Ask an Expert·4 min read

Tipping Guidelines From an Etiquette Expert

woman buying coffee with her credit card
December 13, 2023

Let's face it, tipping fatigue is real. Are you feeling swamped by the endless list of folks to tip — from eateries to different service gigs — and wondering how often you should do it? We spoke with Elaine Swann, an expert on all things etiquette, about how much to tip, when a tip is a must-have, and when it’s optional.

Featured Expert: Elaine Swann

Elaine Swann

Elaine Swann - Author and etiquette expert

When should I leave a tip, and when shouldn't I?

It depends on the type of service that you are receiving. For example, you would not leave a tip for professional services (think: your attorney, life coach, or dentist). Although they are providing a service, they're not in a service-based industry where tips are customary. You should always leave a tip for workers like Uber drivers, food delivery people, and your housekeeper. When traveling internationally, be sure to check the guidelines for tipping in different countries, because some cultures frown upon tipping. Travel websites are a great place to start with this research because they try to stay up-to-date. I also like specialty blogs or Facebook groups about particular countries.  

Is it ever OK to leave less than 15% to 20% when dining out?

The average tip is 15%, and a nice tip is 20%. There are some instances when it is acceptable to leave less. However, there are a few guidelines that we have to follow. If you received bad service, that service might have less to do with the server and more to do with the kitchen staff. You have to remember the server did not prepare your meal. Instead, focus on how the server did. Make your grievance known, and address the server. If you cannot get any resolution, then talk to the manager on duty. If they can fix it, great. If not, then this is when you allow your tip to reflect the service. Here in the US, servers earn their living based on those tips, so my recommendation is not to go lower than 10% from an etiquette perspective. However, I do believe it is acceptable to allow the tip to reflect the service.

Should I tip when I’m picking up an order vs. delivery?

When you're picking up an order from a restaurant, you're not required to tip because the kitchen staff prepared the meal and sent it out. Should you choose to do so because they took good care of you, that's where you can leave a tip. 10% is ok. Etiquette would dictate that you are not required to tip your barista, your sandwich maker, or the person at the donut shop. Because that person is earning an hourly wage. Should your sandwich maker or your barista go above and beyond, it is acceptable to leave a tip, but it is not required.

In the case of delivery, my recommendation is to tip about 10%. Use the memo line in the delivery app. State something like: “I'm going to leave a tip after delivery.” This way the delivery person knows they're going to get the tip, but based on the service they deliver.

What should I do if the person I’m with tips poorly?

If you recognize that the person that you're out with tips poorly, do what you can to make up for that. This could be a teaching moment for your friend. Some people just do not know what proper tipping etiquette is. I would not bring it up to the person in that moment, but you can address it later. Say something like: “I noticed the last few times we’ve been out, you’ve left a $2 tip. I don't know if you're aware of this or not, but typically an average tip is about X dollars.” Allow some dialogue around it. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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