Social Media and the New Culture of Tipping

by Ken Mueller on September 23, 2013 · 5 comments

A Waitress taking a breakfast order at Kahala ...

I’m a pretty good tipper. Or at least I like to think so.

I have restaurants as clients and I’ve learned a lot about the food service and hospitality industry. I understand that preparing food and waiting tables isn’t a piece of cake. You’re on your feet all day, working long hours and often dealing with a wide range of people with a wide range of temperaments and personalities. You have to be on your game and pleasant, regardless of what you’re dealing with at home.

Sick kid? Bills due? Relationship issues? Car in need of repairs?

Doesn’t matter; you still need to be on your game and act as if everything is wonderful. Oh, and the hourly wages probably aren’t that good and you most likely don’t have insurance.

And even those who own the restaurants aren’t raking in the dough. The food service industry has one of the lowest profit margins among businesses. For a full-service restaurant, the profit margin can run around 2% to 6%, with higher end restaurants being on the lower end of that scale. That means for every $1,000 they bring in, their pre-tax profit might only be $20.

Yeah, don’t expect to get rich by opening a restaurant.

But back to tipping. I’m pretty laid back and easy to please. I generally tip around 20%, and the general guidelines for tipping are in the 15-20% range. That’s for restaurants as well as barbershops, spas, and most other businesses where tipping is the unwritten rule.

But in the digital age, our tips shouldn’t stop at handing some cash over to a waitperson or bartender. That money benefits them, and I’m sure they’re appreciative. But what about the dishwasher, the kitchen staff, and yes, even the owner?  They also worked hard to make sure you had a great experience, and there is something you can do for them as well.

The New Culture of Tipping

What is this new culture?

After you’ve paid the bill, don’t stop. Hop on your smartphone or computer the first chance you get, and let them know how they did. The problem is that our customers are more likely to complain than praise. As Peter Blackshaw states,

Satisfied customers tell three friends, angry customers tell 3,000.

While that might be a bit of an exaggeration, it strikes at a very important truth: we are quick to anger and slow to praise. This is confirmed by a customer service survey that shows we are actually twice as likely to complain than to praise. That needs to change. From a business perspective we need to do our part and continually strive to provide great customer service and customer experience. But we also need to cultivate a new culture of tipping among our customers.

What does this new culture look like?

Make sure your customers are aware of your online presence. Perhaps when you deliver their check in the bill presenter, you also deliver a note, thanking them for their patronage. And then, make the ask.

Ask them to help you out by leaving a review on the sites that matter the most to you. And I stress the word, “honest.” After all, if you’re doing your job, you have nothing to worry about. Sure there will be some negative reviews, that will always happen. But the good reviews should outweigh the bad, by far. Here are a few of the sites you should be including for your customers (and on which you should have a presence!).

  • Write a review on your Facebook page
  • Write a review on Yelp
  • Write a review on Google Places (on Google +)
  • Write a review on Urban Spoon
  • Write a review on Trip Advisor
  • Leave a review or tip on Foursquare

You can pick just a few of these, and perhaps even add QR codes to make it easier for them. By offering them a few options, you let them know what sites are important to you, and give them the option of writing their review on their favorite site. And by printing them on a card and presenting it to them with the bill, you increase your chances of getting them to act. And if you really want them to take it with them, perhaps include a coupon for a discount on the other side that they can bring back with them next time they visit. Another option is to have the card available as part of a tabletop card holder, or even mention this on your printed menus.

And if you’re a customer, please consider taking a few minutes of time to post a review, especially if you had a good experience. Be honest. If you were pleased with the service, offer up the name of your server or bartender and give them credit. And make your reviews even more helpful by offering up useful tips on what to order or where to park.

A cash tip for your server is great, but a positive online review can go much further and helps the business reap greater dividends in the long run.

By all means, tip well. But go the extra mile and join the new culture of tipping by leaving a review on line.


I just did a webinar on driving reviews on Yelp.  It true I need to step up my reviews too on the Social platforms available.  Thanks for the great insight. 


I really need to write more reviews on Yelp and TripAdvisor. I definitely leverage those reviews when choosing restaurants and travel locations.

As for tipping, I'm generally a 20%er...unless they were truly average...then it is 15%.


I agree!!!!! And I really do make an effort to recognize service people who had phenomenal attitudes, all the while hoping the establishment's social media team picks it up and gives the person an attagirl or attaboy (best with chains, obviously). I like your suggestion that the business give me as a customer some pointers for the best place to leave my honest review. // While it was not a restaurant, I was approached at a retailer by someone who appeared to be in management, handed a coupon for a significant percentage off, and "requested" to provide a favorable response to a customer survey. That is irritating -- to get my effusive praise, just earn it. I'll do you as the business right and sing your praises on social media.

KenMueller moderator

@biggreenpen Yeah, there are a lot of businesses who like to reward you for praising them. That's kind of icky to me. And I know that sites like Yelp will penalize you if they know that is going on. Be great. Do a wonderful job, and hopefully people will respond in kind. 


  1. […] in a culture that is more inclined to complain than to praise. It’s our job as businesses to change that aspect of our customer culture. We can work hard to make them happy, but that won’t necessarily garner positive reviews. But […]

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