How To Tip When Dining on a Discounted Meal

Middle aged male couple eating evening meal in a restaurant.
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You just scored a double win — a delicious meal at a discounted price. Whether you chose the restaurant because you had a coupon or were given a discount while dining, you’re ready to pay the bill, but you’re not sure how much to tip.

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In most situations, you typically tip 15% to 20% of the total bill, but after doing the math, you’ve realized that’s a pretty small tip. Plus, you know your server did just as much work as they would on a full-priced meal.

You want to leave a fair tip, without overpaying. However, you don’t know if you’re supposed to tip on the discounted bill, the full-priced amount or if there’s another standard not on your radar.

“Tip at least 20% on what the bill would be without the discount,” said Julie Ramhold, a consumer analyst with DealNews. “The polite standard is 20% anyway, and those in the service industry are already not earning a living wage — add to that the fact that they likely lost jobs during the height of the pandemic and it should come as no surprise that they’re likely having trouble making ends meet.”

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If you can spare the extra cash, she recommended adding the amount you saved onto your tip.

“For instance, if the discount saves you $20, add that $20 to the tip,” she said. “But don’t use the discount as a tip replacement — that is, if you save $20 don’t just tip $20 because it evens out that way.”

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You might think a discounted bill means you can get away with leaving a smaller tip, but Ramhold said that’s not the case.

“For the love of everything, please don’t use the discount you receive as an excuse to tip less,” she said. “I’ve seen plenty of people that offer the bare minimum anyway, but when they use a discount and then tip on what remains, it’s cheating servers.”

If you’re trying to save cash, she said leaving a server a smaller tip isn’t the way to do it.

“Remember that they basically live off tips in most cases, and if they have to pool tips and split them amongst the other servers at the end of the shift, they may be getting even less,” she said.

Make Your Money Work for You

So there you have it — good service deserves to be rewarded with a full-priced tip. If you’re on a tight budget, seeking out restaurant coupons totally makes sense, but don’t forget to factor in the cost of leaving a fair tip for your server.

The same rule applies to discounts and freebies scored at the restaurant. Sometimes mishaps outside the server’s control happen during your dining experience — i.e., being seated late for a reservation or a backup in the kitchen that delays your meal a bit.

In these cases, it’s not uncommon for items to be comped or discounted as a way for the restaurant to apologize for the inconvenience. While often irritating in the moment, try to remember this isn’t the server’s fault and leave a tip that reflects the level of service they provided, instead of blaming them for issues they couldn’t control.

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About the Author

Jennifer Taylor is a West Coast-based freelance writer with more than a decade of experience writing about anything and everything. Since earning her MBA, personal finance has been her favorite topic, as she’s passionate about writing stories that educate, inform and empower. Specifically, she specializes in budgeting, debt repayment, savings and retirement.
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