How Much Do People Tip at Restaurants? White Republican Men Give More, but It Doesn't Mean They're the Most Altruistic

If you’re a server in a restaurant, your dream customer is a white Republican man from the Northeast, findings from a survey released Sunday suggest. The poll by CreditCards.com of about 1,000 adults conducted last month found that men, Republicans, Northeasterners, baby boomers and anyone using a credit or debit card left a median tip of 20 percent when dining out. In contrast, the poll found women leave a median tip of 16 percent, while the figure for Democrats and Southerners is 15 percent.

Related: To curb sexual harassment, nix tipping at restaurants, advocates say

Studies on gender and tipping have found mixed results, with some research indicating that while men tipped more on smaller bills, women are better tippers on larger checks.

Asked to comment on the results of the latest survey, Michael Lynn, a Cornell University professor who studies gratuity practices, says the authors failed to include other recent research that found little difference between the genders. There is an exception, he says, for specific situations, such as when the waitress is attractive.

One of the servers interviewed by CreditCards.com similarly inferred that men may have ulterior motives to pure altruism.

“All of the really big tips I’ve gotten have been from men, and some of the really bad ones have been from groups of women,” said a server at an upscale restaurant in Henrico County, Virginia. “I think sometimes men tip more because they’re trying to impress someone.”

restaurant check A picture taken on June 20, 2012, at a restaurant in Quimper, western France, shows a bill. Wealth appears to be the biggest factor in determining how well a person tips. Fred Tanneau/AFP/Getty Images

Lynn theorized that a similar phenomenon could have been at play in the survey, given that the information was self-reported. Still, the poll did find that women were better tippers in situations outside of a restaurant, specifically with hair stylists or barbers, baristas and hotel housekeepers.

According to those who conducted the survey, there is an overriding factor at play in determining tip size that means it shouldn’t be a surprise that men generally tip more than women.

“Generally, it all comes down to income,” says Matt Schulz, senior analyst at CreditCards.com. “The more money you have, the more likely you are to leave a little extra tip on the table.”

Women continue to earn less than men, with a recent study finding that a woman makes 76 cents for every dollar a man does nationwide.

In terms of race, whites earn significantly more than blacks and Hispanics. It is perhaps predictable, then, that the survey found that 94 percent of whites said they tipped their servers all or most of the time, compared with 82 percent of Hispanics and 78 percent of blacks. Whites were also twice as likely to say that they generally left a tip in excess of 15 percent.

Similarly, the highest-tipping generation of Americans, baby boomers, also happens to be the age group earning the most. Meanwhile, Republicans tend to be higher earners than Democrats.

As for regional differences, it would appear that famed Southern charm doesn’t extend to tipping. The South was found to be the only region where both the average and median tip left at restaurants was just 15 percent.

Again, though, that doesn’t mean Southerners are stingier than their fellow Americans. The best-tipping region, the Northeast, happens to be the wealthiest region in the U.S., as well as the most urban.

“They likely have more tipping encounters than people in other parts of the country, so they quickly learn what’s expected,” Michael McCall, a professor at Michigan State University who specializes in consumer behavior, says. “Tipping behaviors are directly related to your knowledge of tipping customs and norms.”

As for why those paying with plastic tip more than those laying down cash, it may simply be a trick of the mind.

“When you pay with a card, your brain doesn’t see it as real money, so it’s not as painful,” McCall says.

Join the Discussion