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How Seattle Diners Feel About Tipping Right Now

In a recent Eater Seattle survey, most say they have changed tipping habits during the pandemic, but think automatic gratuities are the way to go

An open folder with a pen, a credit card, and a restaurant check against a blank gray background
Diners say they’re tipping more during the pandemic, but may want to see automatic gratuities instituted.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the debate about gratuities is in the spotlight, as restaurant and delivery workers put their health at significant risk to serve people. Have Seattle diners’ feelings around tipping changed over the past six months? Should automatic service charges become more prevalent? What’s the bottom line?

Last week, Eater created a survey to see how readers felt about the topic, and the results were enlightening. Out of more than 1,000 responses, the majority (about 56 percent) say they’ve changed their tipping habits over the past six months. Whereas 33 percent of respondents say they tipped more than 20 percent on a restaurant meal pre-pandemic, now that number has jumped to more than 60 percent.

When it comes to takeout, delivery, and third-party app orders, however, the general range was a bit different. In all three categories, the majority of respondents said they tipped less than 20 percent. So there’s a gap between those who are tipping more while dining in (whether that means outside or inside), versus those opting for take-home meals.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway was the feeling around automatic service charges. Several years ago, restaurants in the city started moving away from voluntary gratuities and instituted automatic service charges to checks instead. Some still have the policy in place, but the movement never became across-the-board standard.

Readers, in general, feel that Seattle may need to revisit a broader implementation of the automatic gratuity. More than 60 percent said that restaurants should move away from voluntary tips altogether, either now or eventually (once the pandemic is in the rearview mirror).

Eater also asked for more specific feedback. Below are some of the responses. Thanks again to everyone who participated in this survey!

— More people should be tipping more, and fewer people should be dining in. If you’re going to put people in danger just to earn a living, you should be tipping them appropriately for the danger you are putting them in.

— I’m generally of the impression that it is impossible to overtip restaurant workers. I did think it was weaselly when restaurant owners instituted a charge to make a statement about having to pay higher wages instead of just rolling it into menu cost. I worry about a service charge not actually getting to the service workers who’ve earned it.

— People don’t tip on quality of service. Make it automatic, and eventually it’ll become part of the price. Right thing for all sides.

— Pay staff appropriately and charge appropriately for product to cover business expenses. We don’t want some bullshit hidden fees.

— The automatic service charge of 20% is sufficient in finer dining establishments or restaurants that oversee staff and provide great service. I can always tip more if service is exceptional.

— I don’t think waiters should have to rely on tipping to make a livable wage. Tipping should be something extra to reward especially good service.

— Tipping is a great system. Restaurant employees make far more than they could make just being on payroll & that extra ketchup gets to the table way faster than it would without tipping.

— I hate tipping (and service charges). Charge me the necessary published price so that employees and owners come out whole, then I can make a rational decision if I’m willing/able to pay it.

— Service industry workers should make a livable wage and not have to suck up for wages. I still tip generously as it’s not the individuals fault, but just tell me how much it costs fully burdened, and charge me that.

— Tipping should be banned. Surcharges should be banned. Just raise the price of food. Eating at a restaurant shouldn’t be a math exercise for patrons.

— Automatic service charge should be the standard. Going out is a luxury. If you are unwilling or can’t afford to pay it, the answer is simple. Cook and serve yourselves at home. I would however, be interested in seeing a model where the service charge was built into the price of menu items. Removing the concept of tipping or service charge entirely. Such is the case in other countries. It may also have the benefit of avoiding an additional charge to consumers - tax on service charge that is mandated by law in WA.

— Didn’t ask but if the Seattle council is going to mandate a flat 2.50 for every delivery, I reduce my tip to compensate. Restaurant industry will deal with 3rd party apps, government shouldn’t get involved in emerging markets like they are.

— Always tip 20% anyway, so when a restaurant adds this to the bill, I’m completely fine with it. Makes it easier for me... I do have some friends that don’t tip on the wine and the tax, and as much as I might like the people, I do sometimes hope they get eaten to death by gerbils.

— I will not go to a restaurant with a service charge. I do what I feel is right. I tip well, I do not need to be told what to do.

— I don’t mind the automatic service charge. I dislike the “game” of tipping. If employees need more money to live, just increase prices of things. That’s more or less what the automatic service charge does, just with greater transparency.

— Tipping is important, even for takeout orders. it doesn’t come out of a vending machine just because you’re not eating in the restaurant. We need automatic tipping to prevent people from tipping less.

— A tip based on attitude, attention to detail, and experience outweigh automatic service charge. Tips should not be going over 18%-20%.

— We need to support our wait staff now more than ever. Now is not the time to cut down on tipping because you’re getting different service. You have enough money to be dining out in the first place — you can still afford to tip.

— Trying to keep the business I appreciate open, and so extra tips is one way to do this.

— Tech bros are stingy.