Are people tipping less than before the pandemic? Yes and no


A Florida restaurant is accused of violating labor laws for withholding wages and overtime pay for workers. (Getty Images)

(NewsNation) — Americans continue to tip generously at sit-down restaurants and quick service spots despite rising prices, according to a new report.

Data from the restaurant point-of-sale platform Toast shows that the average same-store tip amount is up nearly 10% from a year ago. That’s more than 2% higher than the overall rise in restaurant prices, which are up 7.6% from July 2021, according to the latest Consumer Price Index.

Diners tipped an average of 19.6% at full-service restaurants and 16.9% at quick-service establishments in the second quarter of 2022, Toast found.

Those percentages are roughly the same as they were a year ago and complicate the picture painted by recent articles that have suggested Americans are suffering from post-pandemic “tipping fatigue.”

Those headlines came in response to a June survey that showed Americans are tipping less frequently today than they were before the pandemic. This year, 73% of U.S. adults said they always tip servers at sit-down restaurants, compared to 77% who said the same in 2019.

The poll also found significant differences in tipping habits between age groups. Just 52% of Gen Zers (ages 18-25) said they always tip at sit-down restaurants, compared to 87% of baby boomers (ages 58-76).

So what’s going on here? Are people tipping more or less than before the pandemic? At full-service restaurants, it may be a little bit of both.

“What COVID has done is it’s decreased the likelihood that people will tip, a little bit, and it’s increased the tip size among those people who do tip,” said Michael Lynn, a professor at the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University and one of the nation’s leading experts on tipping.

While tip amounts for in-person dining have remained at or above 2019 levels, the average tip size for takeout and delivery orders has dropped to 14.5% after hitting a high of 16% at the peak of the pandemic, according to Toast.

A Wall Street Journal report in March found a similar, albeit small decline, in tipping frequency among those making purchases over the phone or online. That data came from Block Inc.’s payment unit Square.

The relative consistency of American tipping habits isn’t particularly surprising to Lynn, whose work on the subject — which spans several decades — has shown that cultural norms greatly influence tip size.

“In restaurant settings, the single biggest predictor of dollar and cent tip amount is bill size,” Lynn said.

In other words, most people calculate the tip as a percentage of the overall bill. Food quality, restaurant ambiance, even the level of service itself, are all less significant factors.

In the U.S., a 15% to 20% tip at a sit-down restaurant is considered standard. That standard appears to hold even during inflationary periods when things cost more. As overall prices rise, so do the size of tips.

“That norm establishes social expectations and people tip pretty consistently with those expectations, not perfectly, but pretty consistently,” Lynn said.

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