5 Tipping Strategies for Better Service in the US

by: Grayson Leverenz

As tip jars appear on counters across the nation, protocol for tipping becomes increasingly confusing. American waiters and waitresses have always survived on tips, but now baristas, delivery people and counter workers are getting in on the action.

Service workers in the US tend to be very people oriented. They remember names, faces and how much you tip. Establish yourself as a nice person that tips well at local places, and you’ll be very happy with the service you get.

Here are 5 tipping strategies to get you better service in the US:

1. Tip 20% in sit-down restaurants.
Most waiters and waitresses in the US make the majority of their money from your tips. It’s legal in the US to pay wait staff below minimum wage, and most restaurant owners take full advantage of that fact. When I waited tables to help pay my way through college, I made $2.15 and hour plus tips. Yes, you read that correctly – two dollars and fifteen cents an hour plus tips, and base salaries haven’t grown much since my days working the restaurant floor. 

Knowing that, I always tip 20% in sit-down restaurants. It helps make up for the poor tippers in the crowd; plus the math is super easy.

2. Tip $1 for beer or wine and $2 for mixed drinks at the bar. 
Bartenders make a little more than wait staff, but tipping still applies. Rather than tipping based on a percentage of your bill, tip $1 for beer or wine and $2 for mixed drinks.

In my experience, a bartender rarely forgets a face, and being a good tipper guarantees faster service in a crowed bar.

3. Tip $1 for prepared drinks and keep the change for drip coffee at coffee shops.
Baristas make more money than restaurant workers, but protocol usually calls for tipping nonetheless. Crafting custom coffee drinks takes skill; so I always tip $1 for that as if I was at a bar. If I’m just ordering a cup of drip coffee, I drop my change in the tip jar.  

4. Tip 10% for take out and delivery.
Tipping delivery people has always been pretty straight forward for me; they go out of the house so I don’t have to, and that entitles them to a little extra cash in their pockets. 10% of the total bill works for delivery.

Tipping defeats the purpose for people choosing take out to avoid the extra costs of drinks and tipping. I tip on take out based solely on my experience as a waitress back in college. Wait staff “tips out” at the end of a shift, meaning they give a percentage of their sales (not their tips) to other staff members (e.g. bartenders, bus boys) that help them provide good service. If a waitress rings in a takeout order, it shows up as part of her sales for the night, and she’ll have to tip out on it. If the customer doesn’t tip, her tip average goes down as her sales go up, making her lose money. I tip 10% just in case a restaurant has a tip out policy.

5. Tip 20% if you sit at a lunch counter and 10% if you take your food away.

Treat lunch counters like sit down restaurants if you eat there. The people behind the counter make more money than wait staff at a sit down restaurant, but they’re also doing all the work. They make your food, serve it and clean up after you. That deserves a good tip in my book.

If you take your food away, treat the service like take out and drop 10% in the tip jar.

Some International students have asked me, “But what if the service is bad?” I always tell them that anyone can have a bad day, especially in food service. Even if the service is horrible, I tip well. You might just transform the server’s day and guarantee excellent service for the next customer and for yourself when you come back to the restaurant.

Author: Grayson Leverenz

Grayson Leverenz founded MBA in the USA® to help international students build networks, find jobs, and have fun in the USA. Hundreds of global professionals have benefited from Grayson’s intercultural workshops, and she has worked with people from Brazil, China, India, South Africa, South Korea, the UK, and the USA to build effective virtual teams and craft brilliant careers.

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  1. Tipping well on bad service! It’s good paradigm shift to me. I didn’t consider the potentially cheerful consequences for next customer and next visit before but now I clearly understand it’s a better strategy than badly reflecting disppointment into tip amount. Thanks!

  2. What do you think is the appropriate tip strategy for car service? Yellow cabs make it easy with the new digitized credit card service most of them have where you select 10, 15 or 20% for tip. But what about gypsy cabs? Is it the same? great post!

  3. Thanks for the comments! Polina, New Yorkers will tell you to “round up” in gypsy cabs. For example, if your fare is $5.35, round to $6.00. I normally follow that protocol, but will add a little more (10%) if I have a particularly pleasant interaction with a driver.

  4. hi to every one

  5. your site is very nice, very useful for me , i bookmarked your blog

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