Just the Tip

What are customers really tipping right now?

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The Regional's Kevin Grossi says tips are consistently around 25 percent./Elan Raanan, @theregionalfood

Word on the street is that customers are tipping exceptionally well right now. And while we all love the idea of customers waltzing through the doors, pockets stuffed with Benjamins, ready to make it rain, we decided to check in with restaurant and bar owners around the state to find out what’s going on at their joints, and how it compares to what customers were offering up just eight months ago. Here’s what we found:

Kevin Grossi, chef-owner of the Regional, Fort Collins

[Guests are tipping] 25 percent now, regularly. It depends on the energy of the room but we have a couple of servers—the hometown heroes—those guys are 28, sometimes 30 percent. I’m like, “Holy shit, what are you guys doing?” In Fort Collins we have a little bit of a different experience than in Denver. Because we’re sandwiched between Fort Collins and Wyoming, we see more people going out, it’s a little bit no fear. People are going out because they see the liveliness of Old Town. We don’t have a lot of tourism coming our way, but we have a bit of a cult following. We’ve hit a stride in the last couples of weeks and are back to 75 percent of business. It’s good for the circumstances right now. The people who dine with us want the experience of being in the building. 

Penelope Wong, chef-co-owner of Yuan Wonton, a Denver-area food truck

Before the pandemic hit, we had the option to leave 20, 22, or 25 percent (or a custom amount) on our checkout screen on Square [Yuan Wonton accepts online orders only]. About 98 percent of our guests would select the 25 percent option while maybe one percent opted for 20, and another one percent would select custom and tip very generously. 

Now, most of our guests are happy to tip the automatic 20 percent we have added onto our online ordering site. It’s usually less than one percent that don’t tip at all, and about three percent that tip ten percent. However, I don’t know how skewed that may be by the speed at which they have to check out. Our circumstance is unique in that most of our guests know to checkout as quickly as possible because the items in their cart are not guaranteed until they complete checkout. We’ve had guests’ carts literally empty in front of their eyes while trying to submit credit card information. So the automatic 20 percent that we have added may just be left alone as they speed along in the process. 

Theo Otte, chef-co-owner of 626 on Rood, Grand Junction

In April and May, people were beyond generous. People were tipping on takeout as if they were sitting down, and then adding another 10 percent. In late May and June, that trend, for the most part, slowed down to 22 or 23 percent. We’ve been open for 14 years and have a good clientele base and good reputation…[so] we’ve always had a high average, 21 or 22 percent. People are [still] tipping well on takeout, too. Some people are tipping nothing on takeout (which I understand) and some people are tipping over 30 percent. So we’re at over 20 percent [on takeout tips]. People do want to be generous, but they’re not going to be generous with substandard service.

Tony Maciag, co-owner of Work & Class and Super Mega Bien, Denver

I would say the overall percentage has stayed pretty consistent. But I would also say that most of our guests are tipping less, but this is made up for by a small percentage of wonderful humans that are tipping considerably more than their normal, already high tipping percentages. Low end is 10 percent…high end is 30 percent. Pre-COVID, almost nothing was ever below 15 percent with most tips right around 20 percent. It seems to equal out, but only because of the small group of extreme tippers that make everything better. 

Jennifer Emich, co-owner of Shine, Boulder

As of last week [September 14] Shine has decided to implement a 19% Shine fee…a sustainability, service, and sanitation fee in lieu of tipping.

Before we implemented this fee, most people were tipping well to over-tipping; then there were a few that just tip a little, especially on pick-up orders. This fee helps bring more consistency.

Jen Mattioni, former partner at Q House, Denver

I see a wide cross-section of tipping. Overall, our tip percentage is skewed. Lows are really low and highs are really high. Not across the board 23 to 25 percent (with good confidence that was six months ago). I wonder if it’s because some people are assuming there’s a service charge. I’ve seen more 10 to 12 percent tips than ever before. I’ve had a lot of people ask if there’s a service charge or if our prices are higher because of COVID. Our prices are the same.

Are your customers ponying up more? Less? Are you getting the shaft on takeout orders? Talk to us! Email your experiences (and thoughts, opinions, and questions—anything, really) to askus@diningout.com

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