Going out to eat isn't always as easy as sitting down and having food brought to you. You spend 15 minutes trying to decide between ordering the tacos or the burrito. Then, once your order is finally placed, before you can enjoy your wonderful meal, there's a huge problem you (and basically every customer) face: Should you tip at a self-serve or fast food-style restaurant, and if so, how much?

The Awkward Tipping Situation

To answer the question, I did a survey around my friends. Most said that unless the service fee is specified on the check, almost everyone hesitates when it comes to filling out the tip, especially at a self-serve or take-out restaurant. When the question of "Leave a tip?" shows up on an iPad screen and you really don't want to, the situation can get a little awkward.

Almost all self-serve restaurants have a tipping jar next to the cashier, and it's not uncommon for people to leave a tip because they feel pressured to. I usually leave my change if I have any, and do not tip if I use a credit card to pay.

In reality, for self-serve restaurants like a buffet, or when picking up takeout, most people don't usually leave a tip. This is because tipping is a way to thank the waiter/waitress for their efforts to make the customers as comfortable as possible. At self-serve restaurants, however, there lacks an interaction between customers and a server. 

So, Should You Actually Leave a Tip?

It may seem that the tipping culture is entirely pointless. However, at traditional restaurants, waiters and waitresses often bear a low hourly wage basis, and the majority of their income comes from tips. Tips, therefore, incentivizes them to work harder and serve with a better attitude, which would in turn bring in more customers for the restaurant.

On the other hand, self-serve restaurants typically pay their hires on a different scale, much higher than those in traditional restaurants, so it's less necessary to leave a tip.

The bottom line is, you shouldn't feel obliged to tip at a self-serve restaurant. It's more of a personal choice and habit rather than a set condition. Of course there are those people who always tip out of kindness or politeness, but most don't. Depending on the situation, if you feel the need to, you could leave some change or put down a few bucks to thank the cashier for his/her service, but just saying "thank you" is fine as well.