tipping etiquette
April 28, 2008 11:02 AM   Subscribe

When two or more parties split the check at a restaurant, is there some kind of etiquette about matching the tips? (USA)

When splitting a bill at a restaurant, is there some kind of etiquette about matching tips?

(I'm from New York City area, by the way. I understand that customs differ from country to country.)

When splitting a check down the middle, some of my friends seem to think it’s important that we tip the same way. I have always found this puzzling. Sometimes they want to confer with me. These are typically people who are reasonably well off. It comes up infrequently, but I know a few people who are convinced that it is appropriate for the tips to match.

I’ve never wanted to get into a discussion about how much to tip. Typically I’m more generous, so if someone indicates that he wants to leave a $20 tip (for example), I’ll verbally agree and then leave $30 if that seems more appropriate to me. This strikes me as personal, I don’t see the need for us to tip the same way.

However, this came up again at dinner last night, and I’m just wondering how common it is, and what the mind set is behind the conviction that we should be on the same page about tipping when we split the bill. Any thoughts?
posted by HarryS to Work & Money (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If I'm splitting a bill, typically we decide on the total + tip, and then split that amongst the payers. But, like you, if the amount of tip decided upon seems too small to me, I'll sometimes covertly tip higher. No need to make your co-payers think you're trying to show them up, which some will definitely think.
posted by inigo2 at 11:04 AM on April 28, 2008

Usually when I'm in a crowd that splits the bill, I ask that each party pay the 15-20% according to the food the ordered, and that generally takes care of the proper full-bill tip.

For instance, I order an appetizer and an entree that comes out to $25, my share of the tip would be $5.

Another person orders food totaling $30, their share of the tip would be $6.

For a $55 bill, this means we're leaving an $11 tip, which comes out to exactly 20% (for great service).

Depending on how cheap the other parties are, you might have to enforce a mandatory 15% or so. I find this is much more fair than splitting the tip evenly.
posted by pedmands at 11:08 AM on April 28, 2008

I think people want to tip the same way because nobody wants to be "that guy" who tips less than everyone else. It's kind of a face-saving deal.

I can see how, if everyone agrees to tip $20, and you then go ahead and tip $30, people might be a little annoyed. It makes them look cheap by comparison, after you seemingly came to an agreement that wouldn't make anyone look bad.

Although I'm sure you'd not doing it maliciously, it could come across as you needing to be more generous / nicer / better than everyone around you. And that's irritating to a lot of people, because they see it as a form of willful self-aggrandizement, even if you're just doing it to waitstaff who you'll never see again.

It falls into the same category as being the guy who brings the $20 gift to the office swap where there was a $10 maximum. You might have had nothing but the best intentions, but people get annoyed when it looks to them like you're scoring points at their expense.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:12 AM on April 28, 2008 [4 favorites]

Typically I’m more generous, so if someone indicates that he wants to leave a $20 tip (for example), I’ll verbally agree and then leave $30 if that seems more appropriate to me.

Having done my time in food service I almost always will tip higher than folks I'm eating with, or so it seems. Alot of times I think people assume that one should only tip when the service is above & beyond. I don't think many folk realize that for many waitstaff the tip is their real pay, or at least a substantial chunk.

As such, I have often had recourse to the method you describe. I always just let people tip whatever they want (hell, it's their money) & then go back later if I think there should be more. It's always worked out fine as it's usually easy to go back under some pretense: "oops, i think I forgot my pen."
posted by jammy at 11:15 AM on April 28, 2008

What usually happens:

1) We forget to include the tip when we're splitting the bill.
2) We all throw in our cash.
3) We realize we have to tip, so people throw in a few bucks more.
4) It's always short, so people randomly throw in a buck until it's the right amount according to someone.
posted by smackfu at 11:17 AM on April 28, 2008

Wow, Kadin, that is so interesting. It never would have occurred to me, since we're talking about restaurants that we don't frequent regularly, often we're traveling and we'll never be back.

So is it more appropriate to tell my friends, up front, "I feel more comfortable leaving 20%, rather than 15%"? That seems more self aggrandizing, because right out in the open, in front of the wives, etc, I'm unintentionally making a point that I'm more generous. I can't imagine that would go over well.

Alternatively, I'm left with bringing my tip down to their level. I prefer not to do that, but perhaps that's a better alternative because in the end the relationship I have with my friends is more important then the wait staff.
posted by HarryS at 11:22 AM on April 28, 2008

As a former waiter, I don't care if the two or three or (god help you) four don't each match. What I care about is the total tip.

So, from the service end you are golden.
posted by munchingzombie at 11:34 AM on April 28, 2008

Are you paying in cash or with cards?

I think it's easier to stick to your own tipping-agenda if you pay your portion of the bill with a card. Just tip whatever percentage you feel like and put the receipt face down on the table or tray. If your friends still insist on knowing, that's bizarre.

With cash, I think there's a tendency to come to a group consensus because there's no differentiation from the server's perspective. If I leave 20% on my half and you leave 15%, all the cash goes in the same pile and it looks like a 17.5% tip, in which case I might feel that my tip has been "watered-down" by yours. But when splitting the bill between two cards, each person gets to write down their specific tip amount without it getting blended together with the other half of the bill.
posted by mullacc at 11:35 AM on April 28, 2008

I read the question wrong to begin with. If it matters this much, and you feel the tip was inadequate, slip some extra bills on there after everyone else has started out the door. You can't expect people to feel the same as you when it comes to tips, percentages of, and even the act of tipping.
posted by pedmands at 11:40 AM on April 28, 2008

Most people in my experience consult on the tip. Around here 20% is pretty much the standard tip unless the service was either truly superior or awful. That just gets factored in when we split the checks. I think Kadin is correct and it is as much for face saving as anything else. I am not usually the one to bring it up though, so if it isn't mentioned I still just leave the usual 20%.
posted by caddis at 11:41 AM on April 28, 2008

Adding to what mullacc said, you can also offer to put everything on your own credit card and accept cash from everyone else. You can just make sure that they gave you enough to cover their shares and some kind of tip, and you can write whatever actual tip you want on the credit card.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:42 AM on April 28, 2008

If the check is split by the server and you only see your portion of it, then you should pay the tip as you see fit on your check. In that situation, I'd think it would be rude to lean over other people's receipts and ask how much they are tipping.

However, if it's one of those situations where there's just one big check in the middle of the table and everyone's trying to calculate how much cash to throw in, tipping is generally more openly discussed, usually in the sense of "hey, who cheaped out? We've only got $5 for tip in this pile."

I'm not sure if there's a definite etiquette rule for either of these situations, though. Check-splitting tends to be a clumsy situation, especially if more than two people are involved.

Judging from my experience as a waitress, tips seem to decrease proportionally to both the number of people in a party and the number of ways the check is split. Usually everyone thinks they're paying enough, but if you've got 6 people at a table who are each paying for their own meal, it's not uncommon to see a 12% tip. If you want to make sure your server is appropriately compensated, but don't want to offend your cheaper friends, return to the restaurant later that evening and give a bit extra to your server. (It's really flattering to be on the receiving end of that - not because of the money, but because someone went out of their way to make sure you're recognized for your work.)
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:49 AM on April 28, 2008

Server here, I prefer people to discuss the total left, but it totally doesn't matter if the tips "match".

I think people should talk about it because I often run into the following situations (lets make our hypothetical a 100 bill). Often diners don't inform the rest of their party what their intentions, for lack of a better word, are for how their money is distributed:

Scenario 1: Party 2 and 3 ask me to run their card for $30. This is meant to include their tip. The next two people don't really realize that these people have already tipped, so they think their friends are cheap and they tip me too much.

Scenario 2: 3 out of 4 ask me to run their cards for their portion plus tip. So now I have 90 in my bank. The last person says to run the balance, which is 10 even though they don't really know this, on their card. More often than not, they don't think about the fact that our computers operate everythign as a running balace, the tips are not specifically extracted unless you fill it in manually, so they tip on "their balance" and tip 2 dollars. People are kind of dumb after a couple of drinks
posted by stormygrey at 11:50 AM on April 28, 2008

As pedmands' example points out, 20% of each chunk of the bill will add up to 20% of the total bill. If one person tips 15% on their portion of the bill, and the other person tips 20% on their portion of the bill, the total tip will come out somewhere in between 15 and 20%. This is known in math as distributivity. The point is that as long as everyone tips appropriately on their chunk of the bill, then the server will receive an appropriate tip for the total bill.

Most people don't seem to understand this bit of math, though. My friends always want to check what other people are tipping to make sure we're leaving enough for the server. If you understand the math involved, the question of whether or not to confer with your friends comes down to whether or not you trust your friends to tip adequately, and if not, whether you want to compensate by tipping more on your own chunk of the bill.

So, etiquette: As someone who understands the math, it seems like poor taste to imply that my friends might not be tipping enough, so I don't bring it up. If I have good reason to believe they won't tip enough, I will add more money to my tip without mentioning it, to be fair to the server. I figure, if I can afford to over-tip to make up for someone else's shortfall, then I can also afford to over-tip just in case. There's no need to verify that someone at my table is under-tipping.

On the other hand, I think it's also in poor taste to point out that someone's question is either rude or lacking in mathematical understanding. If someone asks me what I'm tipping, I just assume that they need help figuring out their own tip - not that they're implying I'm a bad tipper. Some people ask because they don't understand the math, and want to make sure the server gets enough. Some people ask because the math to figure out 15% or 20% is too tough for them in that moment, and they're looking for somebody else to just give them a number they can copy. Some people probably are insecure enough to worry about what the server will think of them if they tip less than others in their party. (That last one is baffling to me, since we're never going to see the server again, and they probably don't even notice what each person tipped as long as nobody grossly under-tipped. But in places where your tip could come to $20-30 per your example, I suppose people are used to keeping up appearances.)

Whatever their reason for asking, etiquette exists to grease the wheels of social interaction, and the least-contentious response is for me to just tell my friends honestly what I tipped. If I tipped especially high and don't want my friends to feel obligated to match it, I throw in some line about how I always over-tip due to being a server in my college days.

Now that I've written all of this, I think that last paragraph is really the most important. Etiquette is there to help avoid or defuse uncomfortable social situations. Your most mannerly response in any situation is to do whatever will put people at ease. Go with your gut instinct on what that might be.

The worst possible response would probably be to go on at length about the topic as I've done here. Yikes.
posted by vytae at 11:57 AM on April 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

I always offer to split checks for people myself, and bring out an individual bill for each customer (or each couple, or group, etc.). This is really much easier for the wait staff, since we're gonna have to split it eventually if you're sharing the bill. In that instance, everyone can tip whatever he/she thinks appropriate. When there's a large discrepancy, it just suggests that some people are shitty tippers. This is no surprise to anyone who has worked in the food service industry.

Sometimes, especially with older couples that dine together often, one party knows that their friends are shitty tippers, and will leave an extra fat tip to compensate. This is one of life's little pleasures, like when someone flashes their brights to let you know there's a cop up ahead.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 11:58 AM on April 28, 2008

When there's a large discrepancy, it just suggests that some people are shitty tippers.

It's true that some people are shitty tippers. Alternatively, sometimes a big discrepancy in tip means that the diners have agreed to use the distribution of the tip to settle small debts among them (e.g., if you pay for my drink at the bar before dinner when I'm short on cash, I'll add a corresponding amount of the tip on my credit card after dinner and you can subtract it from your portion of the tip; or, for simplicity's sake let's tell the server to split the bill evenly, and we'll tip lopsidedly to compensate for the fact that your entree was more expensive). My friends and I make this kind of arrangement frequently, which is one reason why I don't worry about what the server thinks if our tips are not all the same amount.

To semi-answer the original question: I sometimes ask other people what they're putting down for a tip if we've split the bill evenly just because if they've already got it figured out, I don't have to do the math all over again. (Or I've already done the math, and want to double check. Arithmetic, after a couple of drinks, is not my strong suit.) If your friends really seem concerned with making the tips all even, then I'd follow the advice upthread for either surreptitiously adding a little extra or else declaring your real tip but waving off the discrepancy with an excuse that lets them save face. Perhaps a little misdirection would come in handy: for example, if you know the person always wants to tip fifteen percent: "What are you tipping?" "Oh, you can put down fifteen percent. That'd be $XX."
posted by Orinda at 12:31 PM on April 28, 2008

There may be some general social tenativeness at play. Same thing that makes one person wait until the other has ordered their drink before deciding between a dirty martini and a diet coke.

Since it sounds like we're talking about tips within the customary range (15-20%), as opposed to extravagant or paltry tips, I don't see any reason why anyone should be ashamed. If it's important to your friend that the tips match, be honest and let him match yours. It's not like it's crazy high.

If you DO want to leave a crazy high tip for some reason, just be discreet about it. You can get up like you're going to the restroom and give it to the waiter yourself away from the table, for instance.

I also tip a flat 20% pretty much no matter what, and I find that my friends copy my number usually. I think it's more just to save them figuring it out. (Since that's what I always leave, I do the math fairly quickly. There isn't much to consider). But then again some of them probably would leave less if I weren't there. That doesn't really bother me. It's not like anyone can complain that it's unfairly high.
posted by lampoil at 12:38 PM on April 28, 2008

Also, another way to not feel self-aggrandizing is to be casual about it and leave out the percentages, especially that of the other person's tip. Instead of saying "I prefer to leave 20% instead of 15%," something more like "how about a flat thirty bucks each? The service was pretty good." Gives the other guy a chance to agree and be like "oh yeah that sounds about right." And you're both generous.

Again, it's not like you're being overly extravagant. If they were unwilling to pay as much as you, they wouldn't make a point of trying to tip the same.
posted by lampoil at 12:56 PM on April 28, 2008

For reference, the easy way to figure out your tip is: Move the decimal on your bill once to the left and round it off. This is 10%. Add an extra half of that number to tip 15% and double it to tip 20%. Most people pretty reasonably associate this with 10% for shitty service, 15% for adequate service, 20% for good/exceptional service.

I know it's simple and obvious but you'd be surprised how many people can't do/get freaked out by trying to do 15% or 20% in their heads, as vytae points out. This system is simple and hard to forget, and once you get the hang of it you don't have to really think about it even.
posted by baphomet at 1:00 PM on April 28, 2008

Baphomet, many people are unable to move the decimal point, let alone round or add. I teach people bound for MBA programs and I would say most people can't do that stuff in their heads. Really.

As for tipping, I think most people work out the total tip amount, if they agree on the level of service. However, some people see a horrible server whereas others refuse to ever tip below a certain amount, some always tip 15% and some people tip extra because they've asked the server to accommodate a complex order, special requests, etc. And it's possible that you could have all those scenarios at one time. The only time I feel compelled to put in more is when the service has been acceptable and some people have tipped below 10% (or not at all, which I find is common for some people who have moved from some other countries). I'm in Canada, though, and a lot of people seem to think 10% is for average service.
posted by acoutu at 1:21 PM on April 28, 2008

Bad tippers suck, and they make dining awkward.

I tip a flat 20% at all times. I had a roommate who would only tip 15%. Pain in the ass. Even had this stupid little wallet card he'd look at because apparently calculating 15% was too much for his little brain to handle. And I guess that $1 - $2 he was saving by giving a crappy tip really meant a lot to him.

So yeah, I always did what pedmands suggested and threw in the difference. It was worth it to me, especially since I usually go back to the same restaurants and I want them to remember me as being a good tipper.
posted by Afroblanco at 1:27 PM on April 28, 2008

Piggyback question for the waitstaff here- I try to tip cash, even when paying by CC. Is this still considered helpful, or has it moved on to "quaint" or even "annoying" because everything is digital anyway?
posted by mkultra at 1:33 PM on April 28, 2008

Hmm - my friends and I normally just take the bill, add the tip and divide the amount equally among ourselves. Usually this works very well. On occasion somebody will eat only one course/nothing or have a lot less to drink and this is factored in on an ad hoc basis. But all in all life's too short to be working out who owes what to the last penny.
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:35 PM on April 28, 2008

NYC reference here--

My group of friends takes the pretax total and multiplies it by %130 percent to approximate a good tip+tax, then we put in money until it reaches that amount.

The tip ends up as 22% or so.

New York is so expensive that 15% is approaching a pretty cheap tip. ESPECIALLY as the group size grows.

Your friends are asking you because they are traveling, which means they are in an unfamiliar situation and are unsure about the protocol; because it's NYC, which has its own culture and habits (and an 8.375% sales tax); and because they see you as knowledgeable.
posted by sondrialiac at 1:47 PM on April 28, 2008

Having been at many group lunches involving 6 or so people, this topic comes up once in awhile. Usually we split check evenly and then do 20% flat, sometimes one person just calculates it and we all just copy it. I don't think we've had a bad tipper in our group but at the sametime none of us have ever really checked the other person's amount, we just assumed it would be correct. When we do happy hour though I personally tip according to how I feel, this can be because I might have had the same bartender before and he usually hooks me up with free drinks / stronger mixes etc..
posted by spacesbetween at 8:14 PM on April 28, 2008

When I'm splitting a check evenly with friends, (e.g., the check is $40, and each of the 4 of us is paying $10 plus tip), I ask how much they're tipping because I'm lazy and don't like doing math. It's not about wanting to tip the same amount because of perceived inadequacy or needing to feel even. It's because even though I am perfectly capable of calculating 20% of my bill on my own, I am supremely lazy, and if someone else has already calculated 20% of their own identical bill, I don't want to bother duplicating their efforts.

If a friend of mine refused to tell me how much he or she was tipping because he or she felt that information was private, I would think that was incredibly odd, but I would probably just shrug my shoulders, divide by 10, multiply by 2, and be on my way.
posted by decathecting at 9:49 AM on April 29, 2008

« Older Watching DVR in a different room to the DVR box   |   My SQL/PHP shareware programs for tracking... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.