I'm supposed to write down something on the bill I get?
Do I hand the waiter my credit card after doing so?

Since I need a receipt, do I wait for the waiter to bring things back?
What's the process, from asking for the check till I can walk out with a receipt?

  • 20
    Useful advice, tip aggressively. The people serving you literally get paid less than a minimum wage with the assumption that tips will supplement their income. The guideline is usually 20% of the price of your food (unthinkable in the UK, but less is morally dubious in the US).
    – AJFaraday
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 10:22
  • 17
    Note that waitstaff are not always paid less than minimum wage. This depends on the state. We had a question on this last year. One is expected to tip, and tip well, regardless of course. Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 17:59
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – JonathanReez
    Commented Mar 3, 2017 at 13:06
  • 1
    I agree with @AJFaraday that tipping aggressively is great for staff who have performed excellently, or at any restaurant you intend to visit somewhat regularly -- in many cases (especially in smaller/family restaurants) the waitstaff will start to remember you, and they will often pay extra attention to you. Even if just visiting once, tipping 15+% is a good idea unless the service/food was horrible (I make a point of leaving a 10% tip when the staff are particularly rude or inattentive -- not counting very busy times, I know they can only wait one table at a time). My usual is 18-20%.
    – Doktor J
    Commented Mar 3, 2017 at 20:54
  • 7
    I don't really get why the tip is a percentage ... does the server deserve more tip when the food is extra expensive? Commented Mar 5, 2017 at 8:36

8 Answers 8


Normally, the sequence is this:

  1. Get the bill from the server. Check it for any issues.
  2. Give the server your credit card.
  3. The server goes off and swipes your card, coming back with your card and the receipt.
  4. There are two copies of the receipt, one for you and one for the restaurant. Write the tip on the restaurant copy and sign it; take your copy and your card.
  5. Leave the restaurant copy of the receipt on the table as you walk out of the restaurant.
  • 16
    How does it work when you have a chip+pin credit card? There will be no slip to sign and once you entered your pin code, the payment will be completed. Should I tell the server to take e.g "50$" for a 40$ restuarant bill?
    – JuniorDev
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 7:12
  • 22
    1.Get the bill from the server. And add the tip amount to it? That step seems missing for a casual reader Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 7:39
  • 4
    Vast majority of restaurants and diners I eat in do not have chip and pin facilities. Even though my debit card is chip-enabled, and in supermarkets I am required to enter a pin when I pay in restaurants I use swipe-and-sign, adding a tip at the point of signing.
    – djna
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 8:12
  • 13
    Actually, there is another step missing here. When the waiter hands you the receipt, you should look it over and make sure everything looks correct. THAT is the point at which you should ask the waiter about any questions or issues with the bill. Also - a lot of U.S. restaurants automatically apply a gratuity to the bill for large groups, and some do that for every bill even if it's just you. As for newer chip cards, I've only been to one place so far (Olive Garden) that had a reader at the table for those. Everywhere else uses the process listed here.
    – Omegacron
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 8:40
  • 26
    @JuniorDev Most US restaurants will take the card away from you and run it as a signature transaction, without a pin. It's pretty rare that someone comes along with a portable terminal and does it in front of you (like you normally see in Europe). And most US credit cards that have chip are chip+signature, not chip+pin, so everything is setup to work that way. Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 9:05

First, ask for the check. If you're in a real rush and paying by card, you could hand the waiter your credit card at this point to speed up the process a bit, but the normal thing to do is to ask for the check and wait for it to brought to you.

The waiter will bring you the check. Take a look and make sure everything is as expected. Let him or her know if you believe there is an error. Many restaurants will automatically add a tip for large parties (this is normally noted somewhere on the menu), and you can see that on the check here so you don't double-tip if this applies to you.

If you're paying cash, simply leave enough cash to cover the cost of the meal plus the tip. If you need change, just ask your waiter, who will generally be happy to ensure you have adequate change to tip.

If you're paying by card, place your credit card in the check-holder or hand it to the waiter. At most restaurants, they will take the card away from the table at this point (table-side wireless credit card machines, as commonly used in Europe, are not common in the United States).

Your waiter will normally come back with a few things:

  • Your card, which you should promptly put back in your wallet before you leave it behind
  • A pen
  • Your receipt/credit card slip, sometimes marked "customer copy"
  • The restaurant's receipt, which will have lines on it for tip and total, usually on top (sometimes there are just two identical slips. If so, it doesn't matter which you use)
  • Sometimes, the original itemized receipt, which you may keep if you wish. The credit card slip may only show the total, while the itemized receipt shows what was ordered. Some companies may require this for expense reimbursement.

Find the restaurant copy of the receipt. Write the amount you wish to tip on the "tip" line, immediately below the amount. On the "total" line below, write the sum of the amount and the tip (yes, there is math involved, though if you don't do it, somebody will do it for you). Sign on the signature line at the bottom. Make sure you leave that receipt on the table.

The other receipt copy or copies are yours to take. If I need to know exactly how much I've spent (e.g. to submit the meal for reimbursement as a business expense), I'll take a second before I leave to jot down the total amount, with tip included, on my copy. When you're all done, leave the restaurant, taking the other receipt(s) with you.

As far as how much to tip, see our question How to tip in the United States?

Note that some restaurants, normally casual diner types of places, may bring you the check and then have you pay at a counter before you leave, instead of collecting the money or the card at the table. If this is the case at your restaurant, the waiter will let you know. The process is the same, but the handing over the card and signature process will happen elsewhere.

  • 7
    Math is easy: Move the decimal point to the left and you have 10%. If you want to tip 20%, just multiply it by 2. If you want to tip 15%, halve that 10% and add both values.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 15:25
  • 1
    "A pen" only if you have a swipe card. that does not happen with chip and pin, which is the kind of card that most people wondering about tipping habits in the us (i.e. non-us people) will be carrying.
    – njzk2
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 17:15
  • 1
    I'll add my wife's usual complaint when I do cash tips, that you may want to hand it directly to the server, or at least stay with it until they arrive, to ensure that no one else pockets the cash. I personally see it as potentially bordering on gauche ("See how much money I'm giving you?") but I get her point on the possibility of things getting swiped. Heck, I think I accidentally did that once as a kid, not understanding tipping and thinking my parents had dropped their money. Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 17:25
  • 1
    @sgroves really? in canada you don't need to sign anything, and the credit card machine takes care of the tip part.
    – njzk2
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 17:30
  • 2
    @Octopus To write in the amount of the tip and sign the receipt. That's how it normally works at US restaurants. A pen is much more convenient than trying to write it with your finger dipped in leftover pasta sauce from your bowl. I recognize that it does not work that way in many other countries, and that the system used in many other countries is more convenient. Commented Mar 3, 2017 at 1:17

A lot of restaurants use swipe-and-sign schema for tips, so it looks like this:

  1. You do ask for a check
  2. Waiter brings it to you
  3. You pass him the card, which will be used by cashier, maybe right at the table, maybe not
  4. You write down the tip amount on the check and sign it. In general, rule is that 15% is similar "everything was OK", 18% "it was good", more than that if "everything was great"
  5. If you write down less than 15%, and especially less than 10%, you may get the manager with questions regarding the service. Sometimes they are very aggressive as waiter salaries do very depend from tips.
  6. You'll get the Hold operation on your card for the initial sum; on transaction finalization you'll get the full sum.

It's OK to leave cash instead of tips by card, with similar percentages, so in this case you may not wait for the final check. Some restaurants include the tips in the check. In that case it's up to you to leave some additional sum to them if desired.

  • 7
    To clarify #5 since it confused me the first time I read it: if you tip less than 10% then the manager might come out and ask you if everything was alright. Typically they're polite about it, and just want to know if anything got goofed up or if the waiter sucked. Sometimes people blame problems that arise from slow or incompetent kitchen staff on the wait staff. Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 7:44
  • 3
    "you may get the manager with questions regarding the service. Sometimes they are very aggressive" - does they refer to the manager here? If so, I find the indication that a manager would get aggressive because their staff are paid too little slightly amusing. Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 13:29
  • 2
    @O.R.Mapper I personally get into this situation when I provided only 10% (I simply didn't know the rules), and I got a real hard conversation about my experience. After that I, of course, didn't leave additional tips, as night was ruined, still this could be possible.
    – VMAtm
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 14:51
  • 2
    @EricLagergren I once was repeatedly grilled by wait staff over why I didn't finish my (large) meal, and when they wouldn't accept "because I'm full", I finally provided some very mild criticism ("It was good but not what I was expecting") in hopes that they'd let it go. Then the manager came over and harassed me some more, and suggested I should stick to lower class restaurants that serve food more in line with my expectations! So aggressive managers exist, although it's pretty rare, and I've never had one comment on my tip before.
    – Kat
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 19:59
  • 1
    @Kat I'd shoot straight on that one, and tell them "the portion size was too large". They would have no comeback whatsoever for that, as it's not a criticism of anything they do, except participate in the odd cultural norm of restaurants serving 1200-calorie meals. Commented Mar 4, 2017 at 7:48

If you're paying with cash instead of a credit card, here are two options.

Option 1 is to simply leave exactly the total amount of money you'd like to pay on the table and then leave the restaurant. (Put the money inside the check holder if there is one.) If the check is $10 and you want to leave a $2 tip, leave $12.

Option 2 is to wait for the server to return and hand them some cash. You can give them the total amount and say "keep the change" or "I'm all set". Alternatively, you can give them a greater amount, and then ask for a specific amount back. For example, to pay a total of $12, you could give them $20 and say, "Can I get eight back, please?"

In my experience as a pizza delivery driver (which, I admit, is not the same as a restaurant server), people almost always ask for an even dollar amount back, like $8, rather than an uneven amount like $8.34. But you certainly can ask for $8.34 back if you want.

  • 3
    @Harper please elaborate Commented Mar 3, 2017 at 15:30
  • @ToivoSäwén Imagine 3 Americans and 4 Brits in London talking about the current US political climate, and one American dropped "the troubles" casually with no UK context at all, let alone Ulster. The Brits would do a double-take: I know what you're saying, just gobsmacked to hear a foreigner use our provincial term for it. The waiter would likewise pause and go "That communication seemed off, and I need be clear here. I better make sure I understand." Commented Mar 3, 2017 at 17:34
  • 3
    Unless the OP has a hard time speaking English, I don't think the waiter/waitress would even think twice about it.
    – J Sargent
    Commented Mar 3, 2017 at 17:35
  • @Harper I don't really follow your first comment. I am British and frequently say both "I'm all set" and "Have a good one" both when in the UK and when in the USA... Is there some neuance to the terms in the US I don't understand?
    – Vality
    Commented Mar 4, 2017 at 2:29
  • "I'm all set" is generally perfectly fine in American English, in the sense noted in this answer, as a way for the speaker to explicitly not request any further action/response on his/her behalf. "Have a good one" is fine too; "one" is mentally replaced by "day" (or "evening," "night," or other relevant period of time) by the listener.
    – WBT
    Commented Mar 5, 2017 at 4:12

This is an addendum to other answers. As many have outlined, standard credit/debit card tipping process in US involves 2 passes:

  1. Itemized check (check amount only)

  2. Tip (whatever you write for the tip amount)

What we have found is that for non-US cards that we've had, only step #1 was working, #2 was, apparently, failing. How it looked for us:

  1. Getting a check, giving waiter our card

  2. Waiter returns our card with two (restaurant & customer) receipts

  3. We write tip and total amount on receipt and sign it

  4. We leave

  5. Afterwards, we discover that only the check amount was charged, tip didn't go through

So, at the end, when we liked the service, we tipped with cash. When we didn't, we tipped with card :)

  • +1 for covering tipping in cash. This puts tip-management in the hands of the waitstaff, not managers, where it belongs. It lets staff split tips themselves if they do that. They make an individual decision based on their own circumstances how to deal with taxation on it, etc. Commented Mar 3, 2017 at 5:29
  • 2
    Not obvious in @Harper's comment is that an "individual decision based on their own circumstances how to deal with taxation on it" may be code for "maybe deciding not to report the income so they don't have to pay taxes on it."
    – WBT
    Commented Mar 5, 2017 at 4:16

So things fall in to three categories around here (Florida)

  1. Most Common - Bill then Tip
    • Get your bill
    • Review the bill and clear up any thing that needs clearing up
    • give bill and card to server
      • usually, you would get a check holder with the bill
      • you can review the bill, and if you agree put your card inside, then leave it on the table.
      • The server will come by and pick up the check holder and your card
    • the server runs your card for the amount on your check
    • You get back the check holder with your card in it, and two receipts. There is a line for the tip and the total.
    • Write in your tip and total, on both receipts, keep one copy for you and leave one for the waiter.
    • leave when your ready, there is no reason to wait around.
  2. Less common - Turn your check into the register.
    • get your check on your table.
    • take your check to a register
    • give your check to the attendant (usually different then your server)
    • they will ask you if you want to leave a tip
    • They will charge your card for the entire check + tip
  3. Least Common - Card processing at table
    • You will get your check
    • the server will bring a tablet or the like around and process youb payment in front of you.
    • They will hand you the tablet for you to sign or enter you pin
    • It will have a place to select a tip

Bonus Notes

Number 1 is by far the most common at "decent" establishments. Number 2 is reserved for places that are almost fast food or take out. If a place does a large quantity of take out expect number 2. Number 3 is not very popular. To me there is a bit of negative of having the person stand there while you decide their tip (more on this later). It' s almost like begging. Number 3 is mostly used as a gimmick these days (though it may become more popular).

When in a large group, tips may be added automatically. Make sure you ask. It is rare but tips may be added for small groups or individuals as well.

YOU DO NOT HAVE TO TIP It is not a requirement. You should. however tip for good service. You SHOULD NOT tip for bad service., but do try to be objective.

A 15% tip is standard. I use this as normal service, normal tip.

A 10% tip is considered poor. I usually use this for poor service, that was technically acceptable, but, for example, very slow.

A 20% tip is considered good. I usually use this for good service. Most places fall into this category.

A 25% or more is considered excellent. I rarely tip this much, but if service was really that good, then they earned it.

A tip of more then around 30% may be considered rude. Like a hand out instead of a well deserved bonus. Some people may not like it, others just go "woo free money".

When in a business context. Tip more conservatively. If your tipping 25% all the time it shows that you don't value your own money.If your tipping 5% it makes it look like your broke, or don't know the value of the service provided.

In a social context a big tip may be considered "showy" make sure to account for that.

Tipping, in general should be quite. it's not polite to ask others what they tipped, or to tell others what you tipped. It is ok to ask others what they think you should tip.

In shared checks, its usually better to tip solo (each person leaves their own tip).

NEVER TIP IN CASH!!! It's very easy for someone to pocket your tip. Bus boys that don't get tips, servers that are supposed to share but don't, strangers just walking by the table. Just don't tip in cash. If you do tip in cash, hand it to the server directly.

Servers get paid less then minimum wage, and tips are expected to "make up" part of their earnings. Some servers make $300-$400 a night or more on tips, others are lucky to make $10 on tips.

Other members of the staff, particularly bus boys, cooks, and other service staff may get a share of the tips. This varies from place to place.

  • 1
    It may be worth mentioning that #2 is also often used at food trucks and other counter service places where they usually have e.g. an iPad with Square on it which they turn to you to choose a tip. Of course tip amounts are lower, if any, for counter service and takeout and such than full service, which may also be worth mentioning.
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 18:50
  • 6
    To @kik's comments - tipping 25-50% is certainly not customary, that's a valid life choice but normal expectation is 15-20%. Tipping in cash, however, is appreciated by many servers because as there is no paper trail, cash tips are often not reported/underreported on income tax forms and other benefit-eligibility forms, while the credit card ones are documented. For a variety of social reasons this is widely accepted.
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 18:55
  • a 50% tip is silly to me. 25% is sill to me too most of the time. But it could depend on where you eat. At one place I go to 50% may be $5 at another it may be $100. So that can make a difference. I suppose the same is true for cash. I would never leave a $50 on a table just hanging out. $2.50 is a totally different story.
    – coteyr
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 18:55
  • 1
    One important point: check if the tip is not already included! In some places they will automatically add a 20% tip to the bill. This is extremely common for larger groups (with variations on the threshold for "larger"), but some restaurants do it even for smaller parties (especially in South Beach).
    – jcaron
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 19:45
  • 2
    I really doubt anyone is going to be insulted by getting a much larger tip than expected. And the never tip in cash seems silly. I think you're vastly overestimating the number of dishonest people out there.
    – Andy
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 23:27

I live in the U.S. and I've been told that technically, you don't tip on the tax, so to calculate the tip use the pre-tax figure base the tip on. Usually it doesn't make that much difference, but it could if the bill is big or you just like exact percentages. For the record, I tip on the total, not the pre-tax, but I thought that I'd mention it anyway. Other then that what everyone else wrote about the percentages is also what I do.

  • If the tax on food is 5%, and the total bill is $100, the difference between a pre-tax tip and a post-tax tip would be $1 or less. So really it makes no difference even for large bills.
    – AndyB
    Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 7:18

Just adding some technical detail: In the US, for most credit (and even debit) cards, when you swipe the card, a transaction is created. This is what happens when your server swipes the card (step 2 in cpast's answer above. if you look at your bank/card statement at this point, this transaction will show up as "pending".

At some later time* one of the restaurant employees will submit all these transactions for "settlement". They will look determine the total amount including tip from the copy of the receipt (step 4), and now the transaction with the new amount will appear on your statement.

*After close of business, or sometimes even a day or two later

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