How much should you tip your waiter, and when to do it

Should you tip your waiter?

A waiter’s job is by no means an easy one. Some might assume it’s little more than repeating menial tasks, but it’s far from easy. Managing multiple orders at once, answering questions, greeting customers, running food and dropping checks, all while maintaining a welcoming, cheerful demeanour, are just a few tasks that make waiting arduous. Waiters have to move and think at top speed, sometimes all shift long, so it’s no wonder it’s widely considered one of the more stressful jobs out there.

Tipping a waiter is not just about showing appreciation for those who ensure you have a smooth, comfortable dining experience. It can also be a necessity for them, as most waiters do not get paid a living wage by their employers. Some laws that are in place make it legal to pay less than minimum wage for waiting jobs, sometimes as little as $2 per hour, meaning that waiters are forced to live on the tips provided by customers.

Now that you know why waiters are reliant on their tips, let’s explore how you can go about tipping them, how much you should tip and when you should do it. We’ve also put together a tipping calculator for you to help decide how much you should tip for the service provided.

How much should you tip your waiter?

The general consensus in America is that you should tip your waiting staff – but when it comes to how much to tip, there are lots of aspects to consider.

Level of ServiceTime SpentRecommended Percentage
Number of Guests
Level of Service
Time Spent Dining
Overall Enjoyment

In many cases, it’s a question that comes down to region. A general rule of thumb is to start with 16% of your total bill. But if you want to make sure you don’t under-tip your waiter, it doesn’t hurt to look at the recommended tipping amount table we put together for you below.

The highest tipping state on average is Idaho, which tends to pay 17.4% on top of their restaurant bills. The lowest average tips are found in Hawaii, where it tends to be around 14.8% of the overall bill. In general, most states pay around 16% of the bill. Of course, if you feel like your waiter has gone above and beyond, there’s nothing stopping you from tipping them more than the average.

However, there are situations where the recommended tip amount can change. If your meal has been comped, or you’re getting a discount by using a gift card, it is recommended that you pay the tip of what the total bill would have been. 

If you’re dining in groups of 8 or more, you can often expect to have gratuity automatically added to your check – so be sure to look over the check before adding your tip. If you’re with a group of 8 or more and the tip isn’t automatically added, then the 20% is recommended from all guests, as larger groups can mean more work for the waiter.

If you’re ever at a loss on how to tip, make sure to use the tipping calculator and recommended tips table, you’ll never be left questioning the check again.

When to tip your waiter

It may not be necessary to tip your waiter if gratuity has already been factored into the check or if you’re in a state where wait staff are guaranteed a livable minimum wage (for example: Alaska, California, Hawaii, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, or Washington).

Still, if you think a waiter has gone the extra mile during your dining experience, feel free to add a little to your check, anyway. Even in states where waiters make above the federal minimum wage, tips are still greatly welcomed.

If you wish to withhold from tipping, it is completely within your rights. Maybe you feel as though you’ve been treated rudely, insulted or have had an eating preference, dietary requirements or a food allergy not taken seriously (it happens more often than you’d expect), and therefore you may not feel inclined to leave a tip. 

If you have had a food related issue, we always recommend that you consider speaking with the manager about any food issues you’ve received, as this is not always in the control of your waiter.

As for when you do tip, it’s usually left to the end of the meal, when you get the bill. If the restaurant or eatery has a bar that you can independently order drinks from that won’t appear on your bill, then you should tip at the point of purchase.

Where does your tip go?

In an ideal world, the full amount of your tip goes directly to the wait staff who served you, but that’s not always the case. In recent times, some big chain eateries have been under fire for taking a percentage of the tips to cover their own fees or just because they can.

In most cases, when you tip by cash, you’re going to be handing that money to the waiter directly and they will be keeping it. If you’re served by a waiter, but a different member of staff, manager, or owner serves you the bill, you might want to withhold the cash initially and ask to give it directly to the waiter.

It doesn’t hurt to ask your wait staff who the tip goes to, or recommend to the manager that the tip should go fully to your waiter due to their high level of service. This won’t go unnoticed by your waiter.

For card or app payments, traditionally tips tend to be distributed differently. Most restaurants will ensure that it still goes to the wait staff, but instead of directly to your server, it is likely to be shared amongst all of the employees equally; this is often done to keep all employees happy, even if they didn’t perform as well as their colleagues. This also goes for restaurants that have tips jars or pots. These are most often divided amongst the staff, either divided equally amongst all staff working that day or sometimes with slightly larger portions going to the more active wait staff.

How to tip your waiter – Cash, card or via an app?

As society becomes cashless, more driven by cards and wireless devices, cash tips are becoming less rewarding to wait staff. Cards and payment apps are making it a lot easier to live a cash-free existence, and that includes tips. Below are some pros and cons of each tipping method, and how much actually ends up in your servers’ pocket:

  • Cash: The most direct and immediate way of tipping, and a good way of ensuring that every penny of your tip ends up going to your wait staff for the meal. If you’re eating as part of a large group, however, it can take a lot of time to figure out how much more is needed to make the tip whole. In most cases, your serving staff gets 100% of the tips, unless the business divides the tips between staff as mentioned.
  • Credit / Debit Card:  A convenient way to tip, especially for those who don’t like carrying cash around. However, it’s unlikely that your serving staff will get the entirety of the credit or debit card tip. Firstly, tips via a card payment tend to be spread around and some restaurants (most often chain restaurants) may take a cut off the top. If you want to tip by card, it’s a good idea to ask how much goes to your waiter.
  • App: Much like cards, apps make it considerably easier to tip your waiter if you don’t have the physical cash in your pocket. Apps make life easier as you can often tip after paying the bill, and without having cash on you. The majority of the tip will also go directly to the person you tip (often the apps will take a small transaction fee).

What is the best way to tip your waiter?

When in doubt and if you want to make sure that you give good service a fair payment, tip upwards of 16% and don’t be afraid to tip more if you feel that it’s still not enough for the service you received.

We believe in tipping via an app so much, that we developed etip, a cashless mobile tipping app that we’ve released for free. Using etip allows you know that your tip is going directly to the employee of your choice – and we’re not just talking about waiters, etip allows you to tip housekeepers, beauticians, barbers & more. Try etip today, we know you’ll love it!

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Nabil

I'm here to help customers and employees understand the ins and outs of tipping.

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