When you eat out, it’s common etiquette to leave a tip of 15% to 20%, according to experts.
However, a survey by the Pew Research Center, which asked 11,945 adults in the U.S., found that almost 1 in 5 people (18%) tip less than 15% for a regular meal at a sit-down restaurant. Another 2% don’t leave any tip at all. Surprisingly, 37% of respondents consider 15% as their usual tip.
Drew DeSilver, one of the study’s authors, expressed surprise at discovering that over half of the people surveyed (57%) tip 15% or less. He mentioned that the United States has a more widespread tipping culture compared to many other countries, but there’s a significant lack of agreement about it.
Pew Research Center has not conducted surveys on tipping trends in the past, so it’s not clear how these percentages have changed over the years.
Why Consumers Are Getting Tip Fatigue
Americans are more inclined to leave a tip when they have a sit-down meal compared to other services. According to Bankrate, two-thirds of U.S. adults always tip their server when dining. The Pew survey indicates that 81% consistently tip for a restaurant meal, a higher percentage than those who tip for services like haircuts, food delivery, purchasing a drink at a bar, or using a taxi or ride-hailing service.
In 2023, etiquette expert Diane Gottsman suggested tipping between 15% to 20% for sit-down restaurant service.
However, studies show that there’s a recent decline in tip amounts, possibly due to “tip fatigue.” For instance, the average tip at full-service restaurants nationwide dropped to 19.4% of the total bill in the second quarter of 2023. The lowest since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to data from Toast.
The percentage of individuals who consistently tip restaurant waitstaff decreased by 4 points from 2019 to 2022, as reported by Bankrate.
Michael Lynn, a professor at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and an authority on consumer behavior and tipping, commented, “People’s inclination to tip, even in restaurant situations, is decreasing.”
In the initial stages of the pandemic, Americans became more generous with tipping, viewing it as a way to support service workers and their employers. However, according to Lynn, they are now becoming frustrated.
He explained, “You can understand why: We’re being asked to tip in situations and for services that traditionally didn’t involve tipping. Additionally, the suggested tip amounts are higher.”
This increase in tip prompts is referred to as “tip creep.” It coincides with a period of pandemic-induced inflation, reaching levels not seen in four decades, putting a strain on household budgets.
Tipping is a Way to Purchase Social Approval
Addressing the issue of tip amounts, Lynn noted that a challenge stems from the absence of a “centralized authority” to establish norms.
Pew reports that a majority of individuals, 77%, consider service quality a “major factor” when deciding whether and how much to tip.
Nevertheless, according to Lynn, service is not a robust predictor of consumer behavior. Social approval, coming from dining companions, waitstaff, and others, plays a much more significant role.
Lynn expressed it as, “We’re essentially purchasing approval” through tips.
Only 23% of those surveyed by Pew identified social pressure as a major influencing factor.
How much people tip when dining out in the U.S. varies. Many tip less than the usual 15-20%, and there’s a growing sense of fatigue around tipping. The decline in tip percentages and the trend of “tip fatigue” suggest a change in how people approach tipping. Social approval seems more important than service quality, making it tricky to set clear tipping standards.