Should You Be Tipping More When Restaurants Reopen?

If you're lucky enough to be able to afford a night out at a restaurant right now, here's what an etiquette expert has to say about whether you should up your tipping game.

Many usually booming industries, and the people working in them, have been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic. Restaurant dining is one of the many activities we took for granted that became suddenly nonexistent when the pandemic swept the world. And while that’s sad and a bummer for customers, it’s been absolutely crushing for many restaurant workers.

Now, as states have started to open up, restaurants have reopened for takeout, delivery, and even in-house dining in some places. Plenty of establishments have outdoor-only dining still, but it’s still a step in the direction of pre-pandemic life. However, restaurant dining isn’t going back to normal yet. In fact, here are some of the ways your favorite restaurant will change post-pandemic. But one question many patrons have is: If they have the financial means to, should they be leaving bigger tips for their restaurant servers?

Should you be tipping more?

Yes, you should. As we said before, dining is still far from normal, and we’re still suffering from an enormous financial crisis. So if you’re going to treat yourself to a night out at a restaurant, the least you can do is treat your server to a bit more cash. (Perhaps not literally—here’s the verdict on whether you should stop using cash post-COVID.)

“The service industry has been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic,” says etiquette expert Lisa Grotts. “Generally speaking, waitstaff aren’t paid high wages and they rely on tips.” Therefore, Grotts believes it’s common courtesy to tip, and tip well, when you go out to eat. “If a service is offered, especially during hard times, it requires a level of generosity from the patron,” she says. And this goes for meal delivery and grocery and pharmacy delivery as well, she adds.

How much?

What’s the guideline for good tipping practices during this tough time? As Grotts explains, “In normal times, gratuity guidelines depend on the quality and frequency of the service, but these are not normal times. This is the time to be especially generous to restaurant staff.” Sure, sometimes the service you get at restaurants might not be perfect, but that’s no longer the excuse to skimp on the tip that it once was. Just imagine how stressful waiting tables in a pandemic must be, and try to cut restaurant workers some slack.

So what amount does Grotts suggest? It doesn’t need to be a massive jump in what you usually tip, she says: “Twenty percent to 25 percent is the new 15 percent to 20 percent. While this may seem high, you still may be saving because you’re dining out less.”

What about the “COVID tax”?

You may have heard that some restaurants are adding “COVID taxes” to the amounts they charge in this post-pandemic business landscape. “For example, if your bill was $13.00, it might go up $1.00 in addition to sales tax,” Grotts says. They’re doing this for the same reason it’s courteous to tip servers: Restaurants have lost massive amounts of money. But while generous tipping is to help out the servers, the COVID tax is to help the restaurant itself stay afloat. “Restaurant costs have gone up with the added precautions owners have been taking (e.g., disposable containers and utensils, dine-in at 50 percent capacity, rising food costs, etc.),” Grotts says. Basically, restaurants are adding this surcharge as an alternative to, say, raising menu prices.

So when you tip, should your percentage be of the total bill with the COVID tax added, or without it? Well, that’s a matter of preference, but Grotts does not include the tax when she calculates her tipping percentage. And this applies in non-COVID circumstances as well. “I never include taxes on any bill. It’s a given,” she told Reader’s Digest. But she admits that that’s a matter of personal preference, especially since tax amounts vary considerably from city to city.

But the main thing to remember is that the COVID tax helps the restaurant itself, and is not a substitute for tipping your server. You should still be leaving a generous tip. “It’s the time for benevolence for people who have been out of work trying to play catch-up,” Grotts sums up. “Let’s help them catch up.” Next, find out some things you definitely shouldn’t be doing at reopened restaurants.

For more on this developing situation, including how life might be different post-lockdown, see our comprehensive Coronavirus Guide.
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Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a word nerd who has been writing for since 2017. You can find her byline on pieces about grammar, fun facts, the meanings of various head-scratching words and phrases, and more. Meghan graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English in 2017; her creative nonfiction piece “Anticipation” was published in the Spring 2017 issue of Angles literary magazine.