Where Does The Negotiation Start When You Tip?

When you dine out and have to calculate a tip, where do you start your calculations? Everyone has a different method, but in this country most people start their mental calculations at 15% and then increase or decrease from there. Yet we’ve spotted another restaurant encouraging customers to start their calculations at 18%.

We’re not going to name the establishment, since it’s not a national chain and this isn’t really about that restaurant. Reader Eric noticed this during an otherwise lovely night out. “This restaurant happens to be beloved by the neighborhood, is always packed open to close and is a favorite of ours so I wish them no harm,” he wrote to Consumerist. “But … I don’t know if others have seen this ‘tip creep’ gaining steam.”


Creep? Eric’s name for this phenomenon comes from “Christmas Creep,” our name for how retailers have gradually begun marketing and decorating for Christmas earlier each year. The date creeps back slowly until there are Christmas carols being played in August. Eric wonders whether that’s happening here: restaurants gradually increasing what consumers think that we “should” tip until…well, what would the breaking point be?

We first noticed this phenomenon at TGI Friday’s more than a year ago, when a reader sent in a suggested tip scale that provided handy calculations for 18%, 20%, and 25%.

Fun with anchoring.

Don’t get us wrong: it’s nice when someone does math for us. We just wonder who is behind this effort to nudge the starting point for food service tips up a little higher. Will diners ever latch on to 20% as their starting point rather than 15%? Someone certainly hopes so.

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  1. WoodsideParkBob says:

    What I’d like to see on receipts is some truth: “We underpay our employees, so you should tip them.” I’d prefer that they not make “suggested gratuity” suggestions at all, but if they do, they should provide a complete range from, perhaps 10%, 15%, 20%, 25%, and 30%. They should also include a check box for “I’d prefer that you pay your employees a realistic wage and adopt a no tipping policy, even if this would raise menu prices.” I’ll bet they would find that a lot of their customers would prefer that policy.

  2. TianaS says:

    I tend to start my calculations at 15% and then adjust from there. I might be kind of snooty, but this kind of push might just make me want to cut back on my tip to prove a point.

    • MarthaGaill says:

      Except that you would be proving your point to the wrong person. The servers have no control over what their company prints on the receipts. You’d probably get more attention by writing a strongly worded email to corporate, or if it’s a small business, talk to the owner themselves.

  3. CzarChasm says:

    I generally start at 20% and generally work up from there. If service is especially bad I might leave 15%.

    I would certainly hope that all the “living wage” proponents are starting out at 30% or more, since it will take at least that much to make their dreams come true.

    • llamalluv says:

      Same here. I generally leave a 30% tip at our favorite diner, because:
      1. We eat there a lot, and I know by being high tipping regular customers, we get extra good service, even though we tend to linger at the table, preventing quick turn over. (We don’t linger when we can see a ton of people waiting)
      2. Noone can live on 15-20% of their prices, even with quick turn over.

  4. oomingmak says:

    I don’t really have a problem with this. Unless I have unusually poor service I leave approximately 20% and I can do that calculation in about 1 second in my head and then round it up or down depending on my mood or the service.

    At least they’re making their suggestions on the pre-tax amount.

  5. SingleMaltGeek says:

    I always start at 20% of the PRE-TAX total, and adjust up or down for exceptionally good or bad service. I used to start at 15%, but the tipped minimum wage has not changed in 23 years, but the cost of living sure has gone up! Also, I can afford 20% now more than I could back then, when I was waiting tables myself.

    But I agree 110% with WoodsideParkBob, I’d much prefer to see the cost of paying wait staff incorporated into the actual prices that restaurants charge, and let (much smaller) tips be reserved for really exceptional service. Wages should not be voluntary.

  6. IrishLad118 says:

    I typically start at 20% if I am happy with the service. I’ll leave 15% for adequate service, which is also easy to do in your head. It doesn’t get below 15 unless I bring up an issue that they didn’t attempt or failed to address. I’ll also leave a bit more than 20 for stellar service, but generally max out at 30%.