How much should I tip? Fifteen, twenty, twenty-five percent? Do I even need to tip at all? You’re not alone if these questions haunt you every time you pay for your food or drink. Tipping is a complicated business. The awkward moment of slyly checking your iPhone calculator under the table is uncomfortable enough. But recently, it’s gotten even more difficult as restaurants change gratuity policies, fast-casual restaurants become more popular and restaurants move toward cashless payment.

A Little Bit of Background  

Tipping is complicated in the U.S., especially when compared to Europe, where service charge is included in the final bill. Why doesn’t America just follow Europe’s lead and make tipping easier? Surprisingly, tipping has historical roots here in the US. The tradition of tipping actually emerged out of slavery. Though slavery was abolished on paper in 1870,  freed slaves were still relegated to the lowest-paying jobs, allowing  employers to continue exploiting free labor as long as customers offered a tip.

Tipping is standard in America because the government sets a separate federal minimum wage for tipped workers that's lower than the standard minimum wage. The thinking is that tips compensate for a lower wage and equate to a similar total wage to non-tipped workers. So, as long as two minimum wages exist, tips play a huge role in workers earning a sustainable wage. 

Follow this handy guide to navigate your way through every tipping situation.

1. Sit-Down Restaurants

A couple years ago, this would have been the easiest category for tipping. But, thanks to restaurants changing up gratuity policies, things have gotten murky. Nowadays, sit-down restaurants break down into two categories:

a. The Traditional 

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This is the tipping process you’re probably most familiar with. These days, it is standard to tip 20% of your bill, with 15 being the absolute lowest you should go. Any tip below the fifteen mark is an insult to your waiter. Twenty percent isn’t a hard maximum, though. If your server treated you like a queen, it's perfectly acceptable (and encouraged) to go above 20 and let your server know they made your night.

b. The Gratuity-Included

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A handful of restaurants have been shifting to gratuity-included checks. When you’re at one of these places, you really don’t have to leave an extra tip. Because you’re so used to adding tip yourself, you might think the restaurant actually wants you to leave a couple extra dollars on the table before walking out. But they really don’t! Seriously, once you pay the amount printed on your receipt, you’re done. Again, if your service went above and beyond expectations, an extra fiver never hurt anybody. 

Fast-Casual Restaurants

We obviously all love our local Chipotles and Sweetgreens, but tipping at one of these places isn't standard. You’re moving pretty fast down a line, so your interaction with an employee may be short. And, since table service isn’t a thing at these places, it’s easy to forget to slip a tip at the register even if you intend to. Tipping isn’t mandatory, but with someone who just made your meal right in front of you, a tip is a nice token to show your appreciation.

Coffee Shops

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This category is by far the most complicated. The amount of effort required of your barista to make your drink drastically differs based on your order. For a pour over, all they have to do is flip a switch and hand over your cup. But for espresso drinks like lattes and cappuccinos, the barista has to pull a shot, foam the milk just right and top off the pour with an aesthetic latte art finish. A tip isn’t necessary for a basic drip, but leaving a dollar or two for your extra foamy, triple-shot latte might be the right move.

Nowadays, a lot of coffee shops have light, breakfasty food options on their menus. If you end up pairing your espresso with some grub, tip like you would for a dish at a restaurant.

Food Trucks

Food trucks are a lot like fast-casual restaurants, just on wheels. Tipping at a food truck isn’t mandatory since service is limited to taking your order and calling your name when the food is ready. Earning revenue is difficult for food trucks because their business survives on one-off interactions. Therefore, tipping a dollar or two is a great way to show support for the hard work and entrepreneurship that goes into running a food truck


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If you’re not ordering a cocktail, all you have to remember is three letters, DPD, “dollar per drink.” But when you’re in the mood for a fancier cocktail, tipping 20 percent is a handy rule. There’s a lot of learning and effort that goes into making a cocktail. Your bartender couldn’t just whip up that cosmo without a whole bunch of mixology training and preparation. 

Delivery Services

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Whether it’s Postmates, UberEats or your local Thai spot’s own delivery person, tipping is inarguable here. Even though they didn’t make your food, your meal is in your hands because someone buckled up, drove, ordered your food and then drove to your location. Tipping 15 to 20 percent is a good rule of thumb to follow. For small orders, where 20% might be 50 cents, a two or three dollar tip is courtesy. These deliverers go through the hell of traffic so you can keep on Netflix-ing, so don’t be uptight about the tip.

At the end of the day, if the person who made or handed you your food went out of his or her way to make your eating experience great, tipping a generous amount is an easy way of saying thank you. If they made you smile, why not share the love by tipping well to make them smile too.