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Jul 12, 2007 10:53 AM

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...

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  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.