Diners Are Tipping Less Than They Did Before the Pandemic, Data Shows

Tips at full-service restaurants have fallen 10 percent since their pandemic peak, according insights from the Square payment platform.

A server accepts a patron's cash tip
Photo: Drazen Zigic / Getty Images

Whether we were dining in, sitting outside, or picking up to-go orders, Americans seemed to be willing to leave more generous tips for restaurant staffers in the earliest days of the pandemic. Unfortunately, those percentages have slipped in more recent months data recently published by the Square digital payment platform suggests.

According to Square, the median tip percentage at quick-service restaurants was 19.73 percent in February 2020, but increased to 22.22 percent by April of that year. Tips at full-service restaurants increased from 19.45 percent to 21.2 percent during the same time period. By August 2021, tips had decreased to 18.6 percent at quick-service restaurants, and had slipped to 19.1 percent at full-service spots. So yes, by last August, diners were tipping less than they did before the pandemic.

Square's numbers are slightly below the tip amounts that were reflected in a June 2021 survey conducted by CreditCards.com. According to that survey, the average tip amounts were 20 percent at a full-service restaurant, 17 percent for delivery, and 15 percent for takeout orders.

The website polled 2,573 U.S. adults, and 75 percent of respondents said they "always" tipped when eating at a full-service restaurants, but that number was down from 77 percent of respondents in the 2019 survey. The site also notes that in 2019, 64 percent of respondents said they "always tipped" their food delivery drivers, but that number fell to 59 percent in 2021. (Five percent of those surveyed — around 128 people — admitted that they never tip. Yikes.)

Thirty-five percent of respondents said that they "plan to tip service providers more generously," but that may or may not actually happen. "While it's encouraging that many say they will increase their tips, even more people projected that last summer, and our data suggests that didn't end up happening," CreditCards.com industry analyst Ted Rossman said.

As part of Food & Wine's "The New Rules of Dining Out" series that ran last summer, one analyst suggested that customers may be under-tipping because "only about 70 percent" of the U.S. population knows that it's customary to leave a gratuity of between 15 to 20 percent. But chefs and restaurateurs hope that customers can appreciate the unprecedented challenges that the industry has faced since the spring of 2020 — and that acknowledging those issues might lead diners to leave more generous tips.

"As restaurants cater to growing demands with the return of normalcy, my advice would be to ensure you continue to treat restaurant staff with grace and patience," Paula DaSilva, the executive chef at Burlock Coast of The Ritz-Carlton, Fort Lauderdale, said. "Many dining outlets are navigating how to meet this surge in demand with limited team members, so do remember to tip — though now is the time to tip a bit more graciously than you might in the past."

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