Deborah Stoll

Should you tip when your food is comp’d? Should you tip at a restaurant where you have to bus your own table? Should you tip a bartender for doing nothing more than fetching you a tallboy? Today we answer these questions, and all the questions you didn’t even know to ask in this Guide to Tipping Etiquette.

Fast Food

You never have to tip fast food workers—at most places, it’s truculently verboten—but you can support them by voting in lawmakers who’ll make sure they’re paid a living wage, and by boycotting the ones that won’t let their employees unionize.

Fast Casual Counter Joints

It depends. If you’re expected to bus your own table, you don’t need to tip. However, if an employee comes out and busses your table and refills your water and asks how everything is, you should definitely tip. But these days, it’s tough to tell, because you pay up front before you even know what service you’ll receive, if there even is any service to begin with. I’m also not sure how much you should tip, either. If you do get some form of service, I’d say tip at least 10 percent. But I’ll still probably tip 20 percent, because instincts.

Coffee Shops

If your barista pulls you an espresso shot or froths you some foam for your latte, yes, you should always tip. If they pour you a regular drip, it’s not necessary to tip, but it is appreciated. If you’re at a bakery’s coffee counter and all you want is a loaf of bread? No. Never. If you’re at a diner meeting someone for coffee, you better tip—and tip generously—for all those free refills and taking up real estate for just two bottomless cups of joe.


Should you tip when you order take-out from a sit-down spot? It’s up to you, but in most cases, that tip is gonna go straight into the pocket of the person making your food, and they’re worth far more than the wages they’re paid.

Delivery Drivers

Yes. Always. End of story. In fact, tip ’em 30 to 40 percent. They don’t just bring us food that we were too lazy to get ourselves, but they’re doing so with their own vehicle and sooner or later that vehicle—their very livelihood—is gonna end up in the shop and it’s gonna cost ’em to have it repaired. And drivers? If you’re tipped that well, we hope that you’re tipping out your line cooks at the end of the night.

Crowded Bars, Where You’re Ordering Only Tallboys

If you’re at a bar where you’re fighting for the bartender’s attention and you order a tallboy and all they did was fetch it and snap the cap on it, you should definitely tip at least a dollar. If you don’t, good luck getting a second beer in a timely fashion. This is an instance where service really does rule the day.

Gift Cards and Groupons

I’m not sure that Groupons are still a thing anymore—and I didn’t Google it to find out because I really don’t care, they were always terrible for business owners—but gift cards are still a thing. And if someone comes in with a $50 gift card and orders a $100 meal for two, they’d better tip on that $100 and not on the $50 they’ll see when they’re presented with the final discounted check.

Media Dinners

Hey friends: Here’s something you need to know and, frankly, it’s embarrassing that you don’t. If you’re invited to a media happy hour or dinner, and the drinks and food are comp’d, you still need to tip your server. I know most of you know it already, but a chef just told me that some of you don’t. This includes instances where the kitchen wants to impress you by sending you out a little something extra you didn’t ask for. Tip on that, too. This rule also applies to publicists. If you’re a PR person representing a restaurant, and you try a bunch of dishes so you can promote them to my peers and I, you should definitely leave a tip.

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And While We’re on the Topic...

Hey everybody bringing in your Starbucks to brunch spots: Stop doing that. It’s true, drinking your caffeinated sugar bomb instead of ordering a cappuccino from your server isn’t going to affect their earnings much right now, but in the long run it does because so many of you do this. Please stop. It’s rude AF and it makes you look like a) it never even occurred to you that this is gauche, or b) the rules don’t apply to you because you think the customer is always right and that you’re entitled to drink your Starbucks wherever you wish. Well, they’re not always right and you aren’t, either. Please stop doing this.

Everyone else? Keep being cool. Hope this helps.