When Do You Tip?

I find tipping culture really confusing! Recently I was out for breakfast with a friend and we got to chatting about this after paying at the counter. I thought it was a great discussion topic for a Money Monday post because I’d be there are a lot of different practices out there!

In reading about tipping in general, I remember this book my Dad read to me wayyy back! It was called The View from Saturday, and it was about a quiz bowl team. They come up against a question about tipping, and the reader learns that the word tip actually originated from T.I.P., an acronym for “to insure (ed. note, shouldn’t it be ensure??) promptness”. Actually, TIME had a piece that debunked this, but their article said that in North America, at least, we’ve had some element of tipping since around the mid-1800’s.

So back to my story- we ordered breakfast at the counter of a cafe, and took our coffees to our seats. The barista brought over our (pre-made) breakfasts to the table. Do you tip in this situation? What about when you get a coffee (or any food) to go? The machine prompted us to tip while paying, and while you’re able to bypass that option, I always feel weird about it!

In theory I don’t mind the idea of optionally tipping people who’ve gone above and beyond. It seems silly, though, that we have an unwritten rule that we should add 15-20% to a bill we receive, no matter what. Since many people working in the food service industry don’t earn minimum wage (glassdoor says $11/hour average, while MW is $13.85), they rely on tips. I don’t necessarily want to pay extra if they don’t do a great job, but I also want them to be able to earn a fair wage. I really don’t like it when restaurants or other establishments add a gratuity before they actually give you the service! This came up several times during the planning of our wedding, and while we ended up having an amazing experience and I was happy to tip, you can’t know that before the event happens!

The other night another friend was over for dinner, and I asked her what she thought. She reminded me that tipping seems to have expanded to other services, like your hairdresser, postal worker, or handyman (person). I haven’t done a lot of this- besides my hairdresser, I can’t think of anyone outside the food service industry who I would regularly think about tipping.

In general, if I have a good experience somewhere I find myself landing on 18% as a number for good service. I have, in an effort to push back a little bit against this culture, stopped tipping at cafes or other places where I don’t feel like I’ve received a service over and above what I think the person is paid for- ie if you pour me a drip coffee and hand me the machine to tap my card. I’ve looked for restaurants etc. that don’t charge an automatic gratuity for a group, but they’re pretty few and far between.

What do you do? Do you find tipping confusing? I really wish prices were just listed as they are!

Top photo from an amazing dinner at a little bistro in Paris- where I really can’t remember if we tipped!


  • Thuis Nieuwpoort
    January 20, 2020 at 7:21 am

    As you know in Belgium here are the prices all included taxes and tipping

  • Rudi
    January 20, 2020 at 7:22 am

    As you know in Belgium, here are the prices all included taxes and tipping


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