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Tipping Trends: Help us tell the story

Matt Berger May 14, 2011

Dinner, haircut, taxi ride, hotel bell hop, valet parking: How do you decide when and how much to tip for services?

In an effort to unravel the mystery of tipping habits and etiquette, Marketplace reached out to more than 200 sources from around the country who told us how they calculate the amount of gratuity they give for a variety of services.

The responses ranged from cheapskates to high rollers. And most said the amount they tip is based on some combination of what the service is (take-out versus dining in versus a haircut) and quality of service. And most started with a baseline percentage that they could add or subtract from.

We’re continuing to gather data on the topic and you can help. Answer our questionnaire; we’ve got one for those who give tips, and another for those who receive them. Later this month, we’ll publish all your responses in an interactive map.

But first, a selection of your responses:

Dining out

The majority of people we polled said they tip about 20 percent when eating out, and mostly based on the total bill including sales tax. But the range varied from 10 percent to more than 30 percent, with a few outliers:

“If eating at a diner or cafe where the meal is very cheap, I tip closer to 50 percent because it still only comes to a few dollars, but can mean a lot to the wait staff,” said Koka Thomason, of Grayslake, Illinois.

Another big tipper, Jeanne Timmons, of Concord, New Hampshire, said she might leave as much as $10 for good service on a $20 meal.

“As a person who depended upon tips in the restaurant industry, I tend to tip at least 20 percent or more. Quality of service only increases it.” Timmons says.

Meanwhile, there were a handful of respondents who said they had shallow pockets when eating out.

“I’m cheap. I tipped more when I was working and being paid well,” said Hugh Henry of San Antonio, Texas. “I tipped low or not at all when I was a student, and for the first 10 years of military service.”

Most however said they fall somewhere in between, and typically will spend more or less depending on a few factors. Particularly: “Quality of service matters,” said Belinda Cron , of Spokane, Wash.

“If it is lousy, I will only tip 10 percent on a meal. If service is good to excellent, I will increase my tip towards 20 percent,” Cron said. “I also tip more when I am with a large party, or someone asks for special service, like my vegan brother does.”

No gratuity in take-out and delivery

If you work in the take-out food service industry, don’t expect to earn much from gratuity. The majority of those surveyed said they don’t leave any tip for take-out.

Even though he said he’s worked in the food service industry for years, Robbie Ryan, of McKinney, Texas said: “I tend not to tip at places where you walk to a counter to order, and get your own food.”

That doesn’t extend to food delivery, where most respondents said they give at least a modest tip, between $1 and $5.

Jasmine Krotkov, of Neihart, Mass., is one of them. “My food delivery guy gets a good salary and isn’t expecting a tip, but my house is hard to get to, especially in the snow, so I tip him.”

Jaime West, of Mt. Pleasant, Penn. Noted: “If the weather is bad, I tip more for food delivery.”

Sometimes, the exact amount of the tip is a matter of convenience, said Matt Kopans of Round Lake, New York. “I always try to make my tip round my bill off – so if I have a delivery bill of $25.16, I would tip $5.84 so my final bill comes to $31.00.”

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