No matter how much money a person makes, no matter how expensive their tastes, proper tipping etiquette is, without a doubt, one of life’s most invaluable social skills. No one is born knowing how to tip, but by the time we Americans become full-fledged, credit card-carrying grown-ups, capable of going on dates, hanging around in bars, and drinking three lattes before 8am, each of us is equally responsible for making sense of our country's bizarre compensation system. And it’s a headache.
There are, however, many out there who excel at the obligation. Because anything worth doing is worth doing right... especially when cold, hard cash is on the line.
They always carry cash...
In today’s economy, with Venmo and direct deposit and Square and Dogecoin and whatever new cash-killing cyborg technology is next, carrying actual paper money seems as antiquated and absurd as riding a bike sidesaddle. But in the service industry, cash still reigns supreme.
Cash is easy -- no swiper machine, pen, or WiFi required, no logging each tip in separately, and, most importantly, no taxes taken out up front. In every bar and restaurant I’ve ever worked in, credit card tips were tallied at the end of a shift and included in the nightly totals, meaningless numbers that didn’t translate into cash-in-pocket until I picked up that puny biweekly check that somehow still got decimated by taxes. Cash tips, on the other hand, we’re all mine come closing time, no questions asked. Even if a highly effective tipper drops plastic on the bill, they'll still leave cash on the table. It's the quickest way to a barkeep’s heart... especially if the goal is to become a regular.
... and respect discounts and comps
This is HUGE. Buybacks, free shots, happy-hour discounts -- when it comes time to settle, good tippers remember to count these pretty perks at full price and calculate gratuity accordingly. Just because the bar owner decided domestic pitchers should only cost $3 on Wednesdays doesn’t mean they’re suddenly easier to pull, pour, or wash. And just because that friendly bartender comped your last round of Lemon Drops doesn’t mean his time is suddenly worthless. Tips pay for the labor, not just the product.
They use their math skills
It doesn’t take a math whiz to figure out a quick and reliable way to calculate 20% of any given total. There are so many ways to do this. I like to round up to the nearest whole number and divide by five to get a general sense of what 20% might look like, then go slightly up or down from there depending on quality of service.
Other methods good tippers employ include moving the decimal point one place to the left then doubling it (i.e. $30.50 becomes $3.05, which then becomes $6.10), round the tax up to the nearest whole number then double it, setting up a proportion and cross-multiplying it middle school-style (20/100 = x/30.50 → 20 * 30.50 = 100x → 610 = 100x → 6.10 = x so a 20% tip is $6.10), and the list goes on (OK fine, only actual math geniuses use that last one). Whatever works for you, stick with it. Terrible math skills don’t just annoy 9th grade algebra teachers, they can also hurt your bartender (who, let’s face it, plays a MUCH bigger role in your life than Mr. Donnelly ever did).
They don’t discriminate
To highly effective tippers, service is service and labor is labor, whether it’s performed table side, at the bar or behind the espresso machine. The only difference between making a whiskey coke and whipping up a flat white is (hopefully) the time of day they’re ordered.
As a rule of thumb, tip on morning beverages just as you’d tip on evening ones: 15-20% of the total, more for complicated espresso drinks and less for drip coffee. And while most counter workers earn a marginally higher hourly wage than bartenders or servers, their tips are often shared but their work just as taxing. Tip jars aren’t just for bad puns.
They always tip after the bill is split...
Here’s the situation: you’re out with eight of your closest buddies. The drinks are flowing, the food is glorious, and you’re having the best time. Before you know it, the check comes and everyone reaches for their wallets, making cards, 20s, and “Bro, I promise I’ll Venmo you as soon as my paycheck clears” claims rain down on the table like a hurricane. Splitting a bill a zillion ways is never the highlight of anyone’s night, but it’s important to make sure everyone tips on their own cut -- including tips in pre-swipe calculations ups the possibility that someone’s going to stiff the server by accident, especially if multiple credit cards are involved. Good tippers slow it down, keep it simple, and save the tips for last.
... but also pay as they go
If you’re taking down pints at the bar, tipping cash on each beer is the safest way to make sure your money gets into the appropriate hands. What if the bartenders change shift and you’re mid-drink -- do you just pay it forward to the next guy? Or do you flag down the poor guy who’s desperately trying to GTFO just to awkwardly settle your tab? And if your friends finally show up and you all move to a table and you have to transfer your tab to the server are they just supposed to take the bartender’s cut of the tip? What is even going on here?? Highly effective tippers keep the dollars flowing throughout the night so they don't have to answer these dumb questions.
They pay attention to variables
It’s all too easy to simply tap the 10% or 15% button on that delivery app, but screwing over your delivery person benefits no one. A terrible tip doesn’t do much to incentivize speedy service, especially if the person carrying your curry has to contend with traffic, garbage weather and notoriously shady online payment systems.
Instead, people who tip well make like it’s 1999 and throw some extra cash on top of that pizza box. You should too -- you’ll probably see a big improvement in future wait times. This goes double -- Hell, triple -- if the weather outside is frightful.
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