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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 19, 2011 1:18PM
It would depend where I go, living on the border of 2 states where wage and tax makes a difference. In one state, tips cannot be a part of the wage and the min. wage is $2.50 higher than the other state where tips are part of the wage. So worker A automatically gets more money for minumim wage plus tips, worker B gets a lower than minimum wage and tips must make up the difference. Worker A has a higher tax rate on my bill too. So at Applebee's the bill is higher where Worker A is because of tax, but Worker B depends more on a larger tip. So I guess if they are providing the same amount of service, Worker B gets a higher tip.
Apr 16, 2011 3:11AM
  First of all, if I actually ate all that stuff, I would be more worried about what my cardiologist would say than what to tip the waiter.  But, Average service, average tip 15%, four of five bucks.  I'm serious.  If I went to Mcdonalds and got a burger I wouldn't be expected to tip anything.  And, comparing to Applebees, it would likely be better as well.  Do Applebees employs deserve a tip any more than the folks at Windy's or Subway? 
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 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

Apr 15, 2011 12:18PM
$7...a little more than 20% on $30.  The extra change would mean little to us, but if everyone did that for their servers, the college kid, single mom, or whoever has to do this work in these places might have an easier go of it. 
Apr 15, 2011 12:10PM
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?
Apr 15, 2011 9:54AM
$2 -- If you "get what you pay for", conversly; you shouldn't let people believe that they "get"  w/o giving!
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).
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