Tip Sheet

What Food Servers Wish We Knew About Gratuities

We asked servers about tipping etiquette.

By Cooper Levey-Baker October 1, 2018 Published in the October 2018 issue of Sarasota Magazine

How much should you actually be tipping?

Image: Shutterstock

The standards around how much to tip workers at bars and restaurants are in constant flux. Ever been flustered by the “suggested” tip amounts on the iPad at the coffee shop as the barista stares holes in your head? Ever felt unsure what to tip the bartender who prepares your to-go order? Ever been confused about what you should pay delivery drivers using all those new apps? We asked servers about tipping etiquette.

20 percent at restaurants?

Decades ago, the expected tip for a server at a sit-down restaurant was 10 percent, then that number crept up to 15. Today, it’s 20, but even that isn’t iron-clad.

At Demetrios’ Pizza House in Bradenton, how much you earn depends on how long you’ve been there and how many customers know your name. Suzy Orlean has worked there for 16 years. She says her tip average is between 18 and 20 percent during a typical shift. “I have a lot of regulars,” she says.

Denise Merchant has worked at the same restaurant for just three years and doesn’t have as many repeat customers. She earns somewhere between 10 and 15 percent. Like many eateries, Demetrios’ has suggestions for how much to tip at the bottom of its checks, with 15, 18 and 20 percent listed. “Most people choose 15 percent,” Merchant says.

Tip on takeout?

Byron Diamond, a manager at the Hillview Street Gecko’s Grill & Pub, points out that sometimes preparing a takeout order requires more work than waiting on a table. At Gecko’s, servers are responsible for double-checking all to-go orders and ensuring that the packages have necessary condiments and silverware—issues that can’t be easily fixed once the customer walks out the door. Because of that, Diamond says, you should be tipping the same on a to-go order as you do when you grab a table: 20 percent.

The coffee conundrum

At Kahwa Coffee Roasting in downtown Sarasota, roughly half the customers don’t tip, says manager Devin Borgwardt. The rate can vary whether someone is paying with cash or a credit card: Cash generates higher tips because people often just throw an extra dollar into the jar, while paying with a card lets the customer pick a specific percentage. A cup of plain coffee at Kahwa costs $1.80. Borgwardt says that even just tossing the 20 cents change you get when you pay $2 is appreciated.

Many customers also tip based on how difficult a drink is to make, paying more for a latte than, say, a cup of cold brew. But a lot of work that you don’t see at the coffee counter goes into making that cold brew, so don’t assume it’s less labor-intensive to make. Tip based on the price of the drink, Borgwardt advises, not how hard you see a barista working.

And then there’s delivery

Food delivery apps like Bite Squad, Grubhub and Uber Eats have shaken up the restaurant market, letting customers order in from restaurants that don’t offer their own delivery service. But nobody knows how much to tip drivers.

Evelyn Ruth has been delivering food for Bite Squad since January and says there’s no consistency to her tips. An order of soup might earn her a stack of cash from a grateful shut-in, while someone who orders $170 in sushi for a business meeting might drop just $5 in her digital tip jar. Bite Squad suggests tipping the same as a restaurant server—20 percent or $5, whichever is more. But Ruth doesn’t expect customers to follow the company line anytime soon. “It’s a little like the Wild West,” she says. “I don’t know if there will ever be a standard for tipping.” 

Sarasota servers are outearning many of their colleagues in other parts of the country:

$31,950 Mean annual wage for servers in the Sarasota area

$25,280 Mean annual wage for servers nationwide

$29,870 Mean annual wage for bartenders in the Sarasota area

$26,260 Mean annual wage for bartenders nationwide

$22,990 Mean annual wage for coffee shop workers in the Sarasota area

$22,539 Mean annual wage for coffee shop workers nationwide

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