spent all of my life in Oregon, if it matters. When I was a young — which was admittedly fifty years ago now — my parents might tip 10% if we ate dinner in a nice a restaurant, which we didn't often do. Same seemed true for my friends' families. By the time I started waiting tables myself in high school and college (late 80s, early 90s), the expectation was 10% for breakfast and 15% for other meals. After I got married and we could afford to dine out (late 90s), the expectation had shifted to 10% breakfast, 15% lunch, 20% dinner. After that (late 2000s?), things shift to 20% for any meal — maybe higher for a nice dinner. Then, in the past decade, the "tip any food service" has begun to appear. Where does it end?

In my adult life, I've always felt like a good tipper. Because I used to wait tables, I made a point of tipping 20% at all meals even before that became the normal expectation. I also tip 20% for massage and haircut. Recently I've felt like an average tipper. My habits haven't changed, but the scale has shifted. And now? Today? In 2023? I'm starting to feel like I'm a little on the cheap side compared to societal norms.

My breaking point seems to be the whole counter service thing. I walk to the counter and order a coffee and donut and all you do is hand it to me? No, that's not worth a tip. Sorry. This morning I decided that I'm done with that. (Exception: I'll tip a bartender $1 per drink.) You bring me the food/drinks but I had to order at the counter and/or bus my own table? I think I'm done with the 20% there too. I've over it. Maybe 10%.

I'll continue to tip 20% for normal sit-down restaurant meals (sometimes a bit more if it's earned), but I'm done with the rest of it.

So my answer is: No, you shouldn't tip at all U.S. restaurants (and especially not at fast food places). This simply incentivizes and normalizes tipping in more and more situations. It's a bizarre thing that it's becoming common.

(Yes, I know I sound like a grumpy old man here. So sue me. When you reach 54, I'm sure there'll be societal shifts that make you cranky too!)
posted by jdroth at 4:24 PM on August 15 [25 favorites]

For takeout food, I will tip a modest amount, usually significantly less than the suggested amount on the credit card terminal. I tipped higher during the height of the pandemic. And I admit that I typically try to pay in cash to avoid the whole issue of having to choose an amount on the screen. When paying in cash, I'll slip a few greenbacks into the tip jar, if there is one. (My answer applies just to take-out food. For sit-down dining, I tip 20%, maybe slightly more for exceptional service.)
posted by alex1965 at 4:39 PM on August 15 [1 favorite]

If I believe that an employee is an minimum wage employee and not a tipped wage employee I don't tip or leave a tiny amount, especially here in Chicago where the minimum wage is higher than the federal mininium wage. Subway, or potbelly or other sandwich shop gets very little. Drivers get tips for dilvery, 20% for waitresses and waiters, service employees like haircuts I tip.

Tipping culture is out of control.
posted by AlexiaSky at 4:50 PM on August 15 [6 favorites]

If I am ordering a party-sized amount of food, if I am self-catering with Starbucks, if I have to call ahead for a pickup time, if I am being otherwise annoying, then I will tip.

If I am a regular or ordering takeout from my regular spot I will tip.

Otherwise no, I don't tip for counter service. Gladly hit the big old zero button on their checkout app.
posted by muddgirl at 4:55 PM on August 15 [2 favorites]

Forgot to add coffeeshops and bars get a dollar a drink, gotta pay the dealer.
posted by muddgirl at 4:56 PM on August 15 [1 favorite]

If you feel awkward not leaving a tip, pay cash. There's no "20, 30, or 50%?" prompt then.
posted by Hatashran at 5:32 PM on August 15

I get that tipping culture is problematic in more ways than one, but the only person you're harming by refusing to tip for counter service is the person making minimum wage in an economy where a 2 bedroom apartment costs $2,000. If I order a seven dollar sandwich and tip 20% it's an extra $1.40. I can afford it. In fact, I'm happy to pay that to help someone afford food or housing.

In this broken economy, tip, please.

And if you have such an issue with that on principle, tip then vote blue.
posted by Amy93 at 5:37 PM on August 15 [16 favorites]

My perspective, as someone who used to work at a coffee shop: Tips were appreciated for specialty drinks but not required. I wasn't paid a "tipped wage" - that is, I wasn't paid under the minimum wage under the expectation that the majority of my pay would be in tips, I was paid like any other non-tipped worker. I wasn't paid well, mind you, but I wasn't alone in that.

I personally don't tip employees like myself the same as I tip someone making a tipped wage. I do tip, but I don't worry about the percentage, and I don't feel like it needs to be 20%. Sometimes it works out to more, sometimes less.

To get to the point, I have a problem with the way that tipping culture is expanding, the main one being that it exacerbates a lot of pay inequality. You will be tipped more at Starbucks than at Dunkin' Donuts. You will be tipped more if you are thin, conventionally attractive, white, and behave in a way that appeals to the person who is tipping. You will be tipped more if you work the busy shift. On the individual level, tipping is a nice and some will argue ethically necessary act; on a systemic level, expanding tipping culture is just about the worst way to address wage inequality other than not addressing it at all.

But always, always tipped employees who make a tipped wage unless they use a racial slur against you or do something similarly malevolent.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 6:04 PM on August 15 [13 favorites]

I was tipping everywhere for a while during the pandemic because we were getting takeout instead of eating at the restaurant. Now that that’s no longer the case, I’m back to generally only tipping for the previously expected things like actual table service with waitstaff.

I do not appreciate that every single counter service takeout place now presents you with a tipping screen just because their modern new app gives them the option to, and I’m not going to support the practice.
posted by wondermouse at 6:13 PM on August 15 [6 favorites]

Bartender = dollar per drink
Counter service where there's extra prep involved (assembling a sandwich, brewing a coffee, grilling meat) = dollar on top of price
Sitdown service = 20 percent of price
Handing me something premade = exact price! It's a pastry, not a hostage!
posted by kingdead at 6:15 PM on August 15 [9 favorites]

It's just another way billionaire CEOs put the onus on ordinary people to compensate their employees appropriately instead of knocking 2% off of their massive profit margins by paying better.

I don’t get this kind of argument, as customers we will be paying the wages either through increased costs of food or through tips. There’s no circumstance where the business owner absorbs this cost. Also many restaurants exist that aren’t owned by billionaires.

Anyway I tip for counter service, especially if you are ordering food to go as packaging the order takes time. Just consider tips as part of the cost of having someone else prepare your food.
posted by JenMarie at 6:38 PM on August 15 [1 favorite]

I went on a trip with relatives over the weekend and we were 7 people in total. All of the restaurants we ate at automatically added an 18% service charge and it was such a relief not to have to worry about how much to tip.

My guideline for tipping is if I'm standing up during the whole customer service interaction then there's no tip necessary. If I'm sitting down then I'll probably have to pay a tip. Bars might be different but I don't drink so I figure my $8 glass of juice or pop is tip enough.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 6:44 PM on August 15 [1 favorite]

On the one hand, I'll go ahead and tip for that sort of thing that didn't used to be tipped if there's a tip jar or the card reader asks for it.

On the other hand, I generally don't go back to places that ask inappropriately-to-me for tips. I can feel awkward and uncomfortable for free. I'd rather just be hungry until I can get home.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 6:44 PM on August 15 [1 favorite]

Anything that requires more effort than handing me something pre-made but less than sit-down service, I usually tip a couple bucks or 10%, depending how I feel. I've worked at sandwich shops and packaged take-out orders, I appreciate people getting my order right, and it feels like paying it forward now if I'm able to do so.
posted by nakedmolerats at 6:46 PM on August 15 [2 favorites]

Minimum wage workers can’t afford a one bedroom apartment anywhere in the country. A fast food worker is not less skilled than wait staff. When I was working fast food, the money in the tip jar was the difference between groceries and raman for me and my coworkers most weeks. The jar wasn’t sanctioned by management, and we were just making sandwiches, but even 20 years ago minimum wage wasn’t enough for us to live on. If you can afford to tip, look at the human being who is feeding you and do them a solid.
posted by Bottlecap at 7:52 PM on August 15 [5 favorites]

clarifying earlier comment - I always drop something in the tip jar because I assume it's getting divided up among the staff including back of house, but I don't know if it's true. I don't add 20% to a counter order just because the app asks if I want to. That's appropriate for sit down service.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:01 PM on August 15

In general, I don't see any reason to tip counter service any more than I do to tip people working at stores. But I am somewhat more likely to do it if there is somewhat more service involved and if it is a local independent business. Even then, they shouldn't get the same amount as a server, who actually needs to be more attentive, and takes more effort to wait a table. So I would give a max of 10 percent, not 20 percent.
posted by NotLost at 9:08 PM on August 15

I tip at the pizzeria, the deli, the bakery, bagel shop, the gas station when the worker pumps the gas and at the car wash. Never at corporate fast food.
posted by Marky at 9:40 PM on August 15

does the duty to tip have the same moral weight? I’m sure seeing a lot of suggestions to that effect when I use my credit card to pay at such joints.

Say what, now? I haven't been having any philosophical discussions of moral weight and tipping with the touch pads I encounter. Unless you mean the generic corporate happy-speak/emojis underneath the tip amount buttons (15% "great!" 😀) which if you see that as a suggestion of moral weight is kinda on you and you have my personal moral permission to ignore it as corporate bullshit.

What's really happening is that all these food businesses are moving to modern tablet/cloud based software point-of-sale systems - very likely either Clover or Square - and since these POS systems want to be used by as many businesses as possible they are set up with tipping as standard, so they can be used in table service & bar situations where tipping is pretty much required, both culturally and financially for the workers. Tipping is the default setting, and the workers and/or managers and/or owners don't or won't or can't turn it off.

Besides any supposed suggestions of moral weight from a tablet screen, I'd say you do have a moral obligation to tip, because *gestures wildly at everything* and if you have a chance to put some of your disposable income in another working person's pocket you take it. But I think it's perfectly ok to do less than the standard 20% if it's takeout/counter food, and better if it's cash.
posted by soundguy99 at 12:06 AM on August 16 [1 favorite]

But at sandwich shops and fast food places — where the waitstaff just gives you the food at the counter — does the duty to tip have the same moral weight?
No it does not. For sit-down restaurants with table service, tipping is built into the compensation model and as such, it's not really discretionary on your part as the customer. That is not the case with counter service restaurants, fast food, coffee shops, etc. It's obviously fine if you want to tip there as well but you are not morally obligated to do so. You certainly do not have an individual responsibility to make up wage shortfalls and cost-of-living gaps for the staff. These are for-profit businesses, not charities, so that obligation falls on the business owners.
posted by 4rtemis at 3:54 AM on August 16 [4 favorites]

You have an obligation to tip at sit-down restaurants, where employee compensation is built around the assumption of tips.

You do not have an obligation to tip anywhere else.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 4:04 AM on August 16 [10 favorites]

Do the tips added at the machines (for fast food/counter service places) actually go to the employees... how does it work? There are usually multiple people using the same cash register at a lot of places I go.
posted by Laura in Canada at 5:33 AM on August 16

If you go to a Starbucks inside a Target they aren't allowed to take tips, so I have taken to dropping a dollar somewhere behind the counter when they aren't looking and won't see it right away.
posted by hypnogogue at 6:23 AM on August 16

In the US by law, employees who receive more than like $30 per month in tips are entitled to their tips.

The credit card tips at counter service places, coffeeshops, etc are basically treated the same as a tip jar. There are various ways to divide it up and it can even vary by store location for franchises like Subway. It can be distributed to everyone who worked in a week based on percentage of hours, it could be distributed to everyone who works that day, or even that specific shift.

I think some of the confusion or uncomfortableness about these new credit card tips is that people are thinking it is like tipping a waiter or a bartender, instead of thinking of it like a virtual tip jar.
posted by muddgirl at 10:25 AM on August 16

Like others have said - I tip in traditional tipping environments, such as a sit-down restaurant or a hair salon. At the bagel shop, sandwich shop or coffee shop I'll drop a dollar or two into the tip jar. (Especially because a lot of those in my area are also shops; if I'm buying some groceries and a sandwich, I'm not tipping 20% on the whole checkout cost.) I don't tip in those environments via credit card because the store owners often keep it for themselves.
posted by rednikki at 12:32 PM on August 16 [1 favorite]

I tip a buck for most counter service(sandwich, pizza slice)/ order pickup. Those workers should be getting the prevailing wage for non-tipped work, and an extra buck or 3 an hour is a big boost. Tipping is pretty good for many tipped workers, but I think wages should just be fair across the board. Meanwhile, if you carry a bag to my car, there's a buck or 2, because.
posted by theora55 at 1:19 PM on August 16

If you go to a Starbucks inside a Target they aren't allowed to take tips, so I have taken to dropping a dollar somewhere behind the counter when they aren't looking and won't see it right away.

It depends on how hard-assed the management is at a particular location, but keeping this money rather than putting it in the drawer will put many workers at risk of being fired for theft. Unless you've somehow communicated an understanding, it's quite possible that your tip is just going to the owner.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 5:22 PM on August 16 [1 favorite]

You don’t need to tip counter service, nor do you need to reinforce the idea that this should be customary. Resist. Don’t do it.

The only time I tip counter staff is if it’s a barista at a coffee shop where I’ll be hanging out for a while. Figure if they’ve gotta put up with me for a few hours, I at least owe them something.

Other than that, maybe I’ll very occasionally tip at a salad place if they give me extra ingredients or I order multiple salads or they go above and beyond the call of duty in some way. But usually that’s not the case.

This doesn’t extend to restaurants obviously. There I’m a flat 20% tipper. Everywhere else? Totally up to you.
posted by panama joe at 3:09 PM on August 17 [4 favorites]

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