How to Never Wonder How Much to Tip Ever Again

A 2-step formula to tip 15–20% on autopilot

Photo by Crew on Unsplash

It’s ironic: If you don’t tip for your burger, your waitress can’t eat.

In the United States, more than half of service workers’ earnings come from tips. For many of them, this figure equates to about $850/month, meaning it’s essential to their ability to pay for rent, food, and utilities.

Even with tips, most wait staff and bartenders only earn around $10/hr. That’s just 25% above minimum wage. Even in countries like Germany, where minimum wage is about $1,700/month and tips are less critical, they can make the difference between a life that’s acceptable and one that’s enjoyable.

Its simple: Unless the service was terrible, tipping your waiter is the right thing to do.

Unfortunately, the process of calculating your tip can introduce a lot of friction into what should be an easy task. This friction often causes us to tip less than we intended and, sometimes, nothing at all.

In Germany, we’ve even developed cheap hacks (pun intended) to not have to deal with the cognitive dissonance of how much to tip and how to calculate it. It’s common to just add 1 € and round up. But on a 28.67 € bill, 1.33 € is not a cool tip. Depending on the customer and location, it might even be insulting.

Thankfully, high school teacher Dave Consiglio knows a trick that will reduce this friction to zero: For any bill between $10 and $100, move the decimal point one space to the left, then double the number left of the decimal point.

For example, if the bill is $37.41, the first step will take you to $3.74, the second will give you $6.74. That’s a tip of 18%.

If the bill is $94.53, you’ll first land at $9.45, then at $18.45 — a 19.5% tip.

Consiglio’s formula guarantees a tip between 15% and 20%. To make it even easier, he suggests rounding up to the nearest dollar, so $7 in our first example and $19 in our second — unless you’re unhappy with the service, in which case you could round down.

The math behind this formula is quite complex, but in essence, you’re using a floor function to add a varying amount on top of a 10% base tip. You’ll tip 15% at worst (when the bill is $19.99) and 20% at best (when the bill is $10, $20, etc.), but, and this is the important part, you’ll tip 18.8% on average — and on autopilot.

Consiglio even offers a solution for the occasional, three-digit bill: Just double the first two numbers. If your bill is $174.50, give a $34 tip. That’s 19.5%. If it’s $384.79 (now that’s some expensive sushi), tip $76, which is 19.8%.

Tipping is a complex, cultural phenomenon. Yes, not everyone can afford to tip a lot. Yes, sometimes, bad service must not be rewarded. But unless you live in one of the few countries where tips aren’t necessary because service is included in food prices, it is important to understand how essential tips are to service workers’ survival.

Tip generously whenever you can. It’s the right thing to do, and with the formula you just learned, it’ll never take more than a few seconds.

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