Are millennials bad tippers?

Barbara Platts
Woman with one dollar bill
Getty Images/iStockphoto | iStockphoto

We’ve all been there before. You’ve just had a satisfying meal at a restaurant. Then, the bill is dropped off, bringing you swiftly back to reality. You look at the statement, which is obviously much more than you anticipated it being (those cocktails and bottles of wine do tend to add up). After coming to terms with the total, the next decision is how much extra you want to add for the server who accommodated your dining experience. So … how much of a tip do you give?

Apparently, if you’re a millennial, you won’t leave much at all. In fact, you may not leave anything. That’s according to a study released last week about the tipping habits of millennials.

Now, as we all should know by now, there is a new study or analysis on the millennial generation published just about every day. It’s hard to keep track of all of the claims on how my generation (those born between 1980 and 2000) thinks, spends, believes and behaves. I don’t respond to all of these claims in my column, frankly, because I don’t have the time or space, but I do feel the need to respond to those I find particularly relevant.

This latest study on tipping was conducted and published by It caught my attention because it was mentioned in a news-related limerick on NPR’s “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!” I listened to it Saturday, when the host explained what this study was about and decided to research a bit more.

Once the study was released, news organizations far and wide took note. From USA Today and ABC News to the New York Post and Chicago Daily Herald, outlets shared articles, pics and even video on this scintillating issue. Headlines ran the gamut from understanding to offensive: “Millennials apparently suck at tipping in addition to everything else” and “Here’s why millennials are really bad at tipping.”

The study was not a particularly thorough one, in my opinion. It surveyed 1,000 American adults in mid-May. By “adults” the website meant anyone 18 years and older. The population of those surveyed was “weighted to ensure accurate and reliable representation of the total population,” the website stated. The results showed that, when dining at a restaurant, 10 percent of Americans ages 18 to 37 routinely leave no tip at all, and one-third leave less than 15 percent. This is the lowest tipping amount out of all age groups surveyed.

When I read the results of this survey, I was completely flabbergasted. Many of these studies that come out about millennials I can at least relate to, but I didn’t understand this one at all. That’s probably because I don’t operate this way. Spending some years as a waitress in college gave me a lot of respect for those who work in the restaurant industry. I don’t feel right giving less than a 20 percent tip when I’m dining out. I’ve noticed that most of my close friends feel the same way. If anything, I thought millennials, as a generation, were more generous than our predecessors. Feeling totally blindsided by’s findings, I attempted to gather some perspective. I decided to conduct an “official survey” of my own. I texted several of my friends and also posed the question on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I got a total of 77 responses from millennials. Out of those, no one said they tip less than 15 percent when dining at a sit down restaurant, and only 8 percent of those surveyed said they tip somewhere between 15 and 20 percent. Every other millennial said they usually tip 20 percent or more.

As I conducted this survey, it occurred to me that the perspective may be different in Aspen, a town run — in many ways — by the service industry. I’ve heard of waiters and waitresses receiving tips in the thousands and tens of thousands of dollars during the busy season in our mountain community. Out of those I surveyed, 33 percent currently live or have lived in the valley. Not one of them said they tip less than 20 percent. And, a few friends of mine that are servers and bartenders said they usually receive more than 20 percent for tips.

There was another point that the study concluded. Millennials, out of the age groups surveyed, are the most open to paying more for things if they don’t have to leave a tip. This is often how things are done in countries in Europe. The idea is the restaurant pays its staff more per hour and includes some kind of service charge in each customer’s check, or they increase the price of dishes to take care of it. This has been a hot trend for restaurants, especially because many states have increased the minimum wage. Some seem to love this trend, while others have found a no-tipping policy too difficult to maintain. There are arguments on both sides of the issue. Some restaurants, particularly upscale ones in New York City, are now saying it’s more common to tip 25 to 30 percent. No matter what side of the issue one is on, I don’t think we will be going to a zero-tipping policy anytime soon in this country.

Obviously, this issue can go in depth in many different directions, and I’m hesitant to make any claims or assumptions because our generation is so diverse. However, I don’t think the survey is an entirely accurate portrayal for how Generation Y tips, particularly when it comes to those millennials who live in a little place called Aspen.

Barbara Platts considers herself to be a good tipper, whether dining in Aspen or elsewhere. Reach her at or on Twitter @BarbaraPlatts.