Johnathan Gold Says Leave a 20% Tip, Every Time

In a recent article in LA Weekly, James Beard Journalism Award winning restaurant critic Johnathan Gold opined that all diners should tip 20% all the time. This includes good service, bad service, delivery, bartenders, wine service, counter service, to-go orders and coffee.

I’ve covered tips many times on this site (see below for links), but this is the first time I have seen someone so close to the industry make such a broad recommendation. I agree with tipping 20% for good service, but when my experience with the server is lousy, I’m hard-pressed to part with that much money. In my mind, tipping is a way to encourage good service, not all service. If we are going to follow these rules, a surcharge might as well be added to every bill, and save us the math.

The comments on his article are pretty entertaining.

2005 – On Tips and Tipping

2006 – Tipping Tips from Experts

2009 – Couple jailed for Refusing to Pay Mandatory Gratuity

2010 – How Much do You Tip for Takeout Food?


Your thoughts are welcome

  1. a fish says

    I’m certain that my type of question has been covered before, and I’m not trying to stir the pot, just an innocent request to understand the recent history of tipping. Through the majority of my 60 years, a 15% tip was considered standard, but in these past few years 20% seems to have become the norm for sit down service. Although I typically do tip 20% (mostly going with the flow), I don’t understand the evolution of when and why the change happened. Help me to better understand. Thanks.

  2. says

    I think where you live should probably factor into that decision. As I understand it, in some states, servers are paid less than minimum wage because they receive tips. I could see always tipping 20% in states like that, but in Oregon, where servers are getting at least minimum wage, I’m not sure people should feel bad leaving 15% for bad service.

  3. Homer's Son says

    My mother grew up in the depression and did not believe in tipping. When I would take her out for dinner and leave a tip I had to often return to the table and leave another because my mother had taken the tip away. Okay … we had other family issues …

  4. Doggie says


    A tip is just that, a tip. My default tip is usually around 20% (give or take a bit of change), however I don’t feel the least bit bad about leaving a lot less if I am not reasonably served.

    That said though, I don’t hold the wait staff’s tip hostage to the kitchen, unless they’re unwilling to try and make things right.

    And yes, tip on the before-discount price. This includes happy hour, sit-downs, etc… The only thing that I refuse to tip on is tax when I’m visiting up north.


  5. Jfunk says

    From my standpoint the baseline tip is 15%. If the server is really on the ball then the tip is 20%+. If the server is (as is all too often these days) an indifferent, addled, smug 20something who chooses to ignore every standard of hospitality – then the tip may fall below 15%.

    On another tipping topic – when I am fine dining and buying big off the wine list I do not EVER tip 20% on the wine. I will tip 20% (or more) on the rest of the check and a much smaller tip on the wine. Otherwise – things are way to far out of whack.

  6. SwineCheek says

    Johnathan Gold is ignorant. Tipping is one of the most direct and consequential ways of rating service. Unless you are an asshole, tipping for good service is common sense. Tipping encourages better service, sends a clear message to those providing bad service. Simple.

  7. nathaniel says

    I’ll usually tip 20%, a bit more for places that are my tried and trues. But punishing people for poor service? Not so much. I find it pretty easy to avoid bam bam places… what with the research of the net, word of mouth, and reviews etc, it’s not so much a crap shoot anymore… so basically when I do get bam bam service… I try to correct it in that very moment, asking for what I expect or need(with a smile, usually works like a charm). If that’s not an option and it’s just plain bad service, I’ll still likely leave 15%… but will round it out to the lower side of things.

  8. Bertha Pearl says

    We ate at Wild Abandon…my girlfriend ordered burger n fries..the waiter asked if she wanted ketchup(???) she said yes, and he brought it as we were finishing the meal because he was busy chatting with friends. We did leave a tip, but have not been back. The food was just okay, and there are plenty of really good places in portland that have good service and great food. There is no reason to give a regular tip for sloppy service.
    Also, re makemesomepie, ….as if minimum wage is a decent salary?

  9. JandJ says

    I don’t buy into the notion of a 20% default tip either. Like others, I tend to leave around that for good service and sometimes better for service above and beyond. However, for poor service, I’m likely to stay closer to 15%, or in some cases where the service is really bad, I may well leave even less as a way of sending a clear message. I totally agree that the tip should function as a measure of the quality of the service (and not so much what’s coming out of the kitchen).

    • PDX2CDG says

      That makes sense, they aren’t responsible for the chefs choices. They are responsible for timely service and knowledge of what’s on the menu. 15% for average and 20+% for above.
      (Jay Z left a $500 tip recently on a bottle. Out of my $$$ range.)

      • SwineCheek says

        Just an extreme example…But Jay-Z would have ordered 10 bottles of a bad vintage of Louis Roderer. His bottle check averages are like $20k, at least. I can imagine he doesn’t tip 20% on that.

  10. says

    Either tip or don’t tip. I generally look at 20% and then round up leaving an even dollar tip, meaning I generally tip over 20%. However, if I get bad service — not just aloof or stilted, but bad service — I just don’t tip at all. And often I will tell the manager or call in the next day. The house needs to know. 15% or 20%, the server probably won’t notice. 10%, maybe, depending on a range of factors. But if you don’t tip, they will realized you weren’t pleased in a hurry. Maybe they’ll just think you’re a prick, but they’ll know you weren’t happy with the service.

    One caveat: I don’t undertip for kitchen mistakes. If a burger comes out raw inside that’s not the server’s mistake. They can choose whether to tip the kitchen appropriately, but how they handle that situation once they find out determines whether the server did a good job or not. People often blame the server for a kitchen mistake. It’s also not the server’s fault if the kitchen is slow, but they should acknowledge it, apologize, and even try to make amends if really egregious.

    • Foop says

      I’m pretty much with ExtraMsg on this one, except for on the not tipping at all for bad service. Servers tip out, always the bartender and almost always the kitchen. If you don’t tip at all, then it costs the server money for you to sit at their table. Bad service or no, it’s childish and petty to take money away from someone simply because you are unhappy with them.

      I’ve not tipped twice, ever. Once when the server was outrageously and unbearably rude that I spoke to several people in the industry who knew management, and management myself, and the second time where the server seated friends before my party in a place that does not take reservations. We had been waiting 30 minutes for a table, and waited 15 minutes more. The server insisted that the friends had arrived before we did when they had walked in behind us, and then ignored us before serving us burnt food, for which she tried to charge us after we did not eat it.

      A 10 to 15% tip is an insult, or a comment that you received bad service, particularly in a nice place, which is where I have been for some years. Typically, bartenders get tipped on number of drinks if the drinks are cheap, and 20%+ if the drinks are expensive and well made with prompt and good service provided.

      I agree with the house needing to know in the event of unfriendly service. I’ve typically called or dropped by the next day once I’ve had a chance to calm down and articulate my thoughts and feelings. I make it clear that I do not want something for free and that my purpose is to let the house know about an issue. Never be accusatory, and do your best to communicate what happened and how that made you feel, making allowances for circumstances like you sat down at 8:30 on a saturday night and your drinks and foods took a while. If the situation was so bad that you do not intend to return, at the end of the call, politely let them know that this is the consequence of your experience.

      Doing so helps management feel as if they and the place they invest so much time and emotion in is not being attacked, but being given the opportunity to recognize a possibly recurring issue.

  11. resopmok says

    As an industry employee I’d like to note that at least in Portland, it is pretty standard for some percentage of tips to also be received by the kitchen. Perhaps this reflects a change from the old 15% figure as well – I have only cooked for 8 years but the kitchen tip phenomenon is not new, though the current % is better than a few years ago. Also though, I am making the same hourly as I was basically when I started, despite inflation, more experience and being a ranked lieutenant in the brigade. These days I don’t party anymore, so my tips go to pay for silly things like food (for meals I don’t eat at work) while my paycheck barely handles all the bills.

    ITTET, when you tip, you are supporting all of the staff and helping keep the restaurant afloat. Think about the entirety of your experience before you angrily throw down 5% to the lazy FOH jerkoff who didn’t refill your water because they were busy with a smoke break.

    • pdxyogi says

      Not how it works, at least from mine, the customer’s perspective. If the lazy FOH jackoff gets enough 5% tips and other staff rightfully complain and said waiter shapes up or is deservedly fired, the merit system of pay works. If I just buckle under, obey your justice and fairness directive and fork over 20% for shitty service, no one will learn anything, incompetance is rewarded, and nothing will improve.

  12. pdxyogi says

    This is the main reason why service is shitty here (and was, for that matter, in the former Soviet Union): if everyone’s paid the same there’s no incentive to excel. This same brand of liberal guilt is also responsible for sign-holding panhandlers (a.k.a drug/alcohol addicts begging money to feed their addiction). They wouldn’t be there if it didn’t pay, just as PDX shitty service wouldn’t perpetuate.

  13. Man-o-steele says

    I have found almost universally that in countries where tipping does not happen, the service is better: France, Germany and now Japan. How about this–let’s pay servers a living wage, treat them with respect and get over this puritan punishment/reward system that seems not to work for servers or customers.

    • pdxyogi says

      That does not in and of itself establish a causal relationship. Ask successful professional servers how well our horrible system works for them, and if they’d like to do away with it.
      Perhaps in your ideal world we do away with all commission sales jobs, which are an example of our “puritan system”. While we’re at it, let’s have the government regulate all wages, setting an official matrix by which pay is calculated by experience and education. Wouldn’t want anyone paid based on performance and production, too much reward and punishment there.

      • Man-o-steele says

        Actually it does–respect is the key word that you are missing. And–oh yes I was implying a matrix like system that the government control all wages–how could I miss that–thanks for clarifying my thinking, and I’m from the former USSR and spend every summer in Cuba–still looking for villains, which is quite puritan, like a witch hunt! Like assuming that I haven’t known, talked or worked with any “professional” successful servers.

        The point is, again, that when you pay someone a decent wage and show them respect–not at implying that they can just hang out at all–they tend to do better jobs a servers by FAR. The kind of service I have experienced in Japan without tips exceed anything I have ever had state side anywhere. And for your information, the government is not controlling all the wages; they have quite an active market economy. The serves may not kiss your back side and make you feel like a queen, but they are certainly better at the job of bringing food and drinks quickly and efficiently.

        • pdxyogi says

          It’s called “hyperbole”: look it up.

          A causal relationship means that were we to suddenly do away with tipping and pay a “living wage”, service would then rival that of Japan. That is ridiculously simplistic. ALL service in Japan is superior to that of the US, and most of those arenas are not even currently tippable here. Shitty service in the US can be found when dealing with the cable company, bank etc.
          I’m done, you may have the final word if you wish.

  14. Joey says

    From the LA Weekly article:

    “The owner gets to pretend her prices are lower, the busboy makes rent, and you get to feel like a philanthropist. A win-win for all.”

    I wish restaurants just charged what they need to charge to be in business.

    It is my job, via tips, to make up for an owner who has a business plan that puts their staff on the edge making enough to pay the bills (both for the restaurant and themselves)?

    To me, a “tip” seems like it should be 5%. When I start paying 20% above the “base” price for something it no longer feels like a “tip”, rather it is like I should be paying $1-$5 dollars more for everything on the menu.

    I honestly don’t get service anywhere in Portland where I feel like 20% is justified. Even where I’m a regular this can backfire as they know they have more slack with you and use this when they are busy. Hey! I’m still paying my 20%, but for what?

    To those who say “well, you don’t have to dine out if you don’t like it.” I agree, I don’t and have been going out less. Is this really a “solution” for either party?

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