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How much should you tip?

Think you're smarter than a fifth-grader? Calculate the appropriate tip for this meal.

By MSN Money Partner Apr 15, 2011 9:21AM

This post comes from Len Penzo at partner blog Len Penzo dot Com.


By the time kids leave the fifth grade, they should know how to calculate simple percentages, which is one of the most critical mathematical tools we have at our disposal after we become adults.


Well, at least it is for those of us who enjoy eating at fine-dining establishments but aren't willing to trust our waiter to suggest the appropriate tip for services rendered.


That being said, let's assume for a moment that I am a waiter. (Hey, if I get laid off, it may become reality one day.)  Post continues after video.

Anyway, let's say I seat four adults for dinner at the same table who wish to pay for their meals with separate checks. Let's also assume that all four diners order the exact same thing to eat and drink, and that they experience the exact same quality of food and service. I then give each of them their bills (with identical totals).


OK, Len, what's your point?


I strongly suspect that even though the service, food and orders were identical for everyone, I'd stand a better chance of being declared People's Sexiest Man Alive than getting the exact same tip from everybody.


Don't believe me?


Here's a little tipping experiment

What follows is a different hypothetical scenario.  After reading it, can you tell me how much the tip should be?


The scenario:

  • You've just had dinner at a neighborhood restaurant you go to several times a year. (For the purposes of this experiment, let's assume it's similar to a Chili's or Applebee's.)
  • The service was average; there were no major flubs by your waiter, but it wasn't excellent service.
  • The food was good, except for the side salad, which was terribly wilted. It was graciously taken off the bill by the manager.
  • At the end of your meal, you are presented with the following itemized bill:

Coke  $2.95
Potato skins $7.95
Side salad $4.95
Side salad   -$4.95  (Comp.)
Cheeseburger $11.95
Chocolate Lava Cake $4.95
Subtotal: $27.80
Tax: $2.22

Total: $30.02

  • After agreeing with the bill's total, you choose to pay with your credit card.

So, are you smarter than a fifth-grader?

Again, I want to know what the tip should be. Obviously, there is no right answer here -- everybody is different when it comes to tipping -- but I am really curious to see just how varied the tip amounts would be for this experiment.

Of course, this experiment will be a major flop if I don't get at least four readers to participate (but the more the merrier) -- so I'm counting on you to not leave me hanging.


Enter your answer in the comments below -- and remember, you're on your honor not to look at any other reader answers until after you've submitted your own. Besides, the last thing you need is to see my ugly mug one day soon on the cover of People.


More from Len Penzo dot Com and MSN Money:

Apr 15, 2011 4:09PM
$6 - approx 20%--  My rule of thumb is move the decimal on the total to the left on place, double it and round to the nearest dollar
Apr 15, 2011 3:48PM

For so-so service, I'll do 15% pre-tax;  good service gets 20%+ rounded up

May 11, 2011 5:38PM
$7.00.  YOu should tip on subtotal of bill including the salad that you got for free.  Bill around $32.00 pre tax.   That would be about $6.40.  I would round up to $7.00.  If service is great, I give more.  A couple of dollars to me is not as important as a couple to your server.
May 12, 2011 1:19AM
I would tip $7.00.  For simplicity's sake, when calculating, I round up to the nearest dollar and do 20% of the pre-tax amount, in this case allowing for the inclusion of the side salad as well.  Service has to be horrible for me to do 15% and I would never do less than that.  It doesn't matter to me how the quality of the food is, since that's not the server's fault.
May 11, 2011 9:40PM
The tp should be $6.00. I always tip 20% regardless, unless the service and food is terrible, and the last time I ran into that was 45 years ago.
Apr 15, 2011 9:28PM
I always take care of my servers (I Think). Especially in places I frequent often. They're handling my food! I would leave $7.00 on this bill. I usually give 20% of pre-tax total for average service. I always calculate back in promos, coupons and the item being comped, which I've usually eaten some of anyway. In places where the prices are exceptionally low, or checks are low for meals like breakfast I tend to go higher with the %.
Apr 15, 2011 9:32AM
If the service was good, I would tip $5.50 (about 20% pre-tax).  If it was just ok I would tip $4.20 (about 15% pre-tax).
Jul 2, 2012 4:20PM

7.50 20% of bill including comp.


Jul 3, 2012 1:39PM
You should tip 15-20% off of the original subtotal including the comped dish. Subtotal: $32.75

Dec 7, 2011 1:33PM
What you may not realize is the employees for those (disgusting) fast food restaurants you frequent are being paid minimum wage. The service staff at a sit down restaurant is only paid $2.00 per hour, because tips are considered part of pay. This assumption is not by the establishment, but BY THE STATE. Not only that, servers and bar staff pay taxes on YOUR BILL, regardless of tip. That said, when you throw a couple dollars, maybe 15%, you are only covering what the server is already being taxed on. Tipping is not a gift, it's a surcharge on eating out. I wish I could stiff my doctor because I thought his thermometer was cold. Actually, no I don't.
Jul 14, 2011 10:10AM
worked in the service industry FOREVER- casinos over 20 years, and restaurants before that. I have been stiffed by doctors and lawyers everyday, and joe T-shirt is my most beloved patron. If you are an adult, you KNOW things.  I wonder if I can utilize some accountant's expertise, and simply waltzz out of the office-GRATIS??? DIDNT THINK SO! I even taks care of my sister(CPA)  should I need her help  (gas her car...) we all gotta eat. If you are a stiff, stay home. Annoy yourself, and enjoy your own company. I wont EVER willingly patronize any customer that cant share- after all; they dont directly take care of me!! any manager that has forgotten where they came from needs to do a 90 day stint on the front lines again. then they MIGHT remember. Never to disresspect- that is soooooo unprofessional, simply never darken their doorstep. with all my co-workers, AND their BFF's. and their checkbooks. a little goes a VERY long way. 
Sep 19, 2012 8:47PM
$6  20% of (rounded) $30).  Double and move the decimal point.
Apr 15, 2011 12:07PM
This is a tough one. Do you include the side salad in the amount you are basing your tip on? The waiter did bring it to you. On the other hand, the waiter should have noticed that it was wilted. I'd say it shouldn't be included as a result. I'd also go with 20% on the rest. However, I live in a state without sales tax, so I'm not sure what's customary. Do you base your tip on the total amount including the tax or excluding the tax?
May 31, 2012 10:05AM
I was a waiter 30 years ago working myself through university at various restaurants. At the time the standard was 10%. Shortly thereafter it became 15% pre tax. This decade I'm hearing it's 15% after tax (I'm in Canada and sales tax in Canada is aprox 15%). Now I'm hearing it's 20%. But I'm also noticing some strange trends, at least in my social circle. One is most of the women, wives in our group are very quick to point out how the bill after tax and tip is not worth it, and suggest eating in at someone's place where everyone contibutes. Another is if men are deciding on the tip, they will tip a woman server more than a man, and they will tip smiles and friendliness to a much greater extent than actual service. I also notice more and more restaurants have the waitresses wear short skirts and are obviously hiring based on looks. I notice if I'm out with my male friends, we get one of these female servers as our waitress, but often if we're out as couples and mixed company we get provided a male waiter.  I wonder where all this is going in the future? If tipping in the future was expected to be 25% thats one quarter of the bill. What about one third?
Sep 19, 2012 11:14PM
i bought a new truck ,100 mile away dealer ,gave the young man and his wife 50 bucks and his dad called and said that was first tip he got in 5 years of delivering new vehicles damage free
Jul 3, 2012 5:04PM

tipping?..the housekeeper? really?


i would not tip the housekeeper for the same reason i would not tip the toll boother operator, the 7/11 clerk, the bowling alley guy that assigns my lane, the theater ticket taker guy, the policeman/woman that prtects and serves, the hotel checkin clerk, the fry cook at Wendy's. they all have a job just like me. we all do our job, get paid, go home and do it all over again. no one tips me and i am not crying myself to sleep everynite. the sofisticated countries in this world thinks tipping is bad manners and certainly not called for and i agree.

i have a tip for you: "Plant your corn early." and stop planting your weak guilt trips on us that totally have more sense than to throw what little money we have out the window.



Aug 13, 2012 3:29PM

$5.00-For simplicity sake I double the tax and then round up to the nearest dollar.  I would not tip on the wilted salad since i did not eat it.  I should not have been served it in the first place. Why do we tip at the end of a meal?  I thought TIP stood for 'To Insure Perfection'.

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