“Thanks for the delicious water,” was the innocuous note left with what is thought to be the largest ever tip left at a restaurant.
North Carolina waitress Alaina Custer encountered the generous tipper during one of her shifts in 2018. Accompanying the aforementioned note was no less than $10,000 in cash – a sum that was left by YouTube personality Mr. Beast and subsequently split between the team at the restaurant.
Extreme generosity or clever influencer marketing? You can be the judge of that, but Custer’s story is a clear indication that the art of tipping is anything but dead.
Despite this, it’s still a hotly contested area. From the often-debated tip distribution rules to the tipping etiquette that exist within each country, it’s scarily easy to get things wrong and inadvertently leave the wrong impression as a diner.
With that in mind, we thought it was about time someone created an ultimate tipping guide. Our advice on this page is aimed at tippers, but will be just as useful as a reference for hoteliers, restaurateurs and anyone else who works on the frontline of hospitality. We’ve included lots of facts about tipping, too, so get ready to note down your favourites.
Who tips the most?
Quora is full of debates on tipping. As someone noted in January 2019, “Tipping is quite common in Britain, but it is tied very closely to quality of service. The culture of tipping varies from country to country but the culture of tipping in the US leaves Brits a bit bemused.”
This neatly illustrates how easy it is to get tipping wrong if you’re on holiday or travelling for business, but there are some trends when it comes to who tips the most (and least).
In the US, millennials are thought to be the worst tippers, with ten percent of Americans in that age group admitting to routinely leaving nothing extra for service staff. In the UK, the worst tippers often reside in specific regions, according to research, therefore if your restaurant is situated in either Sheffield, Leeds, Plymouth, Newcastle or Norwich, you shouldn’t expect too much generosity from patrons.
In order to find the best tippers, we need to look once again at the generation of diners, and if you spot a bunch of baby boomers entering your establishment, your staff are probably in for a very nice “thank you” at the end of the meal.
Due to this generation usually being at the peak of its earning potential, tipping often takes place without consideration. Research suggests that 38% of baby boomers will routinely leave a tip, even if it’s for nothing more than their morning coffee.
The same studies show that the so-called ‘Silent Generation’ (those over the age of 72) are among the lowest tippers around, with a median tip percentage of just 15%.
Do seasons affect tipping?
This is a fair question. After all, if the weather is particularly beautiful outside and people are in high spirits while dining out, are you likely to see more tips sent the way of your restaurant staff?
And what about Christmas? Is the festive spirit likely to result in people dipping more handsomely in their pockets?
Data linking seasons to tipping levels is near non-existent, but it’s worth considering other seasonal factors that impact the restaurant industry if we’re to make some educated guesses.
Seasonal holidays remain turbulent, unpredictable times for hospitality businesses, with some experiencing declines in business of up to 60% when customers decide to celebrate at home rather than head out.
Despite this, summer remains a time for restaurants to thrive, and the potential influx of visitors from further afield often means tips rise thanks to generous tipping etiquette and styles from abroad making their way to local shores.
At the time of writing, Christmas is but a few short months away, and studies suggest that Christmas and New Year’s Day can see increases of up to 3% in tipping thanks to happy, festive guests.
The same studies also take a deeper look into how the days of the week affect the desire to tip. Sunday mornings appear to be the most profitable, with customer tips hitting an average of 20% between the hours of 10am and 12pm. In second place, unsurprisingly, is the dinner shift, which (Monday aside), is likely to yield average tips rates of up to 19% after 6pm.
Which people are more likely to tip?
As fun as it might be to see who tops the tipping chart, it’s the type of people who are more likely to tip that is particularly fascinating.
In America, for instance, the following people were revealed as most likely to tip after a survey by CreditCards.com:
- North easterners
- Baby boomers (there they are again!)
- Users of credit and debit cards
In the UK, things are a little more clean cut. A 2015 survey by OpenTable revealed that 87% of Brits always leave tips, with the average value sitting at an impressive £4.18. It’s therefore safe to assume that - regional differences aside - generations and other demographic data is unlikely to have much of an impact on UK-based tippers.
Has tipping changed?
While hard-and-fast data on tipping trends is still relatively scant, it’s fascinating to look back at Michael Lynn’s 1984 paper on The Psychology of Restaurant Tipping.
Referring to previous studies on tipping (some relating as far back as the mid-70s), the findings back then appear rather similar to tipping etiquette today:
- Tipping norms of 15%
- The percentage of tips relates in no way to the number of people at the table or the per-person bill size
- Card-paying customers leave bigger tips that cash customers
- Tipping sizes have no bearing on whether or not alcoholic drinks were purchased as part of the meal
While the method by which we tip (for instance, via handheld POS terminals or Chip and Pin machines) has certainly changed, the drivers have clearly remained the same.
How do restaurants distribute their tips?
It’s easy to assume that restaurant staff all receive their fair share of tips, but the presence of bans in certain countries on restaurants keeping tips from staff illustrates it’s not always quite as clear cut as that.
Before we consider how tips are distributed, let’s consider a few facts about tipping:
- Tipping isn’t automatically expected in certain countries (take the UK, for instance)
- Service charges aren’t the same as tips; the latter is optional whereas the former is sometimes automatically added to bills
- Tips taken via credit card aren’t always handled the same as cash tips and are instead placed into something called a ‘tronc’, which is a pool from which the monies are distributed
The way in which tips are split between team members is largely up to the restaurant in question, but the following are the most common methods.
Supporting staff are often tipped based on a percentage – the guidelines for which are usually set by the manager or restaurant owner.
The waiting staff might receive 10%, while 25-30% is then split between remaining team members. Alternatively, the funds may be split equally among all staff.
If tips are pooled, anywhere between 20-100% of each server’s tips are usually entered into the pool and distributed among staff based on percentages. Some restaurants will even pool 100% of tips, ensuring no one has a particularly bad or good night; fair is fair across the board!
Let’s say a restaurant takes £500 in tips for one shift. If the total hours worked by service staff amounts to 20, the tips will then be split based on the number of hours each individual worked and divided by the total hours of the team.
Why so complicated?
Tipping is unlikely to become straightforward; there are simply too many variables, beliefs and opinions on the topic.
This is why, as a diner or restaurateur, it pays to tread with caution. Never assume the member of waiting staff you’re dealing with will receive the total value of a tip, and don’t be afraid to ask the question of the manager if you’re particularly keen on them being appropriately rewarded.
If you’re a restaurateur, we hope this introduction to the current trends in tipping has proved insightful. The takeaway? As noted in that 1984 tipping psychology paper, it really hasn’t changed much in the last few decades, and it can be an incredibly emotive subject.
The fact remains, though – if you feel someone deserves an extra “thanks” for their hard work while waiting your table, keep local tipping etiquette in mind and do so accordingly. And, if you think your staff are growing militant about your tipping scheme, head straight back to the drawing board.