The Tipping Culture

What tip are you most comfortable leaving for the services you frequently use? 10%? 15%? What about 20%? What goes into the decision to leave a tip: the overall experience, service or product received, or the service workers themselves?

Furthermore, how does the tip you’re comfortable giving match standards across the U.S.? We wondered the same thing, so we asked 999 Americans from all over the country about their current tipping habits. Do consumer thoughts on tipping align with those of service workers? What’s considered a generous gratuity in the U.S.? Here’s what we learned.

    1. The Gender Gap on Tipping
    2. Giving a Tasteful Tip
    3. Tipping Across the U.S.
    4. Generational Tipping
    5. Tipping Expectations
    6. Servers’ Tipping Report
    7. Tipping in Other Industries
    8. Tipping in America

The Gender Gap on Tipping

Do men and women tip differently? How do tipping habits vary by gender? To find out, we analyzed potential gender differences in tipping and uncovered that on average, women tend to tip slightly more than men.

Even when the service was less than stellar, female diners emerged more generous than males across the board.

Restaurant Tipping By Gender

In some of the more ‘tip-killing’ scenarios, women still offered a more generous average tip than men. Women gave 9% gratuity, while men only averaged 7% when there was hair in their food, and the server failed to replace the meal, and they tipped more than men when the restaurant wasn’t able to seat them at their reserved table.

Giving a Tasteful Tip

What’s the price of perfection? According to our survey, the average American tips 20% for perfect service. However, when a restaurant-goer experiences less-than-stellar service, the tip can get as low as 6%, with a wide range of tip amounts for various behaviors falling in between.

How Much Do People Tip?

What about if a server suggested a wine pairing that didn’t live up to the customer’s expectations? An average of 16%. Forgot to refill a water glass? Servers can probably expect 14%. What happens if a server is downright rude to the customer? They shouldn’t anticipate more than a 6% tip.

Of course, service isn’t the only thing that matters when it comes to tipping. According to one expert, the size of the bill and rapport the server builds with each table are the biggest things that can skew the tipping scale.

Tipping Across the U.S.

How does tipping look across regions? Who’s likely to be frugal, and who’s throwing twenties down on the table at the end of the night? Different areas across the U.S. revealed varying tip averages.

Gratuity in the US by Region

Results showed the population dense and comparatively wealthy Northeast region tied for the best tip with the unassuming and less dense East South Central region, which includes Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Alabama.

A little lower on the tipping scale were the West South Central states of Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. Those states, along with the East North Central and South Atlantic regions, left the lowest average tips – but only by a 3% difference.

While the middle Atlantic and New England areas boast a larger number of wealthy areas, including New York City, we could not prove personal wealth correlated with tipping percentages.

Generational Tipping

When we broke down our survey data by generation, we found that in some cases, age may have an impact on a servers tip in certain situations, as well.

Restaurant Tipping by Generation

According to our survey, Gen Xers were the biggest tippers in several scenarios. If you’re a server wanting to go the extra mile, giving a free drink or food item could go a long way for a Gen Xer. They’re also more generous when it comes to a mistake in the kitchen, like finding a hair in their food, as long as the meal is replaced.

Our survey also found millennials didn’t really appreciate an overly attentive server and were the least forgiving with their tips when it came to mistakes in the kitchen. Baby boomers left the least tip when servers were rude or flirty. Boomers’ generosity also vanished when they couldn’t get their desired table.

Tipping Expectations

How do servers respond to specific scenarios when they’re dining out? To get the answer, we compared the responses of the average person with those who said they are currently restaurant servers.

How Much Do Servers Tip in Comparison to the Average Person?

When free food or drink was involved, the average customer seemed highly appreciative of the gesture and doled out a 21% average tip, where former servers seemed less impressed, offering only 19%.

Servers seemed more forgiving in a few unpleasant situations. One of the few notable disconnects was with those who found a hair in their meal, and for whom the server did not replace the meal. The average customer said they would only leave 8%, while servers would still tip 14%, on average.

Servers’ Tipping Report

We’ve all heard no-tip horror stories, so we wanted to investigate. With many servers living off of their tips, we decided to ask: How many had ever received zero compensation for their services?

The tipping experience

The answer may be a bit surprising: 70% of servers have been allotted nothing as gratuity at some point in their careers, and 88% of those servers said the customer was unfair.

Perhaps it’s statistics like these that inspired one restaurant to do away with tipping and pay its servers an annual wage, a move that resulted in unprecedented profits.

Tipping in Other Industries

You might tip your server and bartender, but what about hairstylists, cab drivers, and golf attendants? What are the expectations for tipping across different industries?

Compensation by Service Profession

According to our survey, hairstylists got the biggest percentage when servers were not in contention, averaging 13%. Food delivery drivers, massage professionals, and movers weren’t far behind with 12% each.

Tipping in America

While there are disparities in tipping across the U.S., it may be comforting to know most Americans are on board to tip 15% to 20%. Those tips can certainly add up, with the average American spending $3,154 on food away from home in 2016.

The rise of America’s convenience culture means that we are not just spending more on the things that make life easier, but on tips as well.

Tipping the appropriate amount can feel tricky, but, despite the doubts surrounding gratuity, when it comes time to pay the bill, we hope that we’ve given you more than a little food for thought.

If you happen to be the one signing the bill, it’s not a bad idea to explore how you may be able to earn rewards for your dollars spent. Curious about how Discover’s credit card rewards work? Learn more about the Discover it® Chrome Gas and Restaurant Card.

Methodology

We collected 999 survey responses from Americans from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk about their tipping habits in various service scenarios. 49.4% of our participants were male, 50.4% were female, and .20% did not list their gender. Participants ranged in age from 19 to 76. Participants with an unlisted gender were excluded from the gender analysis because their responses could not be associated with male or female groupings, and our sample size was not large enough to take averages of those participants. Generational groupings were determined using the Pew Research Center’s age bracket definitions for baby boomers (1946-1964), Generation X (1965-1980), and millennials (1981-1998). We weighted the data to the 2015 U.S. census for gender, age, and state. Hypotheses were then statistically tested.

Below are the data points with statistically significant effects (p < .05).

Generational:

If you received a free food or drink item

If a hair was found in the food, but the meal was replaced

If the server was rude

If the server neglected your table for several minutes when you were in need of something

If the server was overly attentive

If the server didn’t refill your water glass

If you found a hair in your food, but the server was not able to replace the meal

If you found a hair in your food, and a new entree was brought to you for free

If you were not seated at your desired table

If unruly customers were disturbing or distracting you from enjoying your time at the restaurant, and employees failed to address it

If a server didn’t accommodate your request for fast service

Geographically:

There is an effect of subregion on the average of all tipping scenarios presented in our survey.

Gender:

There is an effect on the average of all tipping scenarios presented in our survey.

Limitations

The data we are presenting rely on self-reporting. Caveats exist with self-reported data including but not limited to: selective memory, telescoping, attribution, and exaggeration.

Fractl conducted this survey and estimates the results of this survey are accurate at the 95% confidence level plus or minus three percentage points. This content is for entertainment purposes only.

Legal Disclaimer: This site is for educational purposes and is not a substitute for professional advice. The material on this site is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice and does not indicate the availability of any Discover product or service. It does not guarantee that Discover offers or endorses a product or service. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.

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