How much to tip in a restaurant?

With three of the newer restaurants in Gunbarrel providing only limited service (you take a number to your table), I’ve re-thought how much I want to tip. The restaurants I’m thinking of are Sancho’s, Lookout Cafe & Cocktails, and Raglin Market. Generally, I’ve been over-tipping, not because I’m getting great service, but because I haven’t been thinking things through.

It seems that restaurants can be divided into three main categories with regard to service levels:

  • Full service: You’re shown to your seat, a waiter takes your order, it’s brought to you, and the waiter handles the check at the end. Examples: Proto’s, Morning Table, Aperitivo.
  • Limited service: You order and pay at a counter, take a number to your table, and a server brings the order to you. You may have to bus your own table. Examples: Lookout, Raglin, Sancho’s.
  • No service: The staff stays behind the counter. Examples: Snarf’s and Burger King.

I don’t think whether the server earns a tipped minimum wage, which in Colorado is about $3 less than the regular minimum wage, should be a factor,¬† because:

  • If with tips the server’s hourly pay falls below the regular minimum wage, the employer has to make up the difference.
  • The minimum wage is much less than a living wage, and many people who serve you (trash collector, gas station attendant, Home Depot cashier) make much less than a living wage.
  • You rarely know what anyone is making. Some businesses might pay more than the minimum wage.

So, how much to tip should depend on the level and quality of service, not on your guess as to the server’s income. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  • 20% of the pre-tax bill for full service, with more or less if the service is exceptionally good or bad.
  • 10%,¬†more or less, for limited service.
  • zero, and very rarely more, for no service.

At a bar (alcohol or coffee) where I’m sitting at the bar or at a nearby table, I’ll tip 10% if I’m only drinking, and 20% if I’m ordering a meal and can order while sitting down.

Under my new scheme, food trucks get a zero tip, although I would tip if the person in the truck is particularly charismatic. Carry-out also gets a zero tip.

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