Tips are getting larger in Colorado as inflation rises, more places suggest gratuity

An 18-20% gratuity on restaurant meals has been standard for two decades. But as the cost of meals grow, tips are eating more into personal budgets.

Mimi McCroskey calls it “pressure tipping.” And she doesn’t approve.

The Denver etiquette specialist tips 20% to 25% before tax at a full-service restaurant. But she tips less, if at all, at the newer options that began popping up in the pandemic as empathy for frontline workers encouraged generosity — as well as opportunistic digital tip jars with the dreaded “suggested tip” screens that cause folks to fumble awkwardly while paying.

“It is called a gratuity. It has never, ever, ever been compulsory,” said McCroskey, who provides personal dining etiquette lessons for all ages at the Bridges School of Protocol in Denver. “The better answer is to tip whatever you can afford.”

Whether one can afford it or not, the general rate of tipping in America has hovered between 18% and 20% for the past two decades, according to archived Zagat Guide data. If you ask Toast, a restaurant tech company that tracks tips of its restaurant clients, the average tip peaked at 19.9% in early 2021. In the two years since, eating out costs 24.2% more in the Denver area than it used to, according to the U.S. Consumer Price Index. And higher menu prices mean that 20% tip is taking more dollars out of diners’ wallets.

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