a food in a styrofoam container
Photograph ©2024 by Brian Cohen.

A 40% Gratuity Suggested at Restaurants? Seriously?!?

Tipping is spiraling further out of control in the United States.

We have apparently come to a point in society in the United States at which one of the options to pay as much as a 40% gratuity is being suggested at restaurants and even coffee houses on electronic devices when paying a bill.


A 40% Gratuity Suggested at Restaurants? Seriously?!?

Coffee Bogotá Colombia
Photograph ©2019 by Brian Cohen.

The “add tip” functionality that has been added to point-of-sale systems and other evolving technology is purportedly designed to guilt the customer into leaving more money or tipping more often to members of the staff at a dining establishment than the customer might have originally intended. It apparently works, according to this survey by LendingTree, in which 32 percent of dining customers reportedly leave a gratuity of at least 26 percent to servers at restaurants.

Even worse is that those prompts for gratuities — while convenient — also lead customers to tip servers more than they should because they also include government taxes, according to this article written by Medora Lee for USA TODAY. You are better off leaving a custom amount as a gratuity so that you do not pay too much…

…but why would anyone pay a gratuity of as much as 40 percent when dining out or simply enjoying a cup of coffee? The places where I have seen people reporting the absurd amount of suggesting 40 percent is in:

If I would have left a gratuity of 40 percent at this restaurant at which I recently dined with below average service and sub-par food, I would have paid $140.60 instead of $117.00, which was already way too overpriced.

A number of readers at The Gate With Brian Cohen commented in this article that they do not tip anyone when taking out food.

Final Boarding Call

a plate of food on a table
Photograph ©2024 by Brian Cohen.

Gratuities are out of control in the United States — and this sickening culture is slowly spreading to infect other parts of the world. Customers are not only expected to pay usurious tips simply for the privilege of picking up food at a take-out dining establishment; but we are also expected to pay gratuities to breakfast attendants at hotel properties, to members of the housekeeping staff even though services may have been significantly reduced, and even possibly to flight attendants — all of this in addition to ridiculous mandatory fees and taxes that are automatically added to our bills. The hamburger that costs ten dollars on a menu costs significantly more by the time a diner is ready to pay for the meal…

…but does a hamburger even cost ten dollars anymore? If the hamburger costs $15.00 and someone leaves a gratuity of 40 percent, that adds six dollars to the total. That $15.00 hamburger suddenly becomes a $21.00 hamburger without even factoring in any tax.

I am neither an endless fountain of cash nor am I an employer of any of these people. How is the fact that they do not earn a decent wage my fault? I do not operate a restaurant or other dining establishment; and I do not want to be in that business. I am not the person who purposely sets the prices on the menu artificially low to give the illusion of what is the actual cost of the meal. Why am I required to cover what business owners cannot — or will not — pay?!?

The main purpose of tips and gratuities is to voluntarily reward extraordinary service — not to force customers to close the wage gap of the servers…

…and with the suggested default for tipping slowly creeping towards 30 percent, does the “service” offered — or, more importantly, the lack of service thereof — warrant paying almost a third of the total bill to package an order and have it waiting?

Even worse is that the percentage left for servers at dining establishments is a percentage of the cost of a meal — and because the cost of food has been increasing, so has the amount for the gratuity, which automatically increases without any change in the percentage for a tip. Dining patrons also mistakenly include government taxes as part of the calculation of which to tip a server.

A tip or gratuity should be earned — not expected. A tip or gratuity should be voluntary — not mandatory.

I suppose I should be thankful that the most expensive suggestion offered to me recently to take out an order of food was “only” 25 percent — but I would be absolutely embarrassed to operate an establishment which has an automatic suggestion to leave a gratuity of 40 percent of any service, which amounts to almost half of the original bill…

All photographs ©2019 and ©2024 by Brian Cohen.

  1. If someone takes a table at a sit down restaurant to order just a coffee, a 40% tip seems quite reasonable.

    First Watch is a full service restaurant. The wait staff is prepared to serve a full meal and be tipped accordingly. This person has apparently taken an entire table to order a cup of coffee. That is rude and tacky.
    Go to the Waffle House bar or McDonalds if that is all they plan to consume. Or happily make it worthwhile for someone to bring your cup of coffee.

    1. I would never think of going to a full service restaurant, sit at a table for a few hours, and order only a drink, NB_ga — especially as I do not drink coffee or tea. Do people actually do that?!?

      If I want only a drink, I would patronize a more appropriate venue.

      Otherwise, I can understand your point…

  2. What type of person can be “guilted” into pay any amount of tip? I think to call them spineless might be a bit harsh, but come on, grow a pair.
    Tip however much you want.
    And those tablets where you have several options of tip amount. Tap zero!!

  3. I am like NB_ga. For the small venues, coffee shops, etc. I tend to tip more than the common 15-20%.
    The full service restaurants I pay less or more by percent if the food and service warrant it. I always question how the tip is distributed if it is added to the bill, cash or card. I ALWAYS try to pay the server’s tip directly to them in cash.

  4. I chaperoned a school trip to Six Flags America in Maryland the other day, and there were $1.30 “labor and supplies” surcharges on every order – including for drinks and Dippin Dots which is about all we can buy to eat there. I don’t know why they think a surcharge is more palatable than just putting up the prices to reflect increased costs or why they think it’s reasonable to put a $1.30 surcharge on everything no matter how small the order is. The drinks were outrageously expensive as it was. Obviously it’s not because it was easier to do than change the prices, since they had to go to the effort of putting up the signs about the surcharges. I can hardly recommend this place to anyone, since, in addition to these outrageous prices, a significant amount of rides were out of service.

    1. I believe when they add a “labor and supplies” fee they don’t have to pay taxes on that.

  5. It stops being a gratuity when it becomes an entitlement. My general rule of thumb is at any business (in the US) where I have to run my own form of payment and touch a screen or I brought my merchandise to them, it isn’t a tipped position. Above and beyond, I may. But not going to exceed 20% except in circumstances where it’s a place I frequent or a particular person who takes good care of me. Hair cut (especially when being flexible with schedule when my travel plans change last minute), parking shuttle driver, lot attendant at National who points me to a better car that “hasn’t quite been put on the Aisle yet” etc

  6. 40% is outrageous, I wouldn’t go back to a place that even suggested it…and I’d leave a review explaining why.

    The spreading of tipping “suggestions” to fast food and fast-casual restaurants is just going way too far. If I stand up to order and pay, I’m not tipping (except drinks at a bar where it’s always been customary).

    There are indeed lots of other countries where tipping is practiced – often in many more situations than in North America. However it generally has not spread from the US, as the practice has cropped up at various times around the world. We have Europe to blame for it coming to America…At one time, over 100 years ago, Americans did not tip and viewed it as un-American. At one point, wealthy Americans who traveled to Europe brought the practice back home, and it eventually spread. Now it’s reversed.

    “How is the fact that they do not earn a decent wage my fault?”

    But they do all earn at least the Federal or State minimum wage. The employer must ensure the tipped employee receives the general minimum wage, factoring in tips received plus the tipped employee “base rate”. Employers have to chip in at least the base rate. If an employee’s tips plus the base rate are lower than the general minimum wage, the employer still has to make up the difference. So if you tip a lower amount or don’t tip, you’re not impacting the guaranteed minimum wage for that employee.

    I wish we could get away from restaurant tipping, but many restaurant employees and their labor groups prefer to keep the current arrangement. Why? Because quite often servers make much more than the minimum wage after factoring in tips. (And let’s not kid ourselves, many are not reporting 100% of cash tips received, either.)

    So restaurant owners like the system because it keeps their menu prices low and tipped employees like it because they feel they earn more. There simply isn’t any force for change, other than customers pushing back, which probably isn’t enough at this point. I think we should all agree to at least stop tipping for food service except for sit-down full-service restaurants. Perhaps that will be a start.

  7. As an European living in Asia:

    I’m fine with 50%, 100%, or 5000% tipping as long as it stays in Muricaah… The tipflation started and made by Muricans for Muricans, so please don’t export it to sh*th*le third-world commies such as Switzerland, Japan, Holland, New Zealand, or Singapore etc. These folks got so much headache already by overthinking how to spend 20 paid holidays, let alone the smaller fine print such as tipping.

    As much as an average Uncle Sam would like to have a freedom with guns and gospel, third-world inhabitants like us deserve some freedom to refuse tipflation, unaffordable medical bills, some 1000000$ college debt, etc.

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