The American Tipping Culture


Ziming (Sarah) Wang, Staff Writer

Although tipping has become almost customary in today’s society, many are still unfamiliar with the present “tipping culture” that exists as to how much should be tipped after services. Whether it’s buying a drink from a tea shop compared to eating a meal at a restaurant, or, whether you should tip the barber who just spent 40 minutes on your fresh haircut, it’s always a pain to know exactly how much tip is appropriate—enough to please the worker but also spend as little as possible. Learning the general trends of tipping culture can prove to be a great source of help in paying the most reasonable amount while also providing service workers with a fair amount of income.

Tipping was first made the norm in the 1850s and 1860s when rich Americans discovered the tradition in Europe and brought it back to the U.S. in order to feel “aristocratic”. Tipping has been a major part of European culture since the Middle Ages when serfs were tipped by their masters when completing a job with excellence. However, this culture was not so welcomed in the U.S., as Americans with lower incomes could not afford to tip extra for already-expensive services. The rule of tipping was changed constantly by the government for its conflicting nature but still has become more prevalent today as people become wealthier and as technology developed for easier tipping. Nowadays, many restaurants refrain from paying their employees hourly, and they make their wages off of the customer’s tips because of how many tips are received. 

Recently, total tips from service restaurants are up 25%, as customers were encouraged to tip more generously to keep businesses afloat in the pandemic. Most restaurants have replaced tipping jars with touch-screen machines that, after a purchase, give the customer the option to tip 10%, 15%, 20%, or no tip. Many customers, when facing these options, feel obliged to tip even when the service is as simple as filling up a cup with soda. However, it should be noted that the machines are made for sparing customers the embarrassment of tipping compared to using a jar.

Despite tipping being a major source of their income, some Starbucks baristas stated that customers should “never feel obligated to tip every time”. Indeed, the obligation to tip mostly comes with a consideration of public image, and the hope to receive better service. However, tipping stays a free option and solely depends on different people’s opinions on service quality. When talking about how much tip is standard, however, restaurants usually receive 15-20% while voluntary services such as Uber usually receive no tips at all. When considering how much to tip, there is definitely a trend to follow that is most definitely not required.

Arcadia High School students are asked for their decision on how much they usually tip in restaurants that require less service, such as fast food restaurants and cafes. 

“I tip a little change sometimes since I have a lot of allergies, and it can be challenging for restaurants to fulfill my request on which ingredients they can put in my food,” said Arcadia High School (AHS) junior Tanya Ingels.

“I usually tip about 18% for regular restaurants, but for cafes where I don’t sit down and eat, I don’t tip at all,” said AHS sophomore Minjun Cha.

When considering American tipping culture, it is mostly built on the need to follow norms and to keep up one’s own image. But no matter how much tip one is required or expected to give, it’s always important to consider personal circumstances rather than the pressure to follow a trend.


Photo by Dan Smedley