The tipping point: Who pays the highest gratuities?

September 24, 2018

Are you a soft touch or are you stingy when it comes to tips?

Many Americans think that restaurants should pay their waitstaffs a living wage—and stop relying on customers to ante up at the end of a meal. But, until eateries start to offer higher salaries, most patrons will continue to reward servers for their prompt and patient assistance—or lack thereof—when the check is delivered.

A recent survey of more than over 2,200 U.S. adults conducted by CivicScience found that the majority (66%) of diners think that a tip between 15% and 20% is “good,” while roughly one-quarter would offer more for satisfactory service. About 7% of respondents said they believe that a tip under 15% is “good”— and only a small percentage of the population omits the tip entirely.

Roughly 75% of survey participants said that they tip based on the service they receive at a restaurant. While this doesn’t tell us if they tip more or less than the recommended range, we do know that it means uncertainty for waitstaff nationwide. It also shows that the vast majority of Americans don’t follow a standard protocol for tip percentages.

CivicScience found several correlations around American tipping culture—specifically by age, gender, income, and region.

Gen Xers represent nearly half of the consumers who consider less than 15% to be a good tip. But, they also are the most likely to think that more than 20% is a good tip–making this demographic group the most inconsistent when it comes to tipping. Fully 39% say tips vary based on service; while 29% and 32% of Millennials and Baby Boomers, respectively, can say the same.

The 15% to 20% camp is distributed evenly across all generations; however, Baby Boomers are the most likely (39%) to leave gratuities within this range.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is that Millennials the are most likely leave no tip at all. Over half of non-tippers are Millennials. When asked, they are the most likely to comment that tipping should become obsolete.

What’ more, there is a gender divide when it comes to tipping. U.S. women are much more likely to think that less than 15% is sufficient. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to consider tips over 20% as the proper reward.

And it is no surprise that income plays a role in tipping: Of people who think a tip less than 15% is good, 48% make under $50,000 annually, before taxes. What is actually shocking is that, of people who don’t tip at all, 60% make $100,000+ annually before taxes.

Finally, CivicScience found that people in the Northeast are more likely to think a tip of over 20% is good—and Southerners are the least likely consider that a tip higher than 20% is good. Of people who don’t tip, the largest group is Midwesterners at 42%.

Of people who tip the same percentage at all times,, 43% live in the Northeast. People who live out West, however, are more likely to tip based on service.

Research contact: kaitlinaugustine@civicscience.com

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