How much do you tip after dining out? Does stacking up dirty plates annoy servers? Just how much of a mess can children make at a restaurant? Whether you are receiving sit-down service, picking up takeout or ordering delivery from an app, here are some guidelines to help restaurant-goers feel cool as a cucumber.
PEOPLE spoke with professional etiquette coach Maryanne Parker to get some insight into proper restaurant behavior and advice for diners.
When asked about whether diners should clean up after their children, Parker says, “You have to think about the rest of the diners, not only about your table, but the table next to you. And you kind of lead the tone for the whole environment. So of course, I’m not going to let my children yell, and to be making a lot of mess, and to be intrusive, and to spoil the whole atmosphere for everybody else.”
In addition to fellow diners, Parker is adamant about restaurant-goers remembering that they need to be respectful to staff. “The fact that you’re paying doesn’t mean that you have to let everything loose. You’re working with people, the fact that [the waiters’] position is different from yours doesn’t mean that you should degrade them.”
But when it comes to guests stacking their dishes in an attempt to help waitstaff, Parker suggests leaving it to the employees and to not get “too involved.”
“When we put all those dishes one after another, it’s extremely frustrating for the server, because they have to carry it,” she explains. “They have a particular number of plates that they can carry. They don’t want to break something. They know their restaurant. They know how to navigate the whole setting there. They know where to go.”
She continues, “Sometimes we think that we’re very helpful, and it’s actually the opposite.”
One guaranteed way for diners to be helpful to the restaurant workers is with gratuity. A quick search online tells you that diners should tip 15 to 20% at a U.S. restaurant, but one expert says the answer is not so simple.
Mike Lynn, a professor of consumer behavior at Cornell University with an expertise in tipping, told PEOPLE that tipping norms are less consistent than people tend to think.
Lynn said, “Tipping norms evolve from all of our everyday behavior. It is normative. Most people are tipping 15 to 20%. So that is the norm, both descriptive, and because so many people do it, it’s become injunctive. We feel like we have to. But most norms that come down, I mean, who’s to tell you what you should do?”
Citing a study he conducted several years ago, Lynn also noted that when asking U.S. citizens about the customary tip for restaurant waiters, 25% of participants said they tip less than 15%.
But not everyone realizes there is a gratuity percentage expected. “There were plenty of people who didn’t even know it was a percent. Their response was, ‘Three bucks,’” he explained.
Just as with dine-in tips, Lynn does not have a clear-cut answer about an exact amount to tip for takeout. And the answer is just as murky for fast-food restaurants or coffee shops.
When asked about gratuity guides for a counter service restaurant (one in which the diner orders at the register and does not have someone serving them at a table), the professor thinks the popular 15% to 20% tip doesn’t necessarily apply. “Restaurant servers are providing a more elaborate and, presumably, a little bit more customized service than counter workers. All of those are reasons that I personally find more compelling reasons to tip sit-down restaurant servers than I do counter workers but that’s my motivation,” Lynn says, specifying that every individual has his own motivations for tipping which could also be “perfectly legitimate.”
“Your motivation could be different. I don’t want to tell you you’re wrong, but I do want to say if you’re tipping out of a sense that, ‘Oh. This is the new norm, and I have to because everyone else is doing it, and they’ll think badly of me,’ well, first off, not everyone else is doing it.”
In fact, Lynn specifies that only about 30% of people leave a tip for restaurant carryout. “That may surprise many of your readers, because they assume almost everybody’s asking for a tip for restaurant carryout. I think there’s a presumption that if people are asking, it must be the new norm, and other people must be doing it. That’s simply not correct.”
Food delivery services have their own dos and don’ts for tipping. A spokesperson at Grubhub told PEOPLE that they suggest tipping 20% or $5, “whichever is more,” for a typical delivery. Should the order be particularly large, the weather be unruly or the drive be a trek, orderers ought to consider adding a few extra dollars, according to the source.