Cleveland tops the list of top tippers – San Francisco comes in last

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As I waited on tables, the other servers and I were trying to develop a feel for what types of groups would make good tips.

Would you like to order one suitable entrepreneur for the entire group? Usually a good sign. Tables checking their watches and “thinking to maybe order some food” towards the end of happy hour? Good luck.

It turns out that maybe we should have been watching Brown’s stuff.

Restaurant software company Toast surveyed 12 metropolitan areas to determine the city with the most tips. Cleveland was number 1 on the list with diners adding an average of 20.6% tips to their checks there. San Francisco is in the rear, with an average tip of 17%.

  1. Cleveland: 20.6%
  2. Denver: 19.8%
  3. Salt Lake City: 19.6%
  4. Phoenix: 19.5%
  5. Richmond: 19.3%
  6. Chicago: 19.3%
  7. New Orleans: 19.0%
  8. New York: 18.7%
  9. Washington, D.C.: 18.6%
  10. Seattle: 18.0%
  11. Los Angeles: 17.5%
  12. San Francisco: 17.0%

The Toast study was based on transactions where the tip was added via credit card or digital payment, which feels appropriate. Just about every transaction you make these days looks like a tablet is flipped in your direction with suggested tip amounts.

Having worked in the restaurant industry, I always considered myself a good tipper, at least where table service was concerned. As long as the server doesn’t stick a fork in my eye, they get 20% – more if they’re particularly good.

When it comes to those tablets, I get a little more confused. I recently picked up a few things from a local grocery/convenience store/deli, and when the touchscreen flipped I was asked to tip 20%, 22%, or 25%. On a 12 pack of beer and some chips and dip I normally would have tipped, well, nothing.

“It can feel like a moment of pressure,” says Daniel Post Senning, co-author of “Emily Post Etiquette: The Centennial Edition.” “The rules around whether you tip and how much you leave haven’t changed just because we did [point-of-sale] touch screens.”

So what are the rules?

When it comes to wait staff, the good folks of Cleveland and I are right, says Diane Gottsman, an etiquette expert and owner of the Protocol School of Texas. “The guideline is 15% to 20%, but stick to the 20% plus side. Many restaurant workers are struggling and the industry is not quite back yet.”

If any of those options suit you, choose that one. If not, you can always click on ‘adjust tip’.

Diana Gottsman

Owner, Protocol School of Texas

Takeout and counter service are “like a tip jar — not necessary but generous,” says Gottsman. When we get suggestions for digital tips, we tend to “fast-forward,” she adds, so take a deep breath and review your options.

“If any of those options suit you, choose that one. If not, you can always click ‘custom tip’.”

You may not feel comfortable leaving a tip at all. That’s okay too, says Elaine Swann, an etiquette expert and founder of the Swann School of Protocol. While some service workers rely on tips to make a living, others, such as baristas, receive an hourly wage. “It’s okay to hit ‘no tip’ or ‘continue’ or even ask how not to tip,” she says. “And you can do that with confidence.”

In the end, it’s best to give a tip that you feel comfortable with, says Senning. “Don’t let technology interfere with the interaction between two real, living people,” he says. “Tipping works best when there’s a person you want to be appreciated for. Keep that feeling centered.”

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