Illustration: Andrew Rae
This tipping advice is part of our larger guide to behaving in polite society right now.
It is now almost impossible to make any sort of purchase without being confronted with a Square screen asking for 15, 20, or 25 percent. And not just for a coffee: Buying a water bottle at the deli or crackers at a specialty grocery store now sometimes also prompts the option. This might irritate or confuse you, but the reality is there are new social expectations around what deserves a tip. Here is what they are.
At restaurants, the previous range of socially acceptable and ethically expected tips was 15 to 20 percent; now, it’s 20 to 25. This goes for whether you’re at an Olive Garden or I Sodi and whether you liked the service or not. (Tips are often pooled; don’t punish the entire staff because your fish didn’t come out in a timely fashion.) The higher your disposable income, the more you should tip, but anything under 20 percent is rude. Blame this on inflation, COVID, the heightened awareness of the fact that more than half your servers’ salary probably comes from tips. It’s just the rules; don’t complain.
At coffee shops, coffee carts, cafés, and bodegas, tip at least 20 percent. Even though their pay isn’t as tip dependent as waiters’, the average salary for a barista in New York is just above minimum wage. And like waiters, baristas are often preparing complicated orders in a tense environment. If your order is only coffee, you may tip $1. If you’re buying an item that involves no preparation (a bottle of water, a muffin), it is acceptable, though miserly, to not tip.
For food delivery, tip a minimum of $5, or 20 percent, whichever is greater, and even more in bad weather. Because delivery workers are categorized as independent contractors, their employers don’t have to pay them minimum wage. And per a recent survey from the Worker’s Justice Project and the Worker Institute at Cornell, the median hourly wage for app delivery workers in New York is only $7.94 an hour, or $12.21 with tips. Also, given the history of tips not always making it into the delivery person’s hands, tip in cash whenever possible.
When picking up takeout at a restaurant, it’s easy to understand why you might not tip anything — but you must tip at least 10 percent. A takeout order interrupts the flow of the other work required of servers and hosts who are dependent on tips.
At a bar, the conventional wisdom stands: Tip at least $1 per drink if you’re just getting a beer and 20 percent for a cocktail.
If you’re at a food counter — a cheese shop, a deli counter, or a fast-casual lunch spot where employees are telling you about the items, slicing, or mixing you a grain bowl — you must tip something if prompted. Ideally 10 percent. At BKLYN Larder, for instance, the tip pool is divided among the employees who are paid hourly, which means that instead of making minimum wage ($16 an hour), they now take home around $21 an hour.
Tip Uber drivers the same way you’d tip a cabdriver — at least 20 percent. The Uber app can make adding a tip feel like an afterthought, but it shouldn’t be. According to new data from the Taxi & Limousine Commission, Uber drivers earn substantially less in fares and tips than taxi drivers (plus Uber takes more than a 25 percent cut of fares).
For everything else — hairstylists, waxers, movers — tip 20 percent minimum. And, always, more if you can.