HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >


How much do you tip when at a buffet?


We had a great buffet brunch at the Joseph Ambler Inn outside of Philadelphia. It was a little pricey at $35 per person which includes all of what you would expect on an Easter Sunday meal including soft drinks. Our server poured coffee but did not foresee our needs such as giving us clean, new silverware after our dirty dish was taken away. We had to ask for new silverware, soup spoons, cream for our coffee. So, what would you tip? 10% on a $166 bill? What do you consider the norm for buffet tipping?

  1. Depends on the restaurant and the level of service.

    Minimal service for me nets about 10% if it's a higher end buffet, with the standard ~20% for great service. Sadly, many places, even higher end places, don't replace silverware unless you request it. If you give the server a heads up that you'd like clean tableware for each plate, they should be willing to comply of course.

    If it's a lower end place, I'll tip $1/person for *minimal* service--and 15-20% for better service.

    1. I always start off with the mindset that I will tip 20%, even at a buffet and then let the service speak for itself, if they are slow, it drops to 15% if it stinks and I cannot even get a refill on my water/drink then it drops to 10% If I can't get dirty plates removed as well, drops to 5%, and if they are just downright non-existant or ignore my requests I tip nothing. In my life, I have only "stiffed" the waitstaff a handful of times, and I eat out a lot, 90% of the time it is between 15-20%

      1 Reply
      1. re: gryphonskeeper

        Tips are shared with the runners who replenish the food trays. So I also figure tip by how well that job is getting done.

      2. I would only tip 10% if all the server did was bring drinks initially, but if they are looking after us, I tip as I would for full service, 15-20%. I can think of one Indian buffet, closed now, where they did a wonderful job of clearing plates, refreshing drinks, bringing fresh dosas and tea from the kitchen that weren't buffet items, always asking if there was anything you wanted from the menu, that sort of attention. I always tipped them 20% when they were so helpful. As a rule, I avoid buffets unless I can go just when they open, though, and many other restaurants are not nearly as attentive.

        2 Replies
        1. re: amyzan

          Buffets are great when you have kids with you.. that is when I go. You don't have to wait for half an hour for a kids cheeseburger meal while the kids roll all over the booth seats out of sheer bordom, plus you can get them to try things they have never tried before without wasting a ton of money on an entire order that goes uneaten. Also good for when you are on a very limited time constraint or budget.

          1. re: gryphonskeeper

            Yeah, I don't have kids, so that wouldn't have entered my mind! Makes perfect sense.

        2. The norm is 10%. Hasn't changed. You are free to tip more, but if by "norm" you mean the etiquette standard in the US, it's 10%.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Karl S

            Wow. I've never heard the 10% buffet "norm." I just googled Miss Manners and she suggests that one always tip a minimum of 15% "regardless of the quality of the service."

            1. re: tokyorosa

              Well, all of my etiquette books (which are published in the past decade) and most websites on this specific issue still adhere to the 10% norm.

              1. re: Karl S

                I have also heard that 10% is the "norm" for buffet service. While I typically stay away from buffets, we do go to buffet brunch about 2x's/year but the parents pay for us "kids" so I don't really know what they actually tip.

          2. 10% is where I start. It goes up significantly if they keep my glass filled (I drink LOTS)

            1 Reply
            1. re: Jimmy Buffet

              Refilling beverages is VERY important for buffet service. It's one of the only times the server has a chance to make an impression. We tip about $2 per person - hubby and I- $4-$5 total depening.. Most of the time, it's a Chinese buffet - where you get your own drinks, etc. I also add that we are very low maintenece customers and eat in about 20 minutes at most buffets

            2. I think it depends on the level of restaurant. I start at something around $1/person, but it depends on how attentive they are (and how hard they are working if they aren't attentive). If they are constanting removing plates, refilling drinks, bringing napkips, then I may do 10% or more (something more than $1/person) and up to 15%. If I'm stacking my own plates, getting my own refills, running to their bussing stations for more napkins, then it's the $1/person. Sometimes I'll tip more at Sizzler because my server is trying hard but extremely busy (apologizes, acknowledges, etc.).

              3 Replies
              1. re: boltnut55

                I was just at Fresh Choice with a couple of co-workers. My co-worker paid for my lunch so I don't know if he added a tip at the cashier, but after our meal we didn't leave any cash on the table. Were we supposed to leave a tip at a place like Fresh Choice, where we pay before eating, get our own drinks and they don't buss tables until after you leave? I noticed that my soup bowl & first plate was not bussed when I came back from getting seconds. And 10 min. after we had left the restaurant, I came back because I forgot my glasses there, and saw my soup bowl (it still hadn't been bussed...).

                I guess the question is, are the employees at Fresh Choice paid a regular (minimum) wage, like McDonalds, or are they paid a server's below-minimum wage which is then taxed at 10% of sales? If it's the latter, I feel bad that we didn't tip. If it's the former, I think I woul've remembered to tip if I experienced receiving any service at all.

                Edited to add:
                When we go to Indian Buffet places for lunch, we've tipped at or above 10%, but at those places, we pay after they bring a check, they refill water, bus plates as we get seconds, bring nan to the table, etc.

                1. re: Alice Patis

                  I think that for an operation like Fresh Choice a tip is likely not expected (especially if there's not a tip line on the bill...I don't know about that). As you describe, there wasn't service provided that would lead one to think to tip.

                2. re: boltnut55

                  I completely agree with you on this. Living in Las Vegas, i've seen myself to more than one buffet in this city.

                  Level of restaurant, PLUS the attentivness given makes all the difference in the amount I tip. Generally, for an "average" Vegas buffet, it's $1 per person. If i'm at The Wynn (where the buffet is near $40 p/p, I will go higher. (it's also a great buffet)

                  A Chinese buffet (the ones i've gone to, at least) seems to have the least amount of server/guest interaction, and while I will still tip $1 p/p, sometimes I even wonder if I should do that.

                  No matter what, if the server is on the top of their game, I TELL them what great service they gave, and leave a great tip. (20%) Working in the hotel industry myself, I know that genuine compliments are such a great thing to hear. Yes, the $$ in tips is good, but it's always nice to be told by the public they appreciate your work.

                3. I still am livid about an incident more than 5 years ago. There is a huge Japanese buffet in korea town (Manhattan) that used to be a Korean buffet- I went there with my then boyfriend numerous times and never had a problem with the tip. (For 2 people it was around $45 with tax and we'd leave a 5% tip) Why was the tip so low? We got our own plates and the only thing the servers did was refill our water glasses. One time the waiter yelled at us and we ended up giving him some more money. In regular restaurants I always leave 15 to 20% but in a buffet when you do the work yourself? I realize that many posters in this thread are giving 10-15% but I feel that the tip should depend entirely on the situation. In my case, for pouring water and taking away two plates at the end of the meal (we rarely went back to the buffet) I thought at the time 5% was warranted. Today I probably would give 10-15% but honestly that would be more of fear of being yelled at:}

                  1. Being that I am a server at a buffet restuarant, I have done everything to bring clean plates, and fresh drinks and rolls, and have even gone thru the line to get people mashed potatoes etc., to find that after they are done eating and leaving a huge mess, they have left me nothing or in some cases the leftover change in their pockets. Typically in any case if you have a server come up to your table for anything at all, you should always tip. Min wage does vary state to state and in my state min wage is only 2.13 an hour. I understand fully that people who are coming in to eat at a buffet with their families are sometimes on a budget but if you can go out and pay the price for the buffet per person you should be able to afford or plan it in to the budget to leave a few dollars on the table for your server.Don't forget that even after the customers have left with a full belly that we still have to clean, sweep,restock everything all for min wage and take it from me first hand we do get very busy at buffets.So please always leave some token of apprieciation for your server, they are doing the best they can to make it enjoyable for you and your families.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: dreamz2c

                      We go to a high end restaurant that has an excellent Sunday brunch buffet. We always tip 15-20% as I feel they do nearly as much work if not more than a normal server. All the clearing of plates, coffee, juice, and soda glasses. They don't replace the silverware here either except when you're ready for desert.

                      1. re: Rick

                        Unless service is bad, 20%.

                        1. re: dolores

                          Depends on the place, but normally 10-15%, as long as they're polite and show the work (to me it doesn't matter if it's high end or not). 10% for good service (maybe less if you have to get your own drinks), 15% for attentive service (polite, comes by often to clear off tables and refill drinks), 20% for exceptional service (and I mean if they go above and beyond the norm, or I guess if you know the staff! They may hook you up in the future, or you would hope!) If you are displeased or have a bad experience overall, it's totally fine to tip less. Remember, tipping is not an obligation, it's an option! So don't feel the need to leave anything if it's really that bad!

                          1. re: jgami76

                            Personally, I feel that tipping has much less to do with judging the quality of the level of service than it does with raising the level of your dining experience. There have been times that I have had to tell the server at a buffet that this five dollar bill was meant for them. Tipping is meant to be a gesture of generosity, an expression of appreciation, a thank you for adding to your dining experience. Be generous and do not worry about it.

                        2. re: Rick

                          Also went to a white table cloth lovely brunch on Sunday. I always have excellent service there.They refill glasses , remove plates, and even brought the little one out something that wasn't on the buffet. And smile and are sweet.They make me pretty happy to be out having Sunday Brunch so I left a little over 30 percent....they deserved it.
                          About the extra silverware ...I have never had someone bring new silverware unless someone dropped something or Dessert/ soup at any restaurant. Is that suppose to be common?

                      2. Ah, silverware...I cannot tell y'all how much it irks me to have my silverware removed with my plate when I've returned to the buffet. And it particularly irks me when it's at a buffet that's charging more than $50 for an adult's meal. My husband is very conscious of coffee refills coming suficiently often, and if he would ever cut back on a gratuity then, it would be for that. Can't tell you how many times, though, I've had to coo at a server who ambles by, asking, "Do you need anythng else?", "You know, someone took my fork away, and I'd like one of those. We're not quite ready to leave, though."

                        1. I used to think the norm was 10% tip for buffets. My parents' rationale, as they explained it to me when I was growing up, was that you had go get the food yourself, so why should you tip as much as for food brought by a waiter to the table? But in the last two years I have tipped 15% (which I still consider the norm for table service, despite the inflationary trend to 20%) at buffets because I see that buffet waiters work just as hard in bringing drinks, clearing dishes, and refilling drinks. I do tend to put buffet waiters to the task, using as many as six or seven plates for myself alone per meal. Another factor is that my husband and I are lucky to be doing very well financially despite the economic recession and, if we can make a difference by giving a larger tip to a waiter who might be facing harder times financially, we are happy to.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: browniebaker

                            Interesting thread for us European contributors. I know we have cultural differences over here, from north Americans, towards tipping in general and the level of tip to be given (if any). In the UK, tipping is a fairly general custom, although not a requiremenmt - but no-one would even consider tipping at a buffet.

                            1. re: Harters

                              Indeed, but then you have a government that wouldn't let employers have people work for only $2.13 an hour!

                              1. re: Atahualpa

                                Correct. In the UK (and I believe in other European Union countries) minimum wage means minimum wage. Our current adult rate is £5.80 an hour - but it's mainly cleaners and security guards who get paid so badly - serving staff are usually on more. Perhaps only 50p an hour more in my part of the world in bottom end places, more in better places (where they are likely to be fulltime salaried staff, rather than on part-time hourly pay contracts)

                          2. I would never tip 10% at that restaurant. Remember that your tip is generally divided among all of the hardworking people responsible for getting the food to and from your table. When a buffet is very nicely done I will often tip my usual 20%, though rarely more. If it is just average, then 15% is the way to go.

                            1. working a buffet can be much harder than waiting tables in terms of sheer hustle required. clearing mutliple plates, keeping the table clean, keeping everyone watered and so on can be a challenging task. The hardest shift I worked at the resto I used to work at was the Friday Night Seafood Buffet. Holy cow!
                              Also, people who tip really poorly on a breakfast buffet-that's just mean! Just because the bill may be quite low, that person did the same amount of work as someone on a lunch/dinner buffet (yes this applies to eating off the menu as well, I don't see why you would ever tip someone who gave you competent service less than $5). Breakfast buffets are hard! People are cranky!

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: nummanumma

                                When I worked as a server, the restaurant had a buffet for Sunday lunch. This was the worst shift to work because it was so busy and people tended to tip poorly or not to tip at all. At my place of work, it was understood that any server benefitting from a good station on a Saturday night would also be required to deal with the bummer of the Sunday lunch buffet crowd.

                              2. I serve at an Indian restaurant where tables can either order a la carte or they can choose our buffet. The buffet is almost more work at times than a la cart tables. It really depends... I give buffet customers the same level of service and that is usually reflected in tips I am given. They average about 15% most nights, but can be as high as 20-25%,. I make sure to explain everything for people, introduce them to new items, keep their drinks full, suggest different beer, wine and juice pairings, give them a little background and interesting tidbits of info about the food and culture if they seem interested. Basically, we try to make it a fine dining experience, even if they choose the buffet (which is a great way to get to know our cuisine).

                                It's fantastic, and I make a lot of money. Other servers at my place that treat it as more of a buffet world experience tend to only make about 10% on average.

                                1. If the server was great, 20%. If the server was so-so, 20% If the server was just okay, 20%. They, too, have families.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: beevod

                                    Then if they want to provide well for their families, they should give great service and earn 20%.

                                  2. I tip 20% as long as the drinks stay filled and the plates get cleared. There is an Indian buffet I go to where they sit a pitcher of water on the table and clear the plates after you leave, never removing a single dish while there. I don't tip there.

                                    1. 5-10% depending on level of service.

                                      6 Replies
                                      1. re: Tripper

                                        Does anyone know if servers at a buffet are paid minimum wage or if they are only paid minimum for wait staff? Don't know if it varies by state either.

                                        1. re: cwdonald

                                          According to the US Dept. of Labor, tipped employees are those who customarily and regularly receive more than $30 per month in tips, so that would presumably cover servers at a buffet place.
                                          Keep in mind that a number of states have minimum-wage laws that don't distinguish tipped employees from those that don't receive tips.

                                          1. re: cwdonald

                                            At places like Golden Corral they are paid the state minimum wage (around $8 an hour)

                                              1. re: nocharge

                                                I know on the Golden Corral website they clearly state their employees are paid a state living wage, and tipping is not mandatory, but appreciated.

                                                1. re: nocharge

                                                  Interesting revival of a really old thread. I looked at that DOL state minimum wage listing and was surprised to find that many states appear to have a "minimum COMBINED wage and tip rate". I'm assuming that means the employer is required to make up the difference if the server doesn't make that differential on their own.

                                          2. At bars and restaurants in the US it's customary to tip 15%. At buffet restaurants there is no service. Everything that you would normally tip for - you do for yourself. I don't tip at buffet restaurants.

                                            The customary gratuity is an odd thing. You tip the server, but you do not tip the people that actually cooked the food. In California the kitchen staff and the serving staff gets hourly wages. If anyone should be tipped , one should tip the cook. But that is not our custom.

                                            9 Replies
                                            1. re: truegrit99

                                              At buffet restaurants there is no service. Everything that you would normally tip for - you do for yourself.
                                              you're kidding right. who do you think cleans up after you and replenishes your drinks.....the invisible man?

                                              1. re: fourunder

                                                This starts to get at the heart of the matter. Here's my take.

                                                Seems to me that at a buffet there is SOME service, but nowhere near as much as in sit-down dining. Therefore it seems that there should be some tip, but not the same amount as in the case of a sit-down.

                                                Let's parse it a bit further. Tipping is done in this country in conjunction with the fact that restaurant waitstaff (in this country) are not paid a "normal" wage compared with other occupations involving similar effort and skill. The tip makes up for the lower wage. Where is the chicken and where is the egg in this arrangement is lost in the sands of time -- what matters is that's the system.

                                                Now, in a buffet, less service is performed, and thus presumably less service input is needed, i.e. fewer waitstaff need to be there per dollar of food and drink charges. If this is true (??), then a smaller percentage tip is needed to provide appropriate compensation for the staff actually on duty. Thus, a smaller percentage tip is appropriate. The question is, just what should that percentage be?

                                                I would be delighted to have some actual restaurant employees who are actually familiar with the staffing needs of buffet service vs. full service fill in the blanks on this. I've seen these discussions before, but have never gotten that information.

                                                1. re: johnb

                                                  Servers at Buffets ....especially the lower end ones work harder than servers at full service restaurants. You can have your belief on what constitutes service, but the fact is, industry figures show most buffet customers make six trips for hot and cold food to try selections, twice for some form of dessert and up to 3 refills for beverages. That's a minimum nine trips to the table to clean up after you. Have you ever seen the amount of crab legs some pigs take at these places? it's comical.

                                                  Just because you have not placed your order for food and the food is not brought to your table does not mean there has not been service, or limited service has been provided. These servers attend to replenishing the buffets and in keeping the front of the house organized as well.

                                                  1. re: fourunder

                                                    I agree that there is service. I understand that the individual servers work hard. But knowing that doesn't help answer the basic question, specifically, what percentage of the resulting bill is appropriate for the diner at a buffet to leave as a tip?

                                                    How many servers (making less than normal wages) are needed for a buffet service vs. for a sit-down service of equal check size? If fewer are needed and used, as seems logical (??), but the tips left were hypothetically the same percentage, the buffet servers would end up with more money than the sit-down servers, which seems unfair to the sit-down servers.

                                                    Thus the question is, given the differences in staff needed, average compensation, average check size, and all the rest, what tip percentage at buffets would yield the same income for buffet servers as the typical 15-20% on a sit-down service bill yields for sit-down servers?

                                                    1. re: johnb


                                                      I think one of the keys in considering how to answer your question is that at most buffets the establishment doesn't need any servers, they need buspersons. This excludes those buffets that set the tables and serve the beverage.

                                                      While a service restaurant might assign 4-6 4-tops to a server, there is no reason a busperson at a buffet can't handle double that amount or more.

                                                      While a previous poster listed statistics on the amount of trips an average buffet guest makes to get food and drink I have found that this does not necessarilly equal the number of times the used dishes are removed from the tables. There are times in busy buffet restaurants that empties do accumulate on the table. The busperson may wait to pull soup bowls and salad plates in one trip, and pick up a stack of used dishes at one time.

                                                      Many jurisdictions require a clean plate for each trip to the buffet, but not all do so. It is most common for guests to refill cold beverage glasses and coffee mugs. I asked a friend who is management with Hometown/Old Country Buffets and he informed me that he trains his buspeople NOT to remove empty drink glasses from the tables when clearing plates so as to encourage the glasses reuse and cut costs. He is in management in Connecticut in a city whose health department permits the reuse of the glasses, but not plates.

                                                      He also informed me, that he has to classify the floor personnel not as waitstaff (as they fill in the buffets and beverage areas in addition to clearing tables) and MUST pay them at least the full minimum wage, NOT the reduced waitstaff minimum. He stated that a tip of $1 per guest is appropriate either at brunch, lunch or dinner. This would average to about 10% at his restaurant.

                                                2. re: fourunder

                                                  First, there's no reason to be insulting.

                                                  Secondly in the business waitresses as you may call them are called the service staff. At a buffet restaurant you have busers and kitchen staff and hostess'- you really don't have a service staff.

                                                  If you just go around giving your money away, that's fine. But don't try to justify it. Here in California all staff get the same normal wage scale.

                                                  As a rule I don't tip buffet restaurants, but there's always the exception to the rule. While I was eating at a Chinese buffet last week I over heard that a party of 17 were coming in after a graduation. I hurried thru my appetizer and one course before the group began to arrive. They couldn't help but be self absorbed and I understood. But the staff did their best to make me feel appreciated under a trying moment. I understood. I tipped accordingly.


                                                  1. re: truegrit99

                                                    We must go to different types of buffets. The ones I go to have a person who takes my drink order, brings my drink, removes dirty plates, refills drinks, brings extra napkins, condiments, etc. as needed and brings the check. I consider that person a server (waiter, waitress, whatever) and I believe they deserve a tip.

                                                    1. re: truegrit99

                                                      I think it's an insult not to tip.....it shows you do not value the service you received from the staff...or that you think the value is zero. It's funny how you mention the words self absorbed though in the context of this thread.

                                                      1. re: fourunder

                                                        Do you tip, say, the service writer when you take your car in for a repair? Do you tip the sales person at the electronics store when he/she answers a question you may have? I suspect the answer is no, even though those are examples of service you received, and the reason is that those people are paid normal compensation; tipping from customers has not evolved as a way for their compensation to reach normal levels for what they do. They are paid by their employers (and ultimately the customers) for what they do, and they should just do it -- it's their job.

                                                        IMO, tipping at restaurants also should reflect the compensation system in place. At buffets, as others have remarked above, the staff typically is not underpaid as are waitstaff at full-service restaurants. Therefore, it is perfectly reasonable not to tip, or to modify the amount of the tip, to take account of these differences, whatever they may be in any particular setting. It is not an insult to modify or even eliminate the tip in those situations -- if the staff is being fully paid by the employer to provide the service, it should do so without expectation of extra compensation. A nice smile and a "thank you" should suffice.

                                                3. It depends greatly on what service is offered.

                                                  Heck, I tip the servers and bussers at he United Airlines Red Carpet Club, when they beat me to bussing my area.


                                                  1. Folks, at this point, this thread is getting ugly, as tipping threads inevitably do, so we're going to lock it now.