Most Americans tip 15% or less at a restaurant – and some tip nothing
Thomas Barwick | digital vision | Getty Images
When it comes to food, tipping at least 15% to 20% is a traditional practice, say experts.
Many Americans seem to agree.
Almost 1 in 5, 18%, of people tip less than 15% for an average meal at a sit-down restaurant – and an additional 2% tip nothing at all, according to a study by the Pew Research Center, which study of 11,945 US adults. More than a third, 37%, said their usual crop was 15%.
“I was surprised,” said Drew DeSilver, co-author of the study, about finding that more than half of people, 57%, tip 15% or less.
“The US has a more developed tipping culture than most other countries,” he said. “But there is a lack of agreement about it [it].”
Pew hasn’t done a historical poll on propositions, so it’s unclear how those shares have shifted over time.
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Why are customers getting tip fatigue
Americans are more likely to skip a sit-down meal than any other service: Two-thirds of US adults regularly tip a server when they eat, according to Bankrate. A Pew survey found that 81% always recommend a restaurant meal, a higher percentage than those who tip for a haircut, food delivery, buying a drink at a bar or using a taxi or ride-hailing service, such as example.
Etiquette expert Diane Gottsman recommends tipping 15% to 20% for sit-down restaurant service in 2023.
However, studies suggest that “tip fatigue” has led to a recent decrease in tip numbers. For example, the national average tip at full-service restaurants fell to 19.4% of the total check in the second quarter of 2023 – the lowest level since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Toast data.
And the proportion of people who always tip restaurant waitstaff fell 4 percentage points from 2019 to 2022, according to Bankrate.
“People’s willingness to tip, even in restaurant settings, is going down,” said Michael Lynn, a professor at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and an expert on consumer behavior and tipping.
Americans became more generous tippers in the early days of the pandemic, adopting the practice as a way to help service workers and their employers. Now, they are getting “tired,” Lynn said.
“You can understand why: we’re being asked to tip in situations and for services that aren’t traditionally used,” he said. “And the amounts we’re being asked to tip are higher.”
The proliferation of tip tips has come to be known as “tip creep.” It comes at a time when pandemic inflation – which peaked last year at a four-decade high – has crushed household budgets.
Recommendations buy social approval
One of the challenges with tip sizes is the lack of a “centralized authority” to guide norms, Lynn said.
The majority of people – 77% – cite the quality of service as a “key factor” when choosing whether and how much to do, according to Pew.
However, service is ultimately a poor predictor of consumer behavior, Lynn said; social approval – from our dining partners, waitstaff and others – is a much stronger proof.
“We’re buying approval” with recommendations, Lynn said.
Just 23% of Pew survey respondents said social pressure was a major factor.
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