How much should you tip for dinner post-pandemic? This is what experts say

For now, gratuity should not be dependent on prompt service, experts say

Chelsea Ritschel
New York
Thursday 10 June 2021 16:58

As normal life slowly resumes, and outings to bars and restaurants become part of our daily routines again, the question of “how much do I tip?” has also returned.

Before the pandemic, the practice of tipping was pretty straightforward, with protocol deeming that Americans tip at least 15 per cent when dining out or ordering takeout, while 20 per cent was considered the standard.

Over the last year and a half, these societal etiquettes changed slightly as people began giving a little more when they could, in an effort to help and thank frontline workers and support businesses that were suffering.

Now, as the country slowly regains its footing, many of us are left wondering what to do moving forward in regards to the appropriate amount to tip.

“As we transition out of the pandemic and venture out into the world again, it is important to reacquaint yourself with the tipping protocols,” Jodi RR Smith, an etiquette consultant, the author of The Etiquette Book: A Complete Guide to Modern Manners, and the president and owner of Mannersmith told The Independent.

From dining in to picking up a takeout order, this is what Americans need to know about tipping in a post-pandemic world.

When it comes to sit-down dining, Smith told us that “the standard is still 15–20 per cent, more when you are pleased,” while the standard for take-away is still 10 to 15 per cent.

However, just like the past, but even more so in light of the pandemic, “if this is a venue you love and want to succeed, you should tip generously”.

“The difference of a few dollars may be negligible for you, but would mean the world to your server,” she reminded us, adding: “Tip well and when in doubt, tip more.”

Diane Gottsman, a national etiquette expert, author of Modern Etiquette for a Better Life, and founder of The Protocol School of Texas, also told us that relying on the pre-pandemic norm is a good rule of thumb when it comes to tipping.

“As people begin to get back to their normal restaurant routine, which includes dining out at restaurants, of course you want to tip kindly, fairly, generously and appropriately,” she said, explaining that this means “the standard amount is 15 per cent, although 18 to 20 per cent is more of the norm, which was standard even pre-pandemic”.

Gottsman also reminded us that, in America, gratuity should to be factored into the cost of a meal when deciding to dine out, and that those complaining about gratuity should possibly consider somewhere more agreeable with their budget.

“The bottom line is that part of the meal is factoring in gratuity,” she explained. “Your tip is a part of your restaurant experience and if you find yourself complaining about gratuity, perhaps you should rethink the choice of restaurant or select an establishment more agreeable to your budget.”

In regards to take-out orders, Gottsman acknowledged that these can be “tricky,” before suggesting that people add a “few dollars on the credit card in the tip section up to 15 per cent for complex orders”.

However, if the order includes “extreme directions and multiple boxes of food for an entire office,” she recommends including a tip that “reflects the effort involved”.

When it comes to other services where gratuity is expected, such as a trip to the hair or nail salon, Gottsman assured us that protocol doesn’t require us to make up for the months passed in tips when we finally visit again.

“It’s not necessary to ‘over-tip’ to make up for lost business unless you feel compelled to do so,” she confirmed. “In other words, if you haven’t seen your hairdresser for seven months, it’s not necessary to catch up on seven months of back gratuity.”

As for whether not tipping is ever okay, the answer is no, with both experts confirming that there is rarely ever an excuse for the behaviour, especially post-pandemic.

“Tipping graciously is the right thing to do, but skipping at tip is seldom appropriate. If you are unhappy, speak to the manager and let them know discreetly of your concern,” Gottsman said, adding: “In that case, tip 10 per cent of the bill.”

According to Smith, it’s also important to remember that many industries, including the restaurant industry, were hit hard by the pandemic, and that a tip should not necessarily reflect the service you received post-pandemic, as many businesses are now understaffed and waits are to be expected.

“As you reenter the world, in addition to tipping, you will need to remember to be patient,” she told us. “Many stores and restaurants are understaffed. They are working hard and doing the best they can.  For now, tipping should not be dependent on prompt service.

“Your server should not be penalized for an industry-wide issue.”

Overall, if you are in doubt about how much to tip, you can typically rely on the pre-pandemic standard. But, if you are in a position to do so, and want to show your appreciation for a business, tipping more than 20 per cent is never a bad thing.

“Great service should be rewarded accordingly and each person should decide their own comfort level,” Gottsman said.

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