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Is 20% The Normal Restaurant Tip?

“‘We recommend 20 percent absolutely,’ said Peter Post, managing director of the Emily Post Institute, which offers guidelines in etiquette.” That was how I was quoted in an article about tipping on the front page of The New York Times on Monday, February 1. That is accurate, but it doesn’t explain why I recommend 20% as a standard tip in a restaurant today. In our experience, 20% has become the dining tipping norm, and part of the job of the Emily Post Institute is to reflect that norm.

I’ve taught business etiquette seminars for eleven years and throughout that time when I speak about dining etiquette, I ask the participants how much they tip. Without fail 95% of the people tell me: 20%. When I ask why, the answer is almost as universal as it is practical: It’s easier to figure 20% than it is to figure 15%.

That makes sense particularly at a business meal. The goal of a business meal is not to focus on the food, it’s the opportunity to build a relationship. As the meal draws to an end, the last thing I want to be doing is spending time interrupting the conversation to do mental gymnastics or consult an app as I figure a 15% tip. So I easily figure 20%, sign, and am back to having my attention on my dining partner which is where it should be.

After examining the amount of the tip, the very next seminar topic is alternative ways of paying a bill. Again, my goal is to be focused on my dining partner(s), not on dealing with a bill. So if I can remove the issue of a bill arriving at the table at the end of the meal, it would be even better.

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I ask the participants what alternatives there might be. In no particular order they’ll suggest:

* Near the end of the meal, excuse yourself to the restroom, give your card to the wait person and request they have the bill ready to sign with a 20% tip added in when you return. They’ll have it ready for you. Back at the table you can focus again on your dining partner with no check ever coming to the table. Nice.

* Or you might arrange for payment when you arrive. Give your card to the maître d’ when you check in and ask to have the completed slip with 20% added to it brought to you at the end of the meal. Now all you have to do is sign the slip. Of course, use this approach at a restaurant where you are a regular, know the people, and trust them.

* You also can arrange for payment ahead of time when you make the reservation. I like this approach because a check never arrives at the table and, therefore, your focus remains on the person you are with the entire time.


Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers’ questions in The Boston Sunday Globe’s weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of “The Etiquette Advantage in Business” and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book “Essential Manners For Men” was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of “Essential Manners for Couples,” “Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf,” and co-author of “A Wedding Like No Other.” Post is Emily Post’s great-grandson. His media appearances include “CBS Sunday Morning,” CBS’s “The Early Show,” NBC’s “Today,” ABC’s “Good Morning America,” and “Fox News.” Follow Post: @PeterLPost.

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