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Peter Post | Etiquette

20 percent tip? Easier math makes paying the bill a snap

“We recommend 20 percent, absolutely,” said Peter Post, managing director of the Emily Post Institute, which offers guidelines in etiquette.” That was how I was quoted in an article about tipping on the front page of The New York Times last Monday.

That is accurate, but it doesn’t explain why I recommend 20 percent as a standard tip in a restaurant today. In our experience, 20 percent has become the dining tipping norm, and part of the job of the Emily Post Institute is to reflect that norm.

I’ve taught business etiquette seminars for 11 years and throughout that time, when I speak about dining etiquette, I ask the participants how much they tip. Without fail 95 percent of the people tell me they tip 20 percent. When I ask why, the answer is almost as universal as it is practical: It’s easier to figure 20 percent than it is to figure 15 percent.

That makes sense, particularly at a business meal. The goal of a business meal is not to focus on the food, it’s the opportunity to build a relationship. As the meal draws to an end, the last thing I want to be doing is spending time interrupting the conversation to do mental gymnastics or consult an app as I figure the tip.


After examining the amount of the tip, the very next seminar topic is alternative ways of paying a bill. Again, my goal is to be focused on my dining partner(s), not on dealing with a bill. So if I can remove the issue of a bill arriving at the table at the end of the meal, it would be even better

I ask the participants what alternatives there might be. In no particular order they’ll suggest:

■  Near the end of the meal, excuse yourself to the restroom, give your card to the server, and request they have the bill ready to sign with a 20 percent tip added in when you return. They’ll have it ready for you. Back at the table you can focus again on your dining partner with no check ever coming to the table. Nice.


■  Or you might arrange for payment when you arrive. Give your card to the maître d’ when you check in and ask to have the completed slip with 20 percent added to it brought to you at the end of the meal. Now all you have to do is sign the slip. Use this approach only at a restaurant where you know and trust the people involved.

■  You also can arrange for payment ahead of time when you make the reservation. I like this approach because a check never arrives at the table and, therefore, your focus remains on the person you are with the entire time.

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