How to Calculate a Restaurant Tip

••• Money. Getty Images News/Dan Kitwood

Tipping at restaurants is expected in American restaurants, due in large part to the history associated with tipping.  But, how exactly should you calculate a tip?

How Much To Tip

In the United States, the average tip at a restaurant is generally considered to be between 15 to 20%. However, a 2012 Zagat survey showed that the U.S. tipping average is 19.2%, rising from 18% in 2000.

But, the United States is not the norm.

 In Italy, for example, the norm is not to tip or to tip very little, especially since most osterias and trattorias will include an il servizio (or service) charge.  And, in Ireland, though historically tipping was not expected, tipping of around 10% is recommended at Irish pubs and restaurants.

Before you travel, check out our Ultimate Guide on Worldwide Tipping which will give you the inside scoop on how much to tip everywhere.  

How to Calculate a Tip

 Once you've figured out the percent tip you need to pay, calculate your tip based on the total before tax.  (Also, check and see if there's a service charge, in which case you should not leave any additional tip.)

If you've used any coupons or discounts, calculate your tip based on how much you would have paid without those discounts.  

If you have special requests or requirements, such as a large party, young children who have made a mess, or special dietary restrictions, consider leaving a slightly higher tip.

If you've ordered a lot of alcohol, you may decide to calculate your tip on your food separately from your beverages.  You can tip at a lower rate for beverages, usually at around 10 to 15%, rather than the 15 to 20% for food.  

Moreover, even if the owner of the restaurant waits on you, you should tip him at least 15%.

 Some argue that it is not necessary to tip owners because, if the owner is your server, you aren't depriving the owner of their wage as you would deprive a waiter of his wage.  However, etiquette demands that you tip the owner because the owner is providing you with a service and you are responding to that service by providing him with a bit of extra compensation.

Mental Arithmetic

There are two very useful mental arithmetic tricks to calculate tips: 

  • If you are tipping 15%, multiply the pre-tax amount by 10% and then add half of that amount.  So, if you have a bill for $27.50, 10% is $2.75 and half of that amount is roughly $1.38.  The total tip would be around $4.13, and a $4.20 tip would be perfectly acceptable.
  • Another easy method is to look at your sales tax amount.  If your sales tax is roughly 8%, then double that amount and your server will get a 15 to 16% tip.