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20-40-60 Etiquette---Tip on tax?

by Helen Ford Wallace Published: October 11, 2013



By Callie Gordon, Lillie-Beth Brinkman, Helen Ford Wallace

 QUESTION: We were at dinner with several friends recently. When the bill came, we had a huge discussion on tipping on the meal’s tax. Should we only tip on the bill for the meal or for total bill of the meal plus tax. What do you think?

CALLIE’S ANSWER: This is a tricky topic. Some restaurants now suggest tipping after taxes because servers themselves tip out on the after-tax amount. I usually tip after taxes but to each his own. Do what you feel comfortable with.

LILLIE-BETH’S ANSWER: This sounds like a spirit-of-the-law (intent) vs. letter-of-the-law (actual wording) kind of thing, and a discussion about tipping always comes with lots of opinions. From what I’ve heard, the actual unofficial “rule” is to tip according to the amount of the meal and not the tax. But this is subjective. It’s my understanding that waiters get paid far less than minimum wage, with the expectation that tips are supposed to make up the rest of their salary.

I don’t think there’s much difference between the before-tax and after-tax amount, so if you can, find in the waiter’s favor in this case and do your best to find another place to save money in your budget. I do understand the question, though; sometimes it’s a stretch for me to eat out with my own family, and I forget about accounting for the tip until the very end. But I don’t think pretax vs. post-tax tipping will make that much difference to you on a one-time basis, but it adds up over time for the waiter, who might need all the help he or she can get. Also, keep in mind that waiters are paying taxes on expected tips, based on the sales at the tables they served.

HELEN’S ANSWER: Technically the tip should be based on the pretax amount, since the service you receive has nothing to do with the tax.

However, when you are in a group, it does not seem like before-tax or after-tax tipping should be a squabbling point. It usually is not a significant amount. Most people take the total and tip accordingly.

GUEST’S ANSWER: Richard Rosser, author of “Piggy Nation”: Let me get this straight — you had a huge discussion about an extra 50-cent tip. How was the service? Was your waiter efficient? Friendly? If yes, consider tipping on the tax. If not, don’t tip on the tax. Now, you’re free to spend your next meal discussing whether to eat potato salad with a small or regular fork.

Callie Gordon is twenty-something, Lillie-Beth Brinkman is in her 40s, and social columnist Helen Ford Wallace is 60-plus. To ask an etiquette question, email


by Helen Ford Wallace
Society Editor
Helen Ford Wallace is a columnist covering society-related events/news for The Oklahoman. She puts local parties online with daily updates. She creates, maintains and runs a Parties blog which includes web casts. She is an online web editor for...
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