HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >


Chicago Tipping

Alright, so whats the deal? I seem to get into this argument all the time. I have downtown friends that think it's supposed to be 20% on the total bill ALL the time, and that it's the defacto "standard".

In my mind, Downtown are already expensive enough without lumping in more cost for just good or standard service. But to add the tipping on tax thing! Why? Cook County has a higher tax than Lake so why should I treat one waiter better here, than another based on a location? Besides that, tax is for the city not the waiter!

But the I always seem have this issue the proverbial "former" waiter/waitress/bartender that wants to be really overgenerous with everyone else's money when it comes time to pay too. C'mon everyone knows exactly who I'm talking about; "I used to work in a restaurant, and blah blah blah". Like that somehow now makes it my responsibility to be their provider of tax free tips and provide additional wages that some cheapskate restaurant owner didn't rightly provide in the first place. Its a gratuity not an entitlement! And it's entirely performance based, I have the right to "not tip" as well.

Either way, I alway feel like a cheapskate if I don't cave in on the whole tipping concept and just pay, but I always feel really screwed at the same time.

So here's the question, what option do you take when dining downtown? And for how much and why. Is dinner any different than lunch or breakfast? Does the class of restaurant affect anything? does a coffee pured really deserve a tip? So what is REALLY the standard in downtown Chicago for tipping?

1) Tip only on the subtotal of the bill, not including the tax
2) Tip the whole check including tax
3) is there a 3rd?

Amount: 15% - 20% - 21% or more (are you getting something else with that service?!)

Am I off? Here's what I go by;
1) Tip only on the subtotal of the bill, not including the tax
0% for coffee baristas, really! A new language called Starbuckian does not entitle you to squat. Same for crappy service, it happens. Don't expect a reward if you have a lousy attitude and got my order wrong and everything else sucks about you and your restaurant.
15% - For standard service- hey, they did the job, thank you.
18% - You treated me really well or I come here frequently and you always make my meal memorable or, I just liked you... wink wink
20% - Outstanding service, you saw my to all needs.

21%- 25% thats my top limit. You recognized that if I have my kids with me it will require a certain extra accommodation's (extra plates, cups with lids, crayons, napkins etc) as well as knowing to speed up the pace and get us a quick cash out at the end of the meal before a meltdown occurs!
Mom & Pop places where the food is great and the total bill is under $15-20 I'll always tip higher. I really think those people work there butts off as opposed to a big time chain or upscale place with staff up the wazoo, and that I see about as much as the 1 hard working waiter at the mom & pop who took care of me and half the restarant. Besides a $4 tip on a $15 dollar meal, still seems short...

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. For me, a life long Chicago suburbanite,

    20% of the total bill. I have never understood not tipping on the tax.

    If I really enjoyed the meal, drinks, service, etc, then I will tip more, 25% - 30%.

    1. I tip 20% across the board (expect for coffe shops/fast food) and more if the situation warrants it.

      Lifelong Chicagoan (city not suburban)

      1. I was a life long Chicagoan for most of my life. Twenty percent, always, across the board. Because it feels good to do it, because I know that generosity begets more generosity.

        1. I have lived in Chicago for the majority of my adult life, and 20% of the total bill has been my personal baseline for years.


          2 Replies
          1. re: Erik M

            Me too. Since the early 90s I think. It goes up to 25%-30% for excellent service or a regular server whom we know and like. The other night my ex and I went to one of our regular places and were told that the servers fight over who's going to get us.

          2. I've lived in the Chicago area my entire life (and now live in the city), and I always tip 20% across the board, on the total bill. I throw my change (coins only) in tip jars at coffee places and independent restaurants that have counter service only. I never, ever leave no tip at a restaurant, even if the service was beastly. Usually I leave 10% in those situations. If service is incredible, I'll go as high as 25-30%, but I rarely eat meals that are in places that have that sort of service.

            I don't think it's my job to punish someone because they're working at a chain as opposed to a mom and pop place. I can't imagine not tipping well just because I'm eating at a chain.

            1. Also a lifelong Chicagoan and tip 20% of the total bill across the board unless I've gotten terrible service which only happens about 2% of the times I'm out. I always remember that some people tip horribly, forget to tip at all, etc. so the rest of us putting in 20 makes up for it.

              I tend to not always tip on coffee except at Milk and Honey because I love those folks so much. They also are smart...they put a BIG tip jar out on the counter with a very wide opening. It looks emptier than those little ones you see everywhere so I always feel like fattening it up!

              1. Lived in Chgo all my life up until a couple of years ago and always tipped (still do) 20% on the total amount of the bill...yes..even the alcohol. The issue of having to go along with what other people decide to tip (I'm assuming when you're splitting the bill?) is no longer an issue for me where I currently live because it is standard practice to ask for checks to be split either at the start of the meal of at the end.

                Yes, I know this is a scandalous and embarrassing practice to a former Chicagoan but I've come to like it because it gets you out of subsidizing people who order way more expensive food than you do. Plus - it's so much easier for servers now that everything is computerized.

                1. I see a trend with the replies...

                  Still so confusing; All different authorities too:

                  this really interesting: http://www.tipping.org/polls.shtml

                  I still gotta go with the tipping.org standard, always have, always will, I guess.

                  1. group i used to go out with -- standard then being take the pretax total and multiply it by 1.25 -- the result would be one's total bill -- then city taxes went up, so the new standard is something like 28% of the pretax total

                    1. 20% on total bill. At Starbux or other I just throw some change in the tip jar.

                      1. WOW! How old are you people? Back in the day that tax was 5% EVERYBODY and I mean EVERYBODY would just triple that and leave 15% of the pretax total -- the basic reason is that is HOW THE IRS FIGURES the 'imputed wages' of servers.

                        I will often tip WAY more 15%, but hardly ever less -- and will often let the server why.

                        1. I was a lifelong Chicago suburbanite, but I'm curious why you think this is exclusive to Chicago? Should it be similar in other cities between city folk and country folk?

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: laurendlewis

                            This this is in the Not About Food Board, I'll add my 2 cents. I'm not from Chicago and I along with my family, friends, etc. always tip on the PRE TAX amount. That's how we do it in Pittsburgh. I don't get why I should tip on an amount for which no food was provided and no subsequent service on that amount was received.

                            1. re: Rick

                              Unless the bill was sky high, I'm not sure I would worry about pretax-posttax. Let's say the subtotal is $100 and tax is 8%, bringing the total bill to $108. A pretax tip of 15-20% would be $15-$20, and a posttax tip of 15-20% would be $16.20-$21.60... a difference of just over $1.
                              So I'll give the server an extra $1.

                              15 vs 18 vs 10 vs 20 vs 30%, that's another question based on the service. But I do post-tax - it's easier and just isn't a huge deal for me.

                              1. re: laurendlewis

                                Note that sales taxes applied by various governmental entities total over 10 percent on restaurant meals in downtown Chicago, even higher on soft drinks. The formulas are byzantine.

                          2. OK, if I had to dig deep and not worry about looking cheap or stuff like that, my personal feeling is that I should only have to tip 15% of the subtotal. What I end up doing is tipping about 15% of the actual total or at least 15% of the subtotal and rounding up to the nearest dollar. The last two times though, I've left $2.25 when the tip would be okay at $1.75 or $2, just because [ooh 25 cents more, wow, hey if everyone did that, they'd make at least several dollars more a day. It adds up :-)]. So yes, you and I think alike. My best friend works in sales, so she expense everything and tips 20%+, so we don't let her divide the bill anymore!

                            The reason I don't tip the baristas and such, OK, one reason anyway is that they are making a normal hourly rate. I also don't frequent these places, so they don't know me... may be different if they make my regular drink every morning before I order.

                            1. Ultimately, how much you tip is your choice. If you like the percentages you've come up with, then tip that much. When dining with friends, you seem to be torn between feeling like a "cheapskate" and feeling "screwed." Decide which feeling is less upsetting, and tip accordingly.

                              as for your standards--tipping on the subtotal is pretty much accepted standard. Many people tip on the total; I tend to. However, the subtotal is considered standard.

                              Tip baristas or don't. They aren't paid as tipped employees. Some people prefer to tip; for them, there is a tip jar. Some people, like you, do not. Pretend the tip jar isn't there.

                              Your 15-20% range is pretty standard as well. I would say that in big cities and much of the east and west coasts the range skews more towards the 20, but it is a range.

                              It's a common comment on this board that people tip more when the bill is very low. That's a nice gesture.

                              The only thing I don't understand is why you think people "work their butts off" in a Mom and Pop place and don't in a chain restaurant. I understand wanting more of your dollars to support the former, patronizing those places to begin with. However, I don't see why you think they necessarily work harder. I've worked in a range of places to a cheap independently-owned 50's diner to Chilis and Pizzeria Uno's to expensive indepentently owned restaurants. When I worked at Chilis, I worked my butt off. I ran around like mad and cleaned more than I ever had to at another (restaurant) job. I worked my butt off at some of the upscale places as well, but part of working at an upscale place is hiding that work, appearing calm and relaxed on the floor when you have dozens of things to do. It's part of the job.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: nc213

                                Thanks for the comments, as to you question; maybe it's just a perception.

                                I just know that when I go to non-corporate or smaller size places, my waiters generally appear to be less supported, and have more tables per person than in the bigger places.

                                BTW: I wasn't calling out the chains in my earlier post, since I almost never go to any of them or support those types of places, but if I did, I would tip like anywhere else I go; 15-21% on the subtotal based on the level of service.

                              2. We tip on the pre-tax amount . . . tax in TO is 14% so it's a easy rule of thumb to round up from there to whatever suits the mood. What it works out to in actually precentages though, who knows, depends on the amount / original number. Mom&Pop places get more on a percentage basis, it's a rounding up to what feels right thing.