Advice about Tipping

Parent Q&A

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  • I would like people's opinions.  Am I being cheap?  Or being taken advantage of?

    Went to a well-known Berkeley sandwich shop to buy a sandwich for lunch.  This is not a sit-down restaurant, but an order at the counter to-go type of eatery.  I ordered two sandwiches which were $15.00 each.  This is not a fancy place and $15Seemed like a lot, but in this time era of COVID and wanting to support small business, okay I'll do it.  When I was presented with the bill I was expecting $30 but it was $36 before tax.  When I looked at the bill I noticed the person taking my order added a 20% service fee and was expecting a TIP.  There was no mention or sign saying there would be a service fee.  And what the heck is a service fee at a sandwich shop anyway?  It just appeared on the bill.  I would not have minded if the sandwich prices weren't so high in the first place.  

    Anyone else finding local eateries are adding a mandatory service fee for to-go orders?

    Do you think I should have just paid the 20% service fee and another 15-20% as tip for an over-priced sandwich?

    Would you pay a mandatory service fee for counter food?
    Would you then add a tip to the food and service fee?

    I didn't think this was fair or ethical and left.

    Just wondering if I'm being cheap and unreasonable?  Or If "we" are being taken advantage of?


    No, you're not being cheap/unreasonable; I'd mind any "service fee" that appeared without having been clearly stated on the menu. (And while I'd expect a hearty take-away sandwich for $15, I am also happy to support local businesses, and I tip at least 20%.) You were quite right to leave without the sandwiches.

    You are not cheap. I would be upset as well. Is the sandwich worth $15? $15 for a sandwich is expensive. If your answer is no….don’t go back. I have never seen service fee charged on take out. Maybe it is a new thing and I should pay more attention to my receipt. 

    I just wish that businesses would price their products and food to pay a living wage.  Then no service fee would be required. 

    I do think adding 20% as a mandatory service fee for To Go is bit to much. Seems like there is no service over their paid job being done.  I get giving an option to tip, but mandatory is too much for me. 

    HAD they been transparent with signage that announced the 20% fee you would have  had the option of making an informed decision, but to stick it on the bill and expect customers to just 'go along' is not kosher.  This reminds me of Bank practices, and I don't agree with those either.  Businesses are struggling right now and I understand the desire for them to not only recoup from 2020, but to pay their employees a fair wage. Nonetheless, they should be upfront.

    Food has dramatically jumped in price because of the pandemic and restaurants are really struggling with food costs/their margin/not outraging their customers by raising prices. I would personally pay the 20% service fee for a $15 sandwich, but I likely wouldn't add a tip on top. I don't think customers are being taken advantage of, I think restaurants are trying to stay afloat.

    Regarding tipping: I've seen a lot of counter-service food places who now have a whole screen during the check-out process dedicated to tipping. (Like, tick which box: 20%, 25%, 30%, etc.) It's usually part of the "Square" payment platform (or similar) and it gives me pause! I think we all tried to chip in extra during the darkest days of Covid, when service industry folks were just trying to keep the lights on, but lately I have gone back to my pre-pandemic practice of not tipping for "To-Go" orders. I just can't - I need all the cash I can keep too! Not sure about the "Service Fee" you referenced either - did you ask them what that was all about? Agree it seems aggressive.

    I've never heard of service fee at a takeout restaurant.  Did you ask why they charge a service fee? Also, paying a tip for takeout is completely up to you.  If you already pay 20% service fee, no need to pay any tip. BTW, you should post your experience on Yelp, so others would know this ripoff. 

    I think you should read this article and consider what restaurants are going through, especially now.…;  Many places charge $10, $15 or more for sandwiches and burgers. If that had been me, I would have paid the money, enjoyed my pricey yet most likely delicious sandwich, and then chosen not to go back if I decided it really wasn't worth 2 cents

    If the sandwich is made from fresh ingredients and it’s a decent size, I don’t think $15 is too much to pay, though it is on the high side. As for the “service fee“ does it go to the servers? It does seem a little strange to me to dictate the percentage, but I would just count it as a tip and not bother to tip an additional amount. I might ask who gets the service fee. hopefully it’s the people actually doing the serving. In which case, a tip would be redundant. I will be interested to hear other responses since my assumptions might be totally wrong.

    If they are charging a service fee, that is the tip and you should not have to or be expected to tip additionally. There should definitely be a notification somewhere if they are charging a service fee in lieu of a tip. Sometimes the way the receipts print out, the additional tip line is automatic and can't be adjusted (or maybe they *are* hoping you won't notice and will tip anyway). I would just review the bill carefully before signing, and zero out the tip line. And naturally I am curious about which well-known sandwich shop in Berkeley is doing this, I can think of at least two off the top of my head that charge $15 for a sandwich...

    It's just a way to raise prices without raising the sticker price, though I agree it should be listed on the menu.  The fee also allows businesses to use the money for things other than front of house staff -- both good (raising wages for back of house staff) and bad (padding the owner's pockets, basically tip theft).  Including a tip line in addition isn't my fave: if this is a mandatory charge in place of tips, I think it's a fair trade for the consumer not to be expected to tip in addition.  

    In terms of your choices, if you aren't willing to pay $18 for the sandwich, you're free not to go there since that's what the sandwich costs.  But, as others have mentioned, restaurants are really struggling.  Unless the $6 will really make or break your budget for the week, I would personally let it ride, pay up, and make my decisions later about whether I want an $18 sandwich.  Especially since they already made the dang sandwich and now the food might get tossed.  

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Questions Tipping ... See Also

Tip child's ski instructor?

April 2012

Every year, we go up to Tahoe, and our children take one or two all-day group ski lessons at one of the big resorts. There are usually about 5 students in each class, and the instructor has them from about 9:30 am to 3:30 pm. I am always torn about whether or not to tip. The lessons cost upwards of $150 a day per kid, but I know the resort gets a huge chunk of that, and the instructors are just working folks like ourselves...To tip or not to tip?? Any advice appreciated. Ski Mom

From what I read in the ski/snowboard forums I frequent, most resort instructors make $12-$15 per hour, and if they are not assigned to teach that day, they are free to ski/ride on their resort pass, but do not get paid for the time they are required to report at the resort but are not teaching. Higher certified instructors might make more, but they are most likely teaching privates, not kids groups.

When my child is in an all-day group lesson, I tip the instructor $10 if there are other kids in the group; $20 if it is a group lesson but my child is the only one in the ''group'' so it's basically an all-day private. That's my own tipping system, though, I don't know what is the norm.

I tip the instructor because my child can be difficult on the hill if he's having a bad day (IOW, grumpy because he had to get up out of bed early to make the drive to Tahoe), so anyone who can take him out riding all day and return him smiling while I spend the day off riding the fresh, deserves a tip. snowboarding mama

I was a ski instructor while I was in college. The tips that I received meant everything to me. Unless it's really busy, instructors don't make a lot of money. When I was full-time, I made $1,000 in a good month (this was $20 years ago). The majority of parents did not tip but I sure remembered the ones who did. Even $5 at the end of the day makes a difference. Having a little cash to go to the bar after work (or put gas in my car) was a great thing. Several parents gave large tips (up to $200) after I spent a week with their kids. Those tips helped me get from the ski resort to my next job at the end of the season. While it's not required, tipping your ski instructor is very, very appreciated. Grateful

I used to live in Squaw. Yes! Tip your ski instructor. They make a small hourly wage, and they don't work when the weather is too windy/rainy/snowy/no snow, but it's not like they can pick up work elsewhere during the season. They have no health insurance, or any benefits, except a ski pass. $20 makes a big difference to them. appreicate your peeps

Ski instructors don't get paid much, most of the price of the lesson goes to the resort. They have just spent their day skiing with you child, teaching your child to ski while you were off skiing. You don't have to go over the top, but a cash tip handed directly to the instructor is always appreciated. Ski mom

Yes, it is appropriate to tip the kids' ski instructors. My young adult children have both been ski instructors in their 20's, and yes, if you are happy with your child's experience when you pick them up, it is a common thing to do to tip the instructors. These instructors, usually young people, make very little money doing this and are only there because they love to ski and they love kids. And dealing with all the children's personalities and making them all happy and safe is REALLY hard work. frequent skiier

'Pump it Up' birthday party - do you tip?

Oct 2011

We are having a birthday party at Pump It Up and the reservation form says gratuities welcome. It would not have occurred to me to tip for this service and I'm wondering if this is a normal practice or not. Do you tip at Pump It Up? And if so, how much? Given that the price for the party with food is going to be over $400, and the service (from what I've seen as a guest at parties there) seems pretty minimal, taking a percentage of the bill seems excessive to me. I definitely don't want to stiff anyone, but also feel a bit annoyed at being asked to tip in a non-service situation. Maybe there is an element of service that I will see once I'm a host rather than a guest? BTW - I am a very generous tipper (20%+) at restaurants and service establishments, so this isn't about being cheap. Thanks for your input! anon

Frankly, no, we did not tip when our daughter had a party at the Oakland facility. The party we had at Oakland was pretty dismal though - the staff were perfectly awful so it was an easy decision not to tip (and e-mails to management went unanswered). But I would not have tipped anyway unless there was a particular person (or people) that went above and beyond the service we were already paying for. It will probably be an easy decision (to tip or not) when the party gets started and you see how things are run. - tipping can be too much

Yes, you should tip. The staff is present in the rooms with the jumpers and help out with the set up and clean up after your party. anon

We went to Pump it Up 3 or 4 times when our kids were small. We never tipped. It didn't seem necessary. The price is high enough and they don't do much. You pay up front so it is not like a restaurant. -parent of twins

That drives me crazy. I HATE being cajoled for tips, especially in a situation with little or no service. I've been to numerous parties at Pump It Up. I have never seen more service than pushing a cart of shoes from one room to the next, which isn't really service but just part of their system of having kids in two different rooms. The parents serve the food and watch the kids. I hate the whole system of tipping (have lived overseas and MUCH prefer the no tipping system there), though I am a good tipper at restaurants because it is the system and restaurant employees don't make minimum wage because tips are expected, but I don't tip for minimal service when I do most of the work (e.g. counter self-serve restaurants where I pick up my food and bus my own table). I would like to see tipping reserved for what it was originally meant to be for, i.e. especially good service, not just for carrying out the basic requirements of the job. Tip Hater

We've held 2 parties there and we tipped both times--10% I think, so around 35- 40 bucks. They do provide some service--mostly in the party room area. Setting up the cake, they'll cut it for you if you want, pouring the drinks, they do all the cleanup, etc. In the bouncy house rooms they are there, but to my mind did very little. They have all those rules on the video at the beginning, but none of the staff ever enforced any of them, which I thought odd. So I guess it's up to you. I am guessing they get paid very little, so I felt a tip was a reasonable thing to do. Former bouncer

Summer Camp staff appreciation day

Sept 2009

My 6 year old has been attending summer camp this summer for the first time. He ended up going to 3 different camps and liking all of them. At the end of one camp session the parents were told that a certain day would be ''camp counselor appreciation day'' and that gifts could be given. The note that was sent home was very clear that no monetary gifts could be given, but that small tokens such as cards, food, etc were appreciated. I didn't send anything because I didn't make the time to figure out what to do and that morning I just forgot about it. Well, my son was very upset with me when I picked him up because he didn't have anything for the counselors. I know that at this age he wants to be like the other kids and we could have come up with something to give that didn't cost much money, but honestly, I was a bit annoyed that this was expected. This really impacted my son and he was mad at me for most of the night. What have others done in this situation? I told my son he could have made cards for the counselors that day at camp, or given lots of thank yous and hugs, but it's not the same thing. Did I really blow it? summer camp faux pas

My kids went to same camp. Also our first year there, went for two sessions. The first session, I forgot, brought nothing. Kids not very upset. The second session, bought cookies that were on sale at Safeway. Younger daughter more into the whole thing than the older son (who I suspect ate most of them...). As for having a ''Staff Appreciation Day'' in the first place... well, mixed feelings. I didn't read it as an opportunity to gouge the parents, and my kids were ambivalent about it. But when you have a more sensitive child, yes, I can understand your irritation. One thing I did state in my feedback of the camp was better communication - I was more annoyed when my son didn't know he was supposed to bring a t-shirt for tie dye day, and would have liked more info on their days in general, or just clearer communication lines. Mom of Two

I think the guidelines for camp counselors are much like those for teachers. I can tell you as a teacher that my most treasured gifts came directly from a student's hand: brief thank-you notes, a lovely pencil drawing of a rose with my name on it. Other gifts--I appreciated the sentiment but I have given them all away. I don't have room! Other teachers have said the same. Please tell your son that a brief and personal thank you note or a drawing letting the counselors know how much he appreciated them will be kept and loved long after store-bought items and food are gone. Handmade and personal is heartfelt

I have never heard of this and my kids have gone to a variety of camps for years. Next year, if the camp does this, tell your son that your schedule is too busy to plan something but if he wants to make a card or picture for his counselors he can. Just put it on your calendar a few days ahead so he can be reminded. anon

Funny this should come up...I bet many of the other families did also not send something, but your son felt bad that he didn't bring anything. 6 year olds do like to follow the crowd, and mine love their camp counselors. So, last year we decorated little wooden boxes from Michael's craft store, and filled them with candy. The counselors LOVED them. This year we just baked a ton of cookies halfway through camp. Again, a great response. Most people at our camp don't give the counselors any type of gift; it's not expected. I say funny because this summer we were on the east coast and found out that counselors at a huge summer camp there not only welcome cash gifts, but EXPECT them from all the counselors' families. The children whose parents forget are actually treated poorly by the counselors on the last day. I was disgusted upon hearing this, and am really glad to live here... Don't worry about this year, and help your son make some cards or cookies next year... :o) Mom of 3 in Berkeley

Tipping at a spa

Nov 2007

I received a gift certificate for a Claremont-style spa for an all day body experience. This entails going to 4-5 different people for hair, nails, massage, facial, etc throughout an afternoon. My etiquette question: Do I tip individually as each service is rendered or do I leave a tip at the end of the day and they will split it up? I have never done this before so I am unfamiliar with the process. Any comments are welcomed. Ready for pampering

Leave a tip for each person. You'll find small envelopes (usually at the front desk)to enclose your tip. Write the person's name on the envelope so that it reaches her/him. Stacy

Having worked in several spas, I would recommend tipping each person individually. It sounds as though you are going to have a full day at the spa, and it is likely that staff will come and go during that time. It would be nice for your estheticians and therapists to receive a tip before leaving for the day. Also, if you tip individually, the front desk folks will not be tasked with finding a ''fair'' way to divide your tip among the therapists--nor will anyone be accidentally forgotten (typically the front desk folks are terribly busy). Also, if the facial is just absolutely amazing and the pedicure just OK, you will have the opportunity to appreciate each therapist in a way that reflects your experience (of course, I hope that everything is fantastic for you!). By the way, the usual range is 10-20%, depending on the quality of the experience. Ann

I always just tip at the end to make it easy. They'll sort it all out for you. The person at the desk will add whatever percentage you decide on to the whole bill and divvy it up between the service providers. Have a wonderful time and enjoy, lucky gal! Spa lover

Concierge tipping

Dec 2006

My family will soon be taking a vacation at a very nice resort. This is new to me as we are usually budget travelers. Therefore, although I want to use the services of the concierge, I do not know the proper etiquette for doing so. Do I give him/her $5 each time we talk or do I give him/her a larger sum ($50?) on our last day? Lisa

Oooh! Oooh! I know this one! We, too have traveled to nice resorts, and have stayed in some where the rooms cost about $400/$500 a pop. I mention this for context. NO YOU DO NOT HAVE TO TIP THE CONCIERGE!!! Take it easy and see how it goes. If you really like the concierge, feel free to give them about $20 at the end of the visit. But that's if you really like them. If they set up a secret dinner so that you can propose to your wife or something... tip them $100 or whatever. But NO you do not have to tip them every time you ask them things. Relax, have a blast, and don't feel obligated. Just ... be appreciative hotel lover

Concierges get tips (also known as 'kickbacks') from the tour providers they recommend, from the restaurants, from the theatres, etc. No need to tip them, at all. The person to tip is the hardworking maid who cleans your hotel room each day. I'd give her at least $20 per day. Leave it in cash with a note that says housecleaning - thanks!

Tipping at the Counter

Nov 2004

It seems everybody wants tips these days by the prevalence of tip glasses and jars on counters everywhere, and I'm not sure when to tip and when not to tip. Every tip glass on a counter causes me guilt if I don't tip and even dirty looks from people who are basically doing a cashier service for me just like someone at a book store or shoe store.

I know that waiters get less than minimum wage becaues tips are supposed to make up the difference and they are taxed on their tips. I tip as generously as I can, always, usually over and never under 15% unless service was really bad. But people who work at counters, are they in the same boat? What am I tipping for exactly? Why am I expected to tip a person who sells me a pre-made sandwich after standing in a long line, and not someone who sells me a book? (Although I've run into a tip jar here and there at a book store and other non-food related places).

I am aware that people are all struggling and could use a little extra. I could use a little extra too and adding a quarter to an already expensive $2.75 cup of coffee has put me over the edge. I make my own (the inflation on a latte no where near matches inflation in general!). But in many cases there seems to be more of an entitlement (dirty look people, not so nice tip signs in the glasses badly disguised as humorous) than a good service mentality about it.

So, does anyone have any guidelines to follow? If I had it to give I would. Not having it, how do I do it fairly for me and them and to whom. Thanks With the best intentions

I agree with you, I'm a bit tired of seeing tip jars everywhere. When I'm in a restaurant, I always tip very well. Here's what I do with tip jars at coffeshop counters: I tip if someone is making a fancy coffee drink, say a latte, or if they're making a sandwich. If all they're doing is pouring coffee into a cup or taking a cookie out of a jar and then handing it to me, I don't tip. I know that many of the people working in these establishments aren't making tons of money, but neither am I -- so, if there is a ''service'' associated with what they're doing, I tip. Hope this helps. Kim

Tipping is optional. If you feel the counter person has given you exceptional service, you can leave some change in the jar. Ordinary service doesn't earn a tip. If they give you a dirty look when you don't tip, I'd take my business elsewhere... and let the business owner know why I left. Tipping should not be extortion

I understand your dilemma. These are tough economic times and many of us are counting our pennies... In the past I have held a variety of service-related jobs, including two you've mentioned: working at a book store, and the ''barista'' gig. At both jobs I felt literally run off my feet, and the cafe job pay was so low that I counted on the tips to pay for such ''extras'' as bus fare. (I've never worked at a bookstore that had a tip jar-- though it would've been nice to be tipped for being well-read or at least for knowing what the title of ''that-book-that-was-on-Oprah-last-week'' was called!) That being said, at my cafe jobs, *nobody*-- not I or anyone I worked with, as far as I know-- expected to be tipped for orders that were ''to go'' unless they were very complicated (for example, someone ordering several different kinds of drinks/snacks to be taken back to the office). That meant that roughly 75% of the time, we didn't expect to be tipped. We did however hope that the people who ordered drinks ''for here'' would leave a little something in the tip jar-- even a nickel-- because we served ''here'' drinks in glasses, which had to be washed by hand (no dishwasher!), and because the ''please bus your own table'' signs were merely a suggestion, and most customers did leave behind their glasses (not to mention spilled drink, spilled sugar, crumpled napkins, used kleenex, etc. etc.) which had to be cleaned up by *someone*. So if you can at all afford it, a nickel or dime or the occasional quarter will do.

As for those ''clever'' tip jar signs, I too have noticed that they are getting more & more sarcastic, but I believe that isn't really aimed at the individual customer, but at society at large and the owners of cafes who often turn a nice profit at the expense of their staff. It *is* ridiculous that a simple drink, such as a single mocha, now sets one back as much as $3 (I think that's what they charge at Peet's and elsewhere now.)In the Bay Area, it is widely agreed that the ''living wage'' is around $12/hour; most of your baristas make around $7 or, if they stick around a few years at the same place, $8 or $9. Just something to keep in mind... Been Behind the Counter

I don't know that there are any guidelines for tipping at the counter. Personally, I tip if the counter person goes beyond the call of duty (like if I have a particularly difficult order) or if I go there a lot.

But I wanted to clarify that in California, waiters and counter people are paid /at least/ minimun wage, in addition to their tips. Employers are not allowed to pay them less than the minimun wage, regardless of how much they make in tips. In addition, in places like San Francisco, the minimun wage for servers is higher than the state minimun wage. anon

Boy, do I agree with you, and I no longer routinely tip at counters. It doesn't make sense to me, as you say, and I feel rather blackmailed. However, if the person helping me has actually done some or all of the preparation of my order, and/or is particularly nice, I do leave a very modest tip (nothing at all resembling a tip for a real waitperson). anon

Well, I am curious to hear what others have to say about this, but I do not have a concrete answer. However, I do have further information. For one thing, in the state of California, servers do make minimum wage and then tips on top of that. It is true that in some states they do make less than minimum wage, but not here. As a former server, I think there is a BIG difference between working in a restaruant and being a cashier type person. Working in a restaraunt is EXTREMELY hard and if you get a good server, who takes good care of you, go ahead and give her/him those extra two dollars and give them a 20% tip (Believe me they deserve it).

However, I am with you as far as all of this tip jars go, I rarely leave a big tip, maybe my change. The only exception is if the person goes out of their way to help me in some way, but they don't get the money anyway---at least not all of it. My sister- in-law used to work at Peats and they would take the tip jar and divide it between everyone that worked there that day. Having said that, I look at them as optional. There are some places where i go quite often and have a relationship with the employees and i will tip there. I can't wait to hear what everyone else says about this. Old school ex-waitress

I routinely DO tip at the counter because I know that the people who work there are not earning very much. I often use my own cup to get coffee and leave that dime I save in the tip jar. Or I leave the difference between the cost of my drink and the next even dollar. Around holiday times, or whenever I feel like it, I play Mommy Warbucks and leave a whole dollar bill. In our society it's impossible to get by on minimum wage, and although I don't think it's my job to support other people who earn less than I do (I would prefer that rich folks, like Arnold, take care of that), I still feel a responsibility to people who are less fortunate than I. It's good that they have jobs. It's bad that the jobs pay so little that tips are necessary. anon

Tipping the Caterers

Oct 2003

My mom just called me with a question regarding my sister's wedding reception and I told her I knew exactly where to go for answers!! She wants to know what is appropriate for tipping the caterers for the wedding reception (cooks, servers, guy in charge= 22 people all together). On the contract, there is a 10% service charge, but she was told that is not the tip, if she chooses to give a tip it would be on top of that charge. So, does she give a full 15-20% tip, or deduct that 10% and give a 5-10% tip? Also, should she give cash that evening (which could be a large amount of cash) or put in on the credit card with the bill before hand? And one more thing, should she split up the tip among the 22 people (which sounds like a pain to me) or should she give the full amount to the person in charge and let him split it up? Thank mom, sister , and I appreciate your help! Mary Jo

The standard gratuity for a catered event is 10-20% of the service charge. You don't need to tip 10-20% of the entire bill (like food and equiptment). In other words, if the service charge for your event is $5k-tip the staff $500-$1000 (I think you said there were 22 staff, so that would work out to about $20-$40 per person). You mentioned that there is already a service charge built in-what is that for, exactly? Many companies do this, but I'm curious what justifies this charge.