What’s The Real Word on Tipping At Restaurants?

Recently, there has been an inundation of headlines claiming Americans have “tipping fatigue.” Activists have capitalized on this message saying American states and cities should get rid of tipping everywhere.

But generalized messaging and misleading poll language have led many Americans to conflate tipping in non-service situations with tipping in restaurants.

In fact, customers and employees alike in full-service restaurants actually prefer the traditional tipping method over other alternatives. As a result, activists’ push to eliminate tipping and tip credits in the full-service restaurant industry would have harmful impacts on tipped restaurant employees’ livelihoods.

Despite touting Americans’ negative reaction to being asked to tip in a broader set of situations where no service has been provided, a recent poll actually shows that in restaurants, Americans prefer and are much more likely to leave tips. Eighty-three percent of Americans indicated they are routine tippers, saying they “always” or “almost always” leave a tip for servers and bartenders.

Compare that to other occupations receiving attention for a rise in tip requests:

  • Less than half (48%) of Americans are routine tippers for coffee shop staff.
  • Just a quarter (26%) are regularly tipping for household services from plumbers, electricians, and other repair employees.

What headlines aren’t saying is that customers generally react more negatively to alternative policies that try to replace tipping — such as service charges or “service included” menu pricing.

  • Diners around the country have expressed confusion and distaste for automatic service charges — which are often implemented to bolster higher minimum wages in the restaurant industry when tip credits are eliminated.
  • Restaurants around the country have actually reversed no-tipping experiments due to significant customer pushback.

Customers’ reactions to no-tipping policies are important for restaurants to maintain foot traffic in their establishments and provide the tipped job opportunities that attract so many to the industry.

But even more importantly, tipped restaurant employees themselves prefer tipping over other pay models, because the tip credit system that is supplemented by tips allows them to maximize their income.

In the full-service restaurant industry, where profit margins are slim, tip credits and traditional tipping are a win-win for employees, restaurants, and customers alike.

By conflating messaging about tipping in full-service restaurants with gripes about tips in non-service-intensive situations, activists are endangering a pay model that works for employees. Lawmakers should steer clear.