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On a couple of occasions during a recent trip to the US, I paid in a restaurant when I ordered (at a walk-up counter), and was invited to add a tip to the CC slip. The food and drink is then brought to my table (waiter service).

What is the protocol for tipping in this situation? – I'm being asked for a gratuity before the service that I am to receive.

I accept the tipping culture in the US, but how do I gauge what percentage to give? Just the usual 15-20%? A bit less because they don't have to bring me the check? Or should I tip in cash at the end? Will I cause offence if I don't add a tip when I pay?

  • The person at the counter taking your order also offers service, so you have received some of the service, they want to get paid for. I would be tempted to add 5-7% (about a third of the 15-20%) as I can only determine the quality of parts of the service - but I generally dislike the concept of tipping. – Henrik Sep 8 '17 at 17:16
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    I would not usually tip for merely tapping an order into the computer. I might if he/she was exceptionally friendly. If service afterward merited a tip, I would leave it on the table (for another customer to steal?) – WGroleau Sep 8 '17 at 21:11
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In almost all of these situations that tip added to the CC slip is later split among employees involved in the service chain, so there is no need to tip the waiter/waitress that brings that food to the table.

I would say the only factor that could sway this is the type of establishment and type of service received by the second staff member. If the only service performed is the bringing of the food and drink, that would not warrant additional tipping, however, if they continually fill your drinks and check on you, then it may. I think with these in mind, and the fact that it could vary depending on the location and restaurant type, intuition would be your best bet in determining the proper procedure.

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The general etiquette in the US is that tipping is supposed to reward good customer service and discourage bad service, which is why you would generally find waiters a lot more pleasant in North America compared to other parts of the world. Which means that once you find yourself in a situation where you cannot adjust your tip after the service has been rendered, you shouldn't tip at all. Traditionally it might have been common to leave a tip on the table after you've finished your meal, but these days patrons can hardly be expected to keep any cash in their wallet, so this is no longer an option.

So personally I wouldn't tip anything at this establishment.

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    Not everyone thinks waiters are more pleasant in North America. – DJClayworth Jun 20 at 23:26
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Eater's The Definitive Guide to Tipping at Any Restaurant in America provides some guidance on these situations:

Fast-casual counter service: 20 percent

Cities across the country have seen an explosion of fast-casual options, where guests order at a counter but perhaps a runner delivers food and a busser clears it. In restaurants like this, tip 20 percent. “It seems casual, but everyone is pulling their weight,” says Moonlyn Tsai, co-owner and operator of the smash-hit fast-casual operation Kopitiam in New York City. “I just wish people were more aware of the work they’re doing: they bus tables, they run food, it’s more than taking orders. They keep the space tidy.” It’s changed how she thinks of tipping at other similarly set-up restaurants too. “Before working in this setup, I’d tip between 15 and 18 percent. Now I always tip 20 on the total.”

Tsai says that over half of customers at Kopitiam tip, and it’s not uncommon to see a guest opt not to tip when ordering, but then leave cash at the end of the meal, after seeing how much the staff does.

It might feel different at the massive fast-casual chains where diners are served cafeteria-style, but even then, do 20 percent if you can stomach it. The people working there deserve it. [NB: Operators, if you are serving guests from an assembly line, please shift to a tip-free model.]

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    -1 You're supposed to tip more for getting less? The article is clearly biased. – JonathanReez Jun 21 at 2:43

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