Tipping 101: How and when to tip

Photo: Sam Truong Dan

There’s some debate about tipping so we found some “tips” on the matter. (Photo: Sam Truong Dan // Unsplash.com)

Table of Contents

It seems like a simple concept—receive good service and provide a little extra monetary compensation for it. 💰

But tipping is often more complicated than that because there aren’t really specific guidelines that everyone follows.

Most everyone can agree that it’s expected to tip at a sit-down meal in the United States (other countries have different habits), but that still doesn’t mean everyone does it.

A local server told us, “We got a tip the other night that said, ‘Sorry, I’m broke.’”

Although most people we talked to agreed that a 20% tip is the norm for a sit-down meal, some said that varies depending on the quality of the service.

And what about other services? Takeout, valet, salon, Uber drivers? What about a small purchase, like a cup of coffee or a single beer? 🚗 ☕🍺

We reached out to Chattanoogans and members of the service industry on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and via email, and we talked to a local labor law attorney to compile a guide to help you out.

The law

Although some states have laws that govern tipping, Tennessee doesn’t, so it comes down to federal law, local labor law attorney Dan Gilmore said.

💸 The U.S. Department of Labor outlines that tipped employees are people who make more than $30 a month in tips.

💸 Those employees can be paid as little as $2.13 an hour and the assumption is that tips will make up for that low payment.

💸 If a tipped employee doesn’t make enough through tips to reach minimum wage, the employer has to make up the difference.

“You’re at least going to get minimum wage from people who tip or your employer,” Gilmore said.

A local server told us that this requirement isn’t always met. Check out the “From the experts’ mouths” section for more on that.

💸 In 2018, the law changed so that employers can require servers/bartenders to split their tips with people who don’t usually get them. In that case, the employer has to pay everyone minimum wage. For example, if the employer requires servers to split the tips with the back-of-house cooks, then they must make it so that everyone gets minimum wage. (Everyone would be getting less in tips, but guaranteed minimum wage).

“I don’t see that happening much; it used to happen more,” Gilmore said.

💸 It’s more common that servers split with the other public-facing employees, such as bartenders or hostesses. In this case, the employer only has to make up the difference if the employee doesn’t hit the minimum wage target with their tips.

Food + bev

The majority of our readers agreed that 20% is an appropriate minimum to tip for a sit-down meal. 🍜

But local server and college student Peter Salvato, who has worked in the industry for about three years, said—despite this unofficial rule—he sees most people tipping about 15%.

OK. Cool. 👍

But what about small purchases, like a cup of coffee? ☕ If you tipped 20% on a $3 cup of coffee, that’d be 60 cents.

Chattanooga barista Chloe Russell, who has worked in the service industry for about four years, said that, generally, people tip $1 for a cup of coffee. Several other readers and at least one other person in the service industry agreed this is a common, best practice.

Chloe noted that she doesn’t rely on tips as much as servers who are only making $2.13 an hour.


“Coffee? Way too varied levels of service, locations, and experience to give a simple answer. Panera is not Mad Priest is not Milk & Honey.” —@GrackleOak

The Food Network has a solid article that evaluates the variables on whether to tip your barista.

🍻 Answers about how to tip for alcohol varied.

Chloe explained her rationale for tipping on alcohol.

“If my bill is small, as in $1 or $2-beers, I try to still tip around $3-5 to make it worth the bartender’s time,” she said. “Otherwise, I could buy a six-pack and sit at home. In this setting, I expect to pay a tip because I am paying for the experience of being out at a bar, where people work to make a living, as opposed to my own home.”

So, there isn’t as much of a consensus about drinks. 🤷 Vogue has a guide for tipping bartenders, but we want to hear more from you.

Continue to weigh in on all this on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Or you can always email us at hello@noogatoday.com.

Salon services

The consensus on this one was to tip at least 20%, although @jonathankraftrealtor said he does 10%, but joked that it’s because he doesn’t have much hair.

And there may be other aspects to consider, such as the business model. Is the stylist working on commission or paying to rent out a booth in a salon?

Glamour has a roundup of information on this.

Drivers, valet

We didn’t get much feedback about how to tip Uber/Lyft drivers. The companies each outline how their drivers are paid. Check Uber here and Lyft here.

So, where are our ridesharing drivers? 🚗 We want to hear from you.

Perhaps this topic deserves a separate article because it still seems unclear. Hit us up on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter or email hello@noogatoday, please.

A couple people said that $2 for a valet driver is an acceptable tip.

Peter has worked as a valet and provided more insight.

At the Marriott, he made $5 an hour, plus tips. So that’s more than servers make, but not yet minimum wage. But his shifts as a valet were longer than one as a server.


“Valets, unless working on the slowest day imaginable, rarely make less than $8 an hour combined, and receive more consistent tips,” he said. “This is most likely due to the fact that the clientele is typically a little wealthier on average, and because psychologically the valets are handling some of their greatest assets (their nice cars).”


Some people said they don’t tip hotel housekeeping at all. Some said they only do if the room is trashed. 🗑️

One person said they only tip if it’s a multi-stay night. A couple people said they tip at least $2 a night, while some said it never occurred to them to tip housekeeping.

The American Hotel and Lodging Association suggests $1 to $5 a night, but the New York Times reported that fewer than a third of hotel guests leave anything.


“I lived a lot of years before I realized tipping hotel housekeepers was even a thing. I now tip them $2+ dollars per person, per day, depending on the mess I leave. Housekeeping is an extremely physical, exhausting, way underpaid and often extremely nasty job.” — Kristi D.


Although we received a ton of feedback, not many people weighed in on tipping delivery drivers.

@misscaitlina said she does 10–15%.

So, what about the rest of y’all? Are you tipping your pizza delivery and Dinner Delivered drivers, or no?

Groupon has some suggestions for pizza delivery.


Dalton-area musician @PaulJoseph88k brought up tipping live musicians.

We tagged local blues guitarist and singer Rick Rushing and asked him what he thought about tipping street performers. 🎸🎶

Basically, he said that if you spend any amount of time watching or thinking that you enjoyed it—tip.💲

Dish T’ Pass owner Amanda Varnell also mentioned Sandy the Flower man, who is a longtime community fixture. He rides a bike and brings flowers to bars and restaurants. She said she’ll give him $5 to $10.

I’d say a flower is at least worth $1 or $2. 🌹


If you have bad service, consider pulling either the server or manager aside, nicely.

“I’ll talk to the server if it’s really bad service but I won’t tip less. I have too many server friends and understand that a lot of times bad service isn’t the server’s fault. I’d rather have a conversation before affecting someone’s livelihood. :)” —Anna S.

The empathy factor

Several people shared stories about working in the service industry or knowing people who do. They all said it affects how they tip because they have empathy for those who are working. Serving others is difficult and they know it, so they make sure to reward it. 💕


“Being in the business in a past life, & having a son who is a bartender 20% minimum. Not always a server issue, sometimes the kitchen can’t get it together.” —Tracy M.

“Serving people is not an easy job and you would be surprised at how many people leave nothing in a $60 meal where the server has worked hard to meet their every need.” —@Jewelzht, whose kids have worked in the industry

From the experts’ mouths

Re: employer making up the difference between $2.13 and minimum wage

Peter Salvato said that although employers are supposed to adjust so that hourly employees always make at least $7.25 an hour, regardless of tips, it doesn’t always happen that way because it requires “multiple hoops,” for the employee and employer. And he said the process allows “great room for error.”

Re: Splitting tips

Local server @THEsamanthakay said she wants people to know that she has to give 3% of her net sales to the bartender. Sometimes that means, if she doesn’t get a tip, she’s essentially paying for you to eat, she said.

Re: The American tipping system in general

“When a customer misunderstands and perceives the server’s pay to be a living wage without their tip, then the perception becomes ‘does my server deserve a 20% tip, when in reality, the system only allows for servers to make a decent wage with the regularity of a 20% tip...Their hourly wage has been modified over the years to save the business money and leave servers to rely solely on tips. One could argue that the system is corrupt, but the way to change said corruption is not to deny servers tips, but to change the system itself.” —Chloe Russell

“Personally, I believe that it’s time to do away with the antiquated system of tipping. It promotes, and can result in many negative social consequences … I believe that if businesses aren’t going to adjust wages, then a necessary alternative would be to automatically apply 18% gratuity to each tab. This would promote more positive relationships, and wouldn’t require any greater costs for businesses.” —Peter Salvato

More from NOOGAtoday