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Holiday Tipping Survey: How Much Do You Give?

By Kelly Dobkin
December 9, 2013

The holiday season can be a source of tipping anxiety. With so many people in your life to buy presents for (and tip when appropriate), deciding how much to gift can be tricky. Also, while we're talking about gratuity, how do people feel about the current tipping system in restaurants? After many restaurant industry bigwigs and writers spoke out against the practice earlier this year, we decided to poll diners to see how they felt about a salary-based compensation system for servers. Check out the enlightening results of our 2013 Annual Tipping Survey below.

  • The current system: yay or nay?

    This year Slate and the New York Times ran editorials about overhauling America's restaurant tipping system, with big name chefs and restaurateurs Tom Colicchio, Danny Meyer and David Chang all speaking out that a change in the current system is needed. Pete Wells of the NY Times argued that our system is broken because it's not a motivator for staff to work harder, as it's popularly believed. (High-end NYC restaurant Sushi Yasuda eradicated tipping for this reason recently.)

    So now for the money question (no pun intended). How does your tip change if you receive bad service? 43% said they would leave 5% less, 29% said 10% less, 7% said it wouldn't alter their typical tip and 6% said 'no tip' at all. So it looks like, for now, service is still affecting the amount of tip being left in restaurants and hence, should be a motivator for staff to do a good job.

    Also, when it came to changing our current system, we asked respondents how they would feel about a no-tipping policy if it meant higher menu prices? 28% said 'hate it' 34% said 'not sure,' 21% said 'love it' and 17% said 'like it but only in upscale restaurants. So there's still a large contingent that is unsure and against overhauling the system. 

  • Tipping on the tax in restaurants

    The longstanding debate: Do you tip on the pre-tax total or the post-tax total? Our data revealed that most people tip post-tax (57%) as opposed to pre-tax (43%). Also the post-tax tip was more common in the South and Midwest (both at 64%) than in the Northeast (55%) or West (54%). Also men are slightly more likely to tip pre-tax (44%), while only 41% of women do this.  

  • Photo by: Linnea Covington

    Wine and discounts

    If you've ever ordered an expensive bottle of wine and wondered if you should factor the full value of the wine into your tip, well, so have we. We asked surveyors this questions and found that most people didn't know what to do (34%), 24% found it appropriate to tip on the full value of the bottle, and only 21% found it inappropriate, with another 21% saying it depends on a sommelier's assistance. Guess there's no standard practice for wine tipping on the consumer front. The confusion continues...

    What about tipping on on discounted meal via Google Offers or Groupon? We asked diners whether or not they tip on the meal pre-discount or post-discount. 75% said they tipped pre-discount with only 7% responding that they tipped post-discount. Good to hear that those hard-working servers are being taken care of.

  • Does good or bad service affect your tip?

    Now for the question of the hour, what factors the size of your tip? When it comes to what affects tip most, attentiveness of server was the #1 factor (49%) that affected the amount of the tip. Next up was the level of friendliness (21%) and problem with an order and resolution at 9%. 

    When asked "are you likely to tip more if..." attentiveness won out again, with 80% saying that this would cause them to tip more, 38% said they would tip more if it was their 'regular server,' 32% said if they got something for free and 22% said if they were impressed by the quality of the food.

  • Greasing the host

    Ever slipped the maitre'd a $20 in hopes of getting a table faster? (Cue the awkward Larry David moments.) We asked surveyors if they've ever tried to tip a front-of-house staff member in hopes of getting seated faster (or a better table) and 74% said a resounding "no." 22% said "yes and I got what I wanted" and 4% said "yes and it didn't work." Men also have made this move more than women with 81% of ladies saying they've never tried the technique vs. 69% of men.

  • Coat check and delivery 

    How much do you tip the coat check staffer? 41% said only $1 per coat, 26% said $2 and 25% said they don't check their coat. Glad we're not the only cheapskates...

    As for food delivery folks, 52% said they tipped a percentage of the total amount ordered (averaging 14.2%), while 32% they left a flat dollar amount regardless of the total, (averaging $4.52). Not too shabby!

  • How much (and who) are you tipping this holiday season?

    When it comes to the holiday tip of choice, cash is king when tipping professional service providers. 70% give straight cold hard cash while 26% give a gift certificate or card and 25% give a bottle of wine or spirits. 

  • Average Tips

    As for average tip amount, the biggest grats are still going to nannies but the average amount has decreased from 2012. Check out the rest in the infographic above.

  • Which service personnel do you plan to tip?

    47% said they were planning to tip their housekeeper/maid, 47% said mailman/postman, 41% said hairdresser/stylist, 40% said the paper boy, and 24% said the garbage collector.

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