Last month, Eater Atlanta asked readers how much they are tipping at restaurants and on takeout and delivery right now, and if the pandemic and economic downturn have changed their views on tipping. Nearly 66 percent of respondents polled claim they are tipping more overall than before the health crisis began in an effort to support Atlanta’s service industry workers.
Leaving a 20 percent tip before tax is considered the gold standard at full-service restaurants in the U.S. Tipped employees, such as servers and bartenders, make a minimum of $2.13 an hour in states like Georgia. As restaurants and bars continue struggling to navigate the financial upheaval of the last eight months, how much diners are tipping the industry’s workforce for services has become of paramount importance.
Prior to the pandemic, 52.4 percent of Atlanta diners surveyed claim to have tipped between 11 and 20 percent on average while dining in at restaurants, depending on the level of service provided. Now, 43 percent of respondents say they are tipping over 21 percent on their meals at restaurants, with 14 percent of those surveyed claiming to tip more than 30 percent.
“I tip much more during the pandemic than I did before. I am grateful to these restaurant workers for putting themselves in harm’s way so that I can eat a meal I did not cook,” a respondent commented. “I want these independent restaurants to survive, and I want their staff to earn a living wage.”
“Servers already have a challenging job. Many of them were safe at home and possibly earning more on unemployment and are now risking their lives daily while dealing with new challenges (hi, non-maskers and patrons who don’t understand a pandemic means new safety protocols,)” another person added.
Close to 27 percent of people surveyed are not currently dining out. But comments left by these respondents claim they tip 20 percent or more on takeout from restaurants in order to continue supporting their favorite establishments.
Some people who responded to the survey still believe tips are tied to the amount of service they receive at a restaurant, regardless of the pandemic. “If I dine-in at a place where the service model changed to fast causal, I tip less because I am receiving net less service,” one person said. Another added that they tip more but are “less patient with bad service in empty restaurants.” One respondent boldly proclaimed, “I do not get service therefore no reason to tip.”
For many respondents to Eater’s survey, the biggest change in their tipping habits seems to be in the amount of gratuity given for takeout and delivery. Nearly 45 percent of the people polled claim to tip between 11 and 20 percent for takeout service during the health crisis, with 47 percent of people tipping similarly on delivery.
“I used to not tip on takeout (I would tip on delivery and on table service at restaurants). Now I tip on takeout and delivery,” a person responded. Several people who left comments said they are tipping more on takeout and delivery overall to make up for lost income stemming from low volume or mostly empty dining rooms. “Previously, I did not tip quite as much for takeout since I wasn’t receiving table service. I now tip as if I were dining in.”
When asked about the differences in tipping on takeout and delivery versus dining in at a restaurant, a respondent said, “Because at a restaurant, I am provided table service, which warrants a tip. For delivery, the driver also provides a service but I also pay the restaurant for delivery, so the tip is smaller. For takeout, no service is provided, so no tip is warranted.” Another person said, “Handing food over a counter is not the same as waiting on a table.”
A few Atlanta restaurants, like 8ARM, have begun to add a 20-percent service charge to checks, which is distributed between the front- and back-of-house staff. Diners are still encouraged to leave an additional tip for their servers and bartenders on top of the service charge. A tip line is typically listed below the service charge on checks.
The move comes as restaurant and bar industry workers begin pushing employers, hospitality unions, and local and state officials for fair and equitable wages and a higher minimum wage, contenting that tipping continues to perpetuate the growing pay gap between front- and back-of-house employees.
When asked if restaurants should eliminate voluntary tipping and institute a 20-percent gratuity to checks, 51 percent of people polled answered NO, with 49 percent in favor of implementing a flat service charge. Again, responses to this question from people not in favor of eliminating tipping are tied to service.
“I view tipping based on quality of service, mandatory figure feels like it would lower quality of service,” a person wrote. Another respondent added that they prefer voluntary tipping because they feel without that option, service would suffer because the staff knows they will be compensated regardless of the quality.
“The level of service a server provides should dictate how much that server is tipped. I will do less than 20% if my server has a negative attitude or is flat out rude,” a commenter said. “With a nice attitude and accommodating service, my server will always get a 20% tip at the very least, sometimes more.”
However, for some people polled it simply comes down to paying service industry workers a living wage, even if that means passing on the cost to diners by raising prices on the menu in order for employees to make more per hour.
“I’d prefer to be in control of that [tip] line, but am comfortable with restaurants raising prices to make more positions livable,” one person commented.
“The whole system of tipping is unfair to employees,” said a respondent. “Until the government mandates proper minimum wages, mandatory gratuity is something that can help close the gap.” Another person pointed to the pay disparities between front- and back-of-house employees, “Kitchen staff should be tipped staff (not just waiters/host positions). If the only way to do that is a flat service charge, we should do that.”
One person surveyed provided a bit of financial advice for Atlanta diners to consider.
“If you don’t have money to tip, you don’t have money to eat out.”
Restaurant workers: Eater Atlanta wants to hear from you. If you are back to work, how has it been? Are the tips better, worse, or the same? Are patrons wearing masks? Do you feel your employer takes your safety seriously? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please let us know if you wish to remain anonymous.