Ask George: How have tipping habits changed after the holiday season?

Ask George: How have tipping habits changed after the holiday season?

How have tipping habits changed after the holiday season? —Scott C., St. Louis

As the COVID-19 pandemic became a long-term reality and restaurants suffered in 2020, restaurant patrons responded with their wallets. People who customarily tipped 10 percent on to-go orders often instead tipped 20 or 25 percent. In the spirit of the season, $20 bills were getting shoved into gloved restaurant hands across town.

Over the holidays, customers no doubt felt an increasing spirit of generosity. Stories of $20, $50, $100 tips—or even “tipping the check,” where the tip equals the exact amount of the tab—were common. As the new year dawned, there were even cases of customers tipping $2021 (a rollover from last year’s “2020 Tip Challenge”).

Ushering in a new year, however, often means a change in habits. So have patrons become more or less generous? We asked several restaurateurs whose establishments do a robust takeout business. 

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Niche Food Group’s Kate Woolverton: “I’m happy to report that guest’s habits don’t seem to have shifted much at all. The overall averages have stayed really consistent for both dine-in and takeout orders, so it appears the generosity and support we received in December is holding strong into 2021, which we are incredibly grateful for.”

Candicci’s Bob Candice: “Tipping habits have changed in both directions. Obviously, with the pandemic, people’s financial situations continue to change, but we have noticed, since the end of the very generous holiday season, that customers are either still tipping generously or have cut back significantly.”

Mai Lee and Nudo House’s Qui Tran: “It’s been an interesting progression. In the early days of the pandemic, business was off, tips were off, and we felt the only way for us to hold onto staff at Nudo House was to add a small curbside and pickup charge, which went to [staff]. When dining rooms shut down, the reality of the pandemic set in, tips increased on takeout orders, and, eventually, we were able to drop that charge. A year later, I find that customers are still generous and mindful. Those who can tip do, and I believe that many are tipping as much as they can.”    

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Three Kings Public House’s Derek Deaver: “Before the pandemic, we were averaging 22 percent in gratuities, post-tax, across all locations. Post pandemic, the average is 24 percent. When the pandemic first hit in March and over the holiday season, we averaged close to 30 percent, perhaps partly because we were takeout-only and dining rooms were closed. I honestly think our customers appreciated and felt sorry for us. Since the first of the year, tips are still in the low to mid-20s. We have awesome, loyal customers.”

Taco Buddha’s Kurt Eller: “From January 1 through yesterday, tips are down .02% from the average percentage of Q4 2020. Q1 and Q2 2020 were almost exactly the same as Q4 2020. Oddly, Q3 2020 was 2 percent down from Q1, Q2, Q4, and January 1 through yesterday.”

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George Mahe

Mahe is St. Louis Magazine’s dining editor. Originally a finicky eater, he has owned or operated restaurants most of his life. He began reviewing them for SLM in 1991.

Read more by George Mahe

February 5, 2021

10:45 AM

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