How to Tip

He thoughtfully decided not to buy a tie so he’d have more money for tips. Photo: Chris Ryan/Getty Images

For 14 months, this CNBC story on tipping has been lying dormant, just waiting for the Internet Outrage Machine to find it. This week, it was found, and yet another tipping debate — if that’s what you want to call it — exploded. The whole thing was exactly as dumb as you’d expect. Tipping is very easy, but for anyone who still doesn’t get it, Grub Street has assembled this helpful FAQ.

Do I have to tip?

It’s so complicated.
It’s not. When you eat and drink at a restaurant or bar or café or whatever, where servers accept tips, you will leave a tip, and that tip will be 20 percent of the total bill, including tax and whatever you’ve spent on alcohol.

I’ve actually heard that it’s fine if I tip 18 percent, before tax, but that’s a lot of math.
Don’t do that. Tip 20 percent on everything. If you spent $58 on food, but after tax and alcohol your total is exactly $100, you tip $20. If that total is $60, you tip $12. If you spent $556.78, because you are a high roller with a taste for fine caviar, you can tip $111.36, but you should probably just round it up to $112.

I read that I can save a bunch of money if I just tip a little less? At least I think I did. I was at work and kind of half paying attention and this was on Twitter, but it basically said if I shave a few dollars off each tip, it’s fine. What a great life hack!
It’s not fine.

This is all easy for you to say. I’m a millennial and we are famously bad at managing our money. I’m on a tight budget and I watch every dollar I spend.
If you can’t afford to tip 20 percent of the total amount that you spend at a restaurant, you can’t afford to eat at that restaurant. If you want to save money, eat at home or — better yet — find someone rich to take you out.

What if I eat with a group and we split the check?
You will tip 20 percent on your portion of the check, and so will everyone else in your group, unless you’ve agreed that someone will tip more for some reason. However you split it up, the total tip will equal at least 20 percent of the total bill.

What if I think tip culture is fundamentally flawed? Tips are racist! They’re sexist!
You’re probably right, but don’t make that point by stiffing people who depend on tips.

Why are you even hassling me on this, bro? Tips are my business — they’re actually optional, you know. Why else would it be up to me to decide how much to leave?
They’re not optional. The only choice you have to make is whether or not you will tip more than 20 percent. Did the staff somehow intuit that it was a birthday or another special occasion, and then use that as an opportunity to send out a free dessert or maybe a drink on the house? Perhaps, because they have clearly gone above and beyond, you want to leave a little more. What a nice way to show your appreciation!

What if my meal was bad?
You still tip. If something truly egregious happened, you ask to speak privately with a manager. If you do not want to speak privately with a manager, and would rather correct this perceived slight by tipping less or not tipping at all, you do not actually care about your perceived slight; you’re just using it as an excuse to be a dick.

What if I’m really bad at math?
It could not be easier to calculate 20 percent of a number, but if you really can’t do that, use your phone.

What if I know I’ll never be back at the restaurant so I don’t care about making a good impression?
That’s not what tips are for and I think you already know that.

How to Tip