- a blog about food and value

Tipping into turmoil

Photo: Sue Jefferson

Photo: Sue Jefferson

By Catriona McGrath

I just never know what to do.  How much do you tip a waiter?  Should you tip the poor man who has driven in the pouring rain to deliver your dinner?   Do you tip if you’re just getting a tea or coffee in the coffee shop?  I mean, they have those tip jars on the counter, they must be there for a reason?  And don’t even get me started on non-food related tipping… taxi drivers, hair dressers…  where does it end?

But seriously though, I would really love to get people’s views on this.  Maybe we can reach a consensus and print a ‘Guide to tipping etiquette’ information leaflet.  Something which helpfully goes through all possible scenarios and tells you whether you should tip, when you should tip and how much you should tip.
So, say for example you go to lunch – it’s a buffet and you serve yourself, or else you are served by someone behind the counter but still have to do all the running around yourself to get things.  You come to the end of the counter where the till is, tray in hand, clearly about to bring the food to the table yourself, and there is a tip jar, or plate, or bowl.  Do you tip?  Yes, the staff have prepared the food, but then they are paid to prepare the food.  I’m carrying it around myself, I got my own cutlery and napkins and glass of water – do I tip?  I’m inclined to say ‘no’, but clearly people do and I’m curious as to why.  Am I being completely rude by not dropping in a few coins?

Or, lunch again, only this time a sit down lunch.  I know a lot of people who don’t tip at lunch times.  I tend to, though I wouldn’t leave as much as I might if it was a dinner, but I’m slowly being brought round to the other way of thinking.  One of the arguments put forward have been that there is a minimum wage here.  It’s not like in the US where waiting staff might get a pittance and rely on their tips to survive.  Here, there’s a minimum wage, and that wage pays the waiting staff to do their job, and it’s not necessary for us to supplement it.  Unless, I suppose, you consider that you’ve had amazing, out-of-the-ordinary service, and you want to reward it.

As for dinner, I definitely tip.  But the more I think about it the more I wonder why.  Why would I tip at dinner and not at lunch?  What’s the difference – if somebody is serving me food what does it matter what time of day it is?  And even if I resolve that question I have the problem of how much to tip.  My working holiday year in Canada has trained me to tip 15% but is that a good guide?  I remember in Canada being told that you tip no matter what the service has been like, but here I would not tip bad service, and I really hope we never develop that habit of automatically tipping no matter how appalling the service.

And the delivery man… oh that awkward dance of handing over a €20 note for something that comes to maybe €18.  Do you wait for your change?  Will the delivery man assume it’s for him?  Is €2 a lot for a delivery person, or is it a little?  Do delivery people expect to be tipped??

All answers on a postcard to me please!


  1. I tip, but I think I shouldn’t. You mentioned the minimum wage, and there is also the fact that most restaurant now include service charges in the bill. I don’t get a tip for doing my job, do I? I sometimes get a thank you from customers, but no tip, and I don’t expect one. When did we start tipping people for doing their job properly, I wonder?

  2. As a former waitress in Dublin, I can tell you that a lot of restaurants still manage to pay their staff less than minimum wage, in some of the places I worked they would fiddle the pay slips to make it look like you had worked 5 hours @ €25 instead of actually 5 shifts at the same wage. It’s a grim state of affairs, but if it was ever questioned the owners would threaten taxing your tip earnings. I did make a small fortune in tips but I worked hard and maintained a very pleasant disposition(which isn’t always easy) for that. If the service is bad I make a point of not tipping, no-one should be rewarded for rudeness or inattentiveness. I think the same should go for most other services too.

  3. I tip too, usually, but also feel I shouldn’t as service is a joke in this country. The minimum wage thing does apply and service charges are included generally.

    I certainly won’t tip if it’s just for coffee or something small. I think people feel pressured into it these days. The more I think about it now, the more I’m inclined not to. From now on I’ll only tip if the service goes beyond the minimum which should be expected.

  4. €2 in not a lot for a delivery guy/girl. I used to work in a take away and the drivers get something like €15 for the night from the take away and the rest they make it from the tips they get and the delivery charge.

  5. I tip for sit down meals unless the service was truly appalling. Usually 10% rounded up. I also waitressed in the States briefly so feel a little odd tipping someone who’s already earning €8+ per hour for service that wasn’t great. In the US we earned $3.50 per hour and so definitely needed those tips.

    Delivery guys are tricky – I order from Saba sometimes, and they have a €3 delivery charge – should you tip on top of that?

  6. Thanks for this post. My daughter and I will be in Ireland over Christmas and I was unsure about how to tip when we get there. Some websites say no tipping, others say at your own discretion. Here in the States, it’s 15%, unless service is really good, then it’s 20-30%.
    I spoke to someone at the hotel we’ll be staying out and they said tipping is optional but if the service is good 10% tip (hotel, restaurants, cabs, etc.) would be fine. Do you think that’s right?

  7. I tip 10% as long as the service isn’t appalling. While the waiters may make minimum wage (in some places), the job they do, if they do it well, is extremely difficult. It requires a lot more skill than simply those of taking orders and carrying plates which is why we so often encounter bad service.

    I get so peeved at guides to Ireland that say that tipping isn’t the norm, or to leave a maximum of 10%. Plenty of people tip 15% and very few people go to a semi-formal restaurant and not tip.

  8. I generally tip for sit-down meals, irrespective of the time of day, unless I’ve been kept waiting for ages and/or the service has been bad. Usually aim for between ten and fifteen percent – if service is exceptional I might give more. If service is included in the bill I don’t tip.

    Off-topic, but you mentioned hair salons… I really take issue with being made to feel I have to give a fiver to everyone who’s come within five foot of me. I give my hairdresser a decent-sized gift voucher every Christmas instead and it’s much more appreciated.

  9. It completely depends – the level of service received, the atmosphere in the place and how much change I am getting from my payment. When I do tip, it’s never more than 10% and usually more like 5%/.

  10. I’d only tip for a sit down meal (not carvery/self service type places). I’d usually tip for a sit down restaurant, I tip normally around 10% rounded, less if service not great and I don’t tip at all if the service is bad.

  11. I currently waitress in Dublin and have waitressed in the States as well. In certain states you get a proper minimum wage, for instance, I was earning $10 an hour in wages and then easily 20% of my sales in tips. In Dublin, I earn significantly less, but after three years of waitressing I can say that the most tables of two will leave at least 4 euro and families leave usually 5 or 10 euro, depending on the bill amount or number of courses. I very often receive 15 and 20 euro tips, and occasionally, especially around Christmas, people leave large tips up to 100 euro- not even joking.

    I think it’s a huge compliment to the server to receive a big tip as it signifies that they have done a great job, and I know I take my waitressing very seriously and strive to make every table have a really enjoyable experience at the restaurant I work so for me, to not be left a tip is rather insulting, when I know I give friendly, attentive and rapid service.

    I eat out a lot, as with several years of serving experience, I am extremely critical of servers. My philosophy, in Dublin, is to sit at the table, prepared to leave a 10% tip, which then goes up or down depending on the quality of the service received; as a result, I have sometimes paid a bill without tipping in truly apalling service situations. I have also received service that exceeds my expectations and I reward it with tips of a very high percentage.

    Waitressing is just a part time job for me as I am in college, but people need to realise that it is a VERY hard part time job. You have to be constantly friendly and constantly organised as often you are in charge of more tables than you should be able to handle. Hours are long. I’ve worked in 3 Dublin restaurants and know of many servers in other Dublin restaurants where hours can be from 11am to 1 in the morning- that’s 14 hours. I also know that often, in busy restaurants, servers are not given breaks. Imagine running around, carrying hot heavy plates and trays of heavy drinks for 14 hours non-stop? It happens. I work as a waitress because I love food and I love people, and sure, it’s very challenging at times, keeping track of your tables and maintaining stamina in long shifts, but I feel that my hard work is rewarded in tips. I think that servers SHOULD be tipped and rewarded for the efforts BECAUSE the work can be so demanding- if people weren’t going to leave us tips to help us with our earnings, we’d all be better off working for minimum wage in newsagents and not tiring ourselves out. Statistics online will even highlight how stressful a serving job can be.

    As far a service charge included in the bill, it is ALWAYS refutable. I think it is important to ask whether or not the service charge goes to the server. I know more restaurants where the COMPANY gets the service charge than where the server does. I worked in one. Ask the server, if they don’t get it, ask the manager to remove it and leave your own tip.

    FINALLY, I do not operate on a percentage for taxi drivers or hairdressers. Taxi drivers and pizza delivers etc get whatever change rounds it up to the next note, and hairdressers get a fiver. I don’t tip in places with counter service unless there is at least SOME involvement of someone bringing something to my table for me, this kind of tip is lower, maybe 2 euro. In a cafe with a waitress I might tip a euro for coffee but in a Starbucks etc, I wouldn’t.

    Sorry to all who have been forced to read this ESSAY of an opinion!

  12. Thanks for all the comments – I promise I will mention you guys in the acknowledgements of my soon to be bestselling book on tipping 🙂

    Edie, I reckon the consensus seems to be at least 10% if you get good service. More if you think the service is excellent. But don’t feel obliged to tip bad service at all.

    Louise, thanks for the marathon comment! It was an essay, but really informative!!

  13. Louise, very interesting comment about the service charges not being redistributed to the staff.

  14. Good information in Louise’s post! It confirms my perception that it is best to leave the tip in cash on the table, which should give some chance of it actually going to the waiting staff.

  15. Not much to add to Louise’s excellent post except that credit and debit card tips are usually taxed and also the credit card companies take a % of each transaction so it is always best to leave tips in cash.
    My guidelines are 10% for a sit down meal, more if the service is very good and I reserve the right to leave zilch if the service is awful. I round up for cabbies etc. and generally don’t tip counter staff for coffee etc.