Americans Are Very Confused on How Much They're Supposed to Tip, According to a New Survey

Too many people say they don't tip at all.

<p>Rawpixel Ltd / Getty Images</p>

Rawpixel Ltd / Getty Images

Regardless of whether you’re just popping out for a quick coffee, grabbing a pick-up order from a fast-casual restaurant, or savoring dinner at your fave local spot, you’ll probably be asked — or encouraged — to tip the server or the staff before you leave. And according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center, Americans’ views on tipping are (unsurprisingly) varied and can depend on a number of factors, from what you ordered to how old you are.

Pew’s pollsters surveyed almost 12,000 U.S. adults in August, asking over a dozen questions about the who, when, where, and how of our tipping behaviors. One of the survey’s big takeaways was that, as a whole, we’re not always sure when and how much we’re meant to tip. Only around one-third (34%) of respondents said that it was “extremely or very easy” to know how to tip, and another one-third (33%) said that it was “extremely or very easy” to know how much to add to the final bill. The majority of respondents (72%) also said that we’re expected – or at least asked – to tip in more places than we were five years ago.

When it comes to how those gratuities are distributed, the majority (72%) also said it’s the fairest if each server is allowed to keep 100% of the tips they receive, while 14% said that tips should be collected and distributed to all members of the staff — including table bussers, hosts, and bartenders — while another 13% said that tips should be pooled and then split equally between all of the servers.

Related: The Only Tipping Guide You Will Ever Need

The majority of respondents said that they “usually” tip at sit-down restaurants, so Pew asked how much they would tip for an average meal with equally average service. Over half (57%) of those surveyed said they would tip 15% of the bill or less, while 12% said they would tip at least 18%, and 25% said they would tip 20% or more. Two percent of respondents said they would not tip at all. (That same 2% probably also hate when all the Whos in Whoville start singing.) Pew also notes that more older Americans — those 65 or older — were more likely to tip 15% or less.

Tipping behaviors can also vary based on how and where someone is eating or drinking. An overwhelming majority of respondents (92%) say they “always or often” tip at sit-down restaurants. More than three-quarters of respondents (76%) said that they “always or often” tipped on delivery orders, while 70% said they “always or often” tipped at bars. Only one-quarter (25%) of respondents “always or often” tip at coffee shops, and 12% tip at fast-casual restaurants like Chipotle or Panera, where orders aren’t placed through or delivered by a server.

The biggest factor determining how much customers tip is the quality of the service. Over three-quarters of respondents (77%) said that it was a “major factor,” while 18% said it was a minor factor. Five percent said that they didn’t take the service into consideration at all.

Finally, the respondents seem to prefer it when they’re allowed to determine their own tipping amounts, as opposed to being presented with automated suggestions. Forty percent of survey-takers said they “strongly or somewhat oppose” a list of suggested tips, while 32% were neutral about it. The older respondents (again, described as those 65 or older) were most opposed to tip suggestions, while those under 30 were almost evenly split in their views about those recommendations. Almost one-third (31%) said they “favor” suggestions, 33% said they were opposed to them, and the last third (32%) didn’t mind either way. 

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