Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? Then Calculate This Bill’s Tip…

By the time kids leave the 5th grade they should know how to calculate simple percentages, which is one of the most critical mathematical tools we have at our disposal after we become adults.

Well, at least it is for those of us who enjoy eating at fine-dining establishments but aren’t willing to trust our waiter to suggest the appropriate tip for services rendered.

That being said, let’s assume for a moment that I am a waiter.  (Hey, if I get laid off, it may become reality one day.)  Anyway, let’s say I seat four adults for dinner at the same table who wish to pay for their meals with separate checks.  Let’s also assume that all four diners order the exact same thing to eat and drink, and that they experience the exact same quality of food and service. I then give each of them their bills (with identical totals).

Okay, Len, what’s your point?

I strongly suspect that, even though the service, food, and orders were identical for everyone, I’d stand a better chance of being declared People’s Sexiest Man Alive than getting the exact same tip from everybody.

Don’t believe me?

Here’s a Little Tipping Experiment…

What follows is a different hypothetical scenario.   After reading it, can you tell me how much the tip should be?

The Scenario:

  • You’ve just had dinner at a neighborhood restaurant you go to several times a year.  (For the purposes of this experiment, let’s assume it’s similar to a Chili’s or Applebee’s.)
  • The service was average; there were no major flubs by your waiter, but it wasn’t excellent service.
  • The food was good, except for the side salad which was terribly wilted — it was graciously taken off the bill by the manager.
  • At the end of your meal, you are presented with the following itemized bill:

Coke  $2.95
Potato Skins $7.95
Side Salad $4.95
Side Salad   -$4.95  (Comp.)

Cheeseburger $11.95
Chocolate Lava Cake $4.95
Subtotal: $27.80
Tax: $2.22

Total: $30.02

  • After agreeing with the bill’s total, you choose to pay with your credit card.

So, Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?

Again, I want to know what the tip should be.   Obviously, there is no right answer here; everybody is different when it comes to tipping — but I am really curious to see just how varied the tip amounts would be for this experiment.

Of course, this experiment will be a major flop if I don’t get at least four readers to participate (but the more the merrier) — so I’m counting on you to not leave me hanging!

Enter your answer in the comments below — and remember, you’re on your honor to not look at any other reader answers until after you’ve submitted your own.  Besides, the last thing you need is to see my ugly mug one day soon on the cover of People.

Photo Credit: OakleyOriginals

96 comments to Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? Then Calculate This Bill’s Tip…

  • TMS

    Five bucks. And never ever tip on the tax – back that amount out before figuring what to leave.

  • Corinne

    Depending on the tax rates where you live, you could double the tax as a means of calculating the tip – but that doesn’t seem to be the case here! I live in NYC where the tax rate is about 8% – so for average or even mediocre service, I usually double the tax for a 16% tip.

    For those who provide really good service, it’s easy to take 10% of the total and then double it for a 20% tip. In this case, that would be $6. Since the service was just average, I would leave a little less than 20% – I’d leave $5. (Which actually works out to just shy of 17% – nicely aligned with my system described above!)

  • Barbara

    I always figure 15% unless the food and service were extraordinary. That comes to: $4.50.

  • Chris C.

    $4.50 today
    $6.00 when my financial situation was better

    • Gator

      yep…I always give 20% unless the service is bad. It’s all a matter of how generous you are, not whether you can calculate a tip. I have been known to slip a dollar or two on top of a friend’s cheap tip when they had left the table.

  • Olivia

    General parameters. If we can swing eating at a restaurant we figure the tip is part of the calculation. 10-15% for medium service. (Calculate by doubling our state tax.) 20% for very good service. (Double the bill and divide by 10). Chinese buffets are usually about 10%. McDonald’s, no tip.

    For your example, somewhere between $4.50 and $6.

    Now if my husband were calculating it, the tip would round the total bill to an even amount, so the tip would be wonky, like something plus 98 cents. (Remember the gas pump example?)

  • Ryan

    My method: 15%, rounded up so the bill hits an even dollar. On a 27.80 bill, 20% would be about 4.17, so I’d leave $4.98 for a total bill of $35.

  • $27.82 x 1.15 = 31.97. Round up to $32.

  • No tipping on tax, but I would include the salad that was taken off, they tried and repaired the situation. It comes out to about 4.91. But that gets rounded up to $5.

  • $5-$6 depending on service.

    I used to be a waitress so I lean towards 20% myself and I usually use the total for my calculation which includes tax.

  • $6.98 I always tip more when something gets taken off the bill for me.

  • Teresa

    At a chain with average service, I tip 15% on the total with tax (because I’m too lazy to take the tax off first). So I’d leave a $4.50 tip on that bill.

  • Candy


    I tipped 15% on the bill’s pre-tax total including the crappy salad that was removed from the check. I hope I did the math right. I’m just starting on my first cup of coffee this morning!

  • I am a sucker when it comes to tips, so I would leave about 7 bucks. (I added the removed salad back to the bill’s total to calculate an approx. 20 percent tip.)

  • LOL. My husband and I would tip $4.98 if we were in good moods (which we probably would be with the salad taken off) to get the bill to an even $35 or $3.98 if we were not feeling the love to get it to $34. We like whole numbers going to our credit card statement. :-)

  • I think you said it yourself:
    “The service was average; there were no major flubs by your waiter, but it wasn’t excellent service.”

    I can’t say how much tip but the lower the better in this case. You tip more for good service and not for food which is prepared by chef/cook. You tip whoever serves you. The good/bad food belongs to either the chef or the owner.

    If they share your tip among themselves, then you must take all three (owner,chef,the server) into consideration. I imagine it’s only the server who gets the tip.

    If the salad was not good, that department belongs to owner and chef. That’s whom you complain to.

    But the management took it back and replaced it. Why did they serve it in the first place?

  • WB

    Mine would be $6. I don’t include tax.

  • Suzette


    (First time ever commenting, but I love your blog Len!)

  • Ilene

    I tip 15% for an average bill – $4.50 but I tend to tip 20% ($6) if I leave happy. I never tip under 10% ($3) but

  • scarbeg

    I pretty much always tip 20%, so I’d tip $6. If it was excellent service, I’d tip more, possibly making the bill an even $40. As an adult, I’ve only tipped less than 20% a few times, always when the service was terrible. My mom raised my sister and me by herself and was a waitress at one point. Tips are what bought our groceries and paid our bills, so a bad tip week meant mom didn’t eat. I always have that in the back of my head when calculating tip.

  • Linda

    $6.00. I always tip around 20% unless the service is absolutely horrible (and in that case I’d also talk to the manager). Being a server is tough work, and they get paid less than minimum wage. If I’m going out to eat, I’m not going to be stingy on the server.

  • $6.50-7.00 20% rounded one way or the other including the cost of the comped item.

  • Mikey B

    0.00 on the reciept. $5 cash on the table.

  • KH


    Here’s my method:
    Take the pre-tax amount of 27.80 and move the decimal to the left 1 space – that’s 10% or 2.78. Double that to get 20% or $5.56.

    Then I round down or up depending on the service. Average service – round down to $5. Good service, I’d round up to $6. Exemplary service – I’d add another $1 or maybe even $2.

    Then again, I’ve been a server and I tend to tip pretty well. :)

  • Darla

    I’d leave an even $5. As a former bartender/waitress, I absolutely can not stand bad service. If it was bad enough, I’d leave a smaller tip and comment to the manager so the server doesn’t write it off as my being cheap. Bad service is unnacceptable in the service industry. That being said – I always tip 20% or more when the service is good.

  • I would give between $4.50 and $5 depending on the coins I have with me. If no coins, surely $5. It is a bit more than 15% which is the minimum I give.

  • I would leave them $5 for a 16.67% tip.

    I haven’t bought into the new 20% tip, unless the service is great.

  • Vivian B.

    I always tip 20% ~ unless the service and/or food was outlandishly terrible! So I would leave a tip of $6.00.

  • As little as $4.50 for ok service and $6.00 for good service.

  • Bob Hob

    Tax doubled is 4.50. Salad tax pushes to close to 5. An extra buck for taking it off. $6 tip.

  • I’m in the 20% crowd, unless the service was miserable. But to aid my math I either round up or down to a whole dollar amount-whether I round up or down depends on the service.

    I never try to worry about the taxes, makes it too complicated….I’m a country boy!

    I have read somewhere that you don’t tip the full amount on the expensive pinot?
    What say you, do you add your wine cost to the tipped amount?

  • I’d pay $35. I’d also pay $35 if the bill was anywhere from about $29 to $32-33.

  • Rikki

    I’d say $4. If the service was exemplary I’d do $5. I take the lazy-man’s route and double the tax.

  • Arleen

    I would tip $5.00.

  • Robert Muir

    $5.98. When service is decent, I pay around 20%, but I like to round.

  • melane

    I used to be a waitress, so I generally do 20% as a starting point and go from there depending on the service of the waiter. So for me, I take the $30 and double the first number to come up with $6. In this case, I would probably stick with the $6.

  • Just an observation: I notice most of you included the tax as part of the total you use to determine the tip calculation.

  • $30.02 * .2 = $6 dollars.

    Since the difference between leaving a mediocre tip and leaving a great tip is about $1, why pinch pennies? Give the extra buck.

  • Ordinary, expected service would receive $4.50 (15%) from me. Replacing the salad is expected and comped to make up for waiting etc. The waiter should have caught it!

  • 5.75

    You should add the salad back in to figure the tip, because it was served to you whether you paid for it or not. Bill then equals $35. 15% is roughly 5.75 for average service.

  • I would leave $34 or $35 depending on the mood. I’ll pay with cash since I don’t charge meals to cc. :)

  • Preston

    When I have plenty of scratch in my pocket I usually just double the first number ($6 in this case). If I were to pay for this meal today, I’d tip $5. Whoops, did I just reveal my current mediocre financial situation?

  • Since the service was average, I would double the tax and add a bit – $4.50.

    If the service was good, I give 20% of the total, so it would have been $6.00.

  • StuckIntheCold

    I would leave $6. The total is $35 and $6 is between 15% and 20%. I have tended to tip better now that my son’s income depends on tips.

  • 28 to soon

    The tip I would leave would be around $7.00. Most likely $7.98 out of gratitute for getting the manager involved for the salad issue. Waitresses are paid less than minimum wage and count on their tips. Some restaurants even withhold taxes based on the standard tip amount expected on sales for the night, so the waitress may lose even more.

    (Its not really ethical, but I have been a waitress in a small restaurant and have been charged taxes on 10% of the bills even though my tips were closer to 7% or so. Managers just said I should have worked harder to earn better tips. Probably true but as a lazy teenager I didn’t really want to work harder.)

    I always tip at least 10% for bad service, 15% for decent service and 20% for good service or if I really had a good experience during the meal.

  • Jessie

    If it is a neighborhood restaurant I go to and the manager did accomodate me I would leave 20%=$6.

  • Liz B.

    I tip 20% regularly, so my tip would be $6.00.

  • I would add back the salad price and calculate 15% tip. Then I would round that up to $5. I would be more likely to go back to that restaurant again because I know the manager has my back if there are any problems. If it matters, my mom and I have both been waitresses for short periods of time, and 2 of my uncles owned a restaurant. :)

  • K9Walkman

    My tip would be $4.98. This would mean that my total bill would have been $35.00 which would be an expensive bill for a meal. Wow! Twelve bucks for a cheeseburger. I would never pay that price for a cheeseburger.

  • Colleen

    I’d tip $4.98. Take the subtotal $27.80, add back the salad (not the waiter’s fault), and calculate 15% on that = $4.91…round up to $4.98 to make the total of my bill be $35 ~ easier to remember when entering it into Quicken:)

    • Colleen

      After reading some comments, I feel I need to qualify…in MN, waitresses at Applebee’s make $7.50/hour (my high school age daughter works there), so I don’t feel a need to tip more than 15%, like in some states where waitressing pay is significantly less than minimum wage.

  • I would leave 20% or $6.00, I very rarely tip less than $5 no matter what the bill is. That is if I go out for breakfast (rare occassion) and the bill was $20.00 I would definitely leave $5.00. If I was alone and it was $10.00 I would leave $3.00. When I dine at high end restaurants, Babol, Hammersley’s, Clio, Blue Ginger and others I generally tip between 23-25%. Of course the bill is mch higher but the service is always much more attententive. I do not drop the tax to figure the tip, it add minimally to what I would leave in any case.

  • jUlie


    Add the salad back on before tax. I always go for 20% unless a server makes me incredibly angry. What’s the point of skimping on a few dollars to get down to 15% or 18%…

  • Michelle

    I always figure the tip based on what you order even if an item was removed from the bill, not including the sales tax. That would be $32.75, 15% of that (for mediocre service, I do 20% for good service, 25% for excellent service) would be $4.91 so the total would be $34.93 (which I would round up to $35)

  • Pat

    To explain my logic…

    I would not add the salad back to the total as I expect the server to notice what he/she is bringing to the table, and if the salad was wilted, they should have noticed. That being said, I would suggest 15% for average service and 20% for superior service, and there are percentages in between 15 and 20 for varying degrees of added value.

  • $3.00 I tip everybody $3.00 regardless what my total bill is. Unless I get rally bad service. Then there is no tip.

  • Alan

    $4.17 Nothing great and nothing terrible… flat 15% before tax.

  • Alan

    I don’t get why anybody would add the sub-par salad back onto the bill for tip calculation??? If anything I would reduce to 10% for the waitress serving it to me and the cook sending it. Not charging for it doesn’t mean they didn’t mess up. When I order something and my order is sub-par it messes up my whole meal….

    • I’m with you. I would not include the salad in the tip calculation either, Alan. Although I wouldn’t penalize the server either. The server, to me, is the last line of defense in quality control and should not be rewarded for serving something that is obviously bad like wilted lettuce. (Uh oh, I suspect that’s going to make a few servers angry at me.)

  • bob

    $4.50 is the calculated amount i usually round up or down though to make the tip an even dollar amount. so i would round the tip to $5.00 to make the bill total $35.02……its easier to add a hole dollar amount in my opinion to the total, and easier to catch a mistake.

  • Tim

    I would pay a rounded up tip of 20% if the service was good, so with that in mind I would tip $6.50.

    That being said I used the total of $32.75 without tax.

  • Suza B

    $6. Technically, should be $6.60, but I’d round down to the next $. tip should be calculated on the total pre-tax amount, even though the salad was removed from bill. It’s not the server’s fault that the salad is wilted. In fact he/she did you a favor by removing the item from the bill. He/she should get some of the savings in their tip. You did plan to spend that much in the first place. Interesting that if you just take 20% of the the taxed total its still $6. Servers work hard for their money and deserve compensation.

  • Shpresa A.

    FYI almost all restaurants have food runners/walkers .. i am a server and i almost never get to take the food to my tables … as soon as the food is out on that window someone walks it .. unless you were standing there watching it like a hawk which you wont have the time to do and when it comes to salads many of them are pre made where i work everything is ready for us to grab and all you have to do is get the dressing and take it to the table …. something everyone has to realize is servers (most of them anyway) earn their living through those tips and do their very best to accomodate to your every need and it doesnt stop for all of those 8 hours they work… and when something goes wrong and when it does its usually not their fault they get yelled at by the customers then the managers and they still have to go back and apologize to those grumpy a** customers who think that just because theyre paying for their meals their s**t doesnt stink … do i tip well when i eat out yes, at least 20% unless i get really bad service but unless they say something rude to me i never complain to a manager and if something is comped out of my meal i include the 20% of the comped item in my tip because its a b***h getting it off

  • Dave Sheffield

    this is a no brainer- 5th grader or not. its easy math at a glance 30 dollar check 15%-boom. 4.50. unless something substancially good or bad happens at “regular meals out” this is the method i always employ. I’ve got too many other things to concern my financial thoughts on ie; how to pay 4.00 plus a gallon for gasoline today and more than likely 4.50 plus by summer with no end in sight due to the governments inability or desire to stand up for its citizens.

  • Jim

    3.00 would be the tip. I tip 10% unless he/she gives me excellent service. Then its 20%. Although I would NOT tip on the credit card. When I go to a resturant I tip in cash (Normally I pay in cash for all but this is an experiment you are doing).

  • gigs

    I generally tip 15-20%. More or less for exceptionally great or horrible service. For average service I would tip 15%, or 4.50… maybe even rounding up to 5, depending on my mood.

  • Maryflores

    i came up with $4.20 as a total. i do not tip on tax. If the bill was over $100.00 before tax I would tip only 15% even if the service was excellent. My dad had always said to follow these rules. If I eat breakfast or have a really low bill (under $12.) , I tip at 20% unless the waiter is horrible.

    • Len Penzo

      I’m with you, Mary. I also generally tip a higher percentage for breakfast. :-)

    • Beth

      Mary – (and Len) I really like your “rule” of tipping more for breakfast and if the bill is <$12. Thanks for the idea, I'm going to incorporate it into my "tipping standards!"
      And I always add a little bit more if the server is very friendly, makes the experience more pleasant, or is very busy with many tables. I worked in this business in college and know how hard it can be, especially when understaffed and busy…can't blame the waiter(ess) for that…

  • Maryflores

    Oh I forgot the salad. I would tip on the cost of the salad as many times the waitress doesn’t bring the food to the table herself. I also try to leave cash for the tip if possible.

  • Rob Lewis

    40 yrs ago, the tip rule was 12 – 15%. I started tipping at 15% and still do. Dude to the economy in the last few years, I have tended to round up more or add a little more in the cheaper places (since I am still doing OK).

  • Yosemite

    Double the tax ($2.22 x 2 = $4.44), then round to the next full dollar amount ($5.00). This always works. While not a very large amount, you account for accomodating the salad issue. Also, you don’t appear cheap and the wait staff will be willing to accomodate you next time since you are a regular.

  • DQ

    I double the total, move the decimal one place to the left and round down to the nearest bill, then adjust up or down another dollar or so depending on service. So in this case, double the bill is $60.04, moved decimal is $6.04, rounded down to $6. Good service gets the $6 (more if it was exceptional), mediocre gets either the $6 or $5 (depending on my mood), bad service throws it all out the window and they get whatever I think they deserve.

  • You should tip between 5 and 7 dollars on this one. Those who tip less are scum. You could verify the second sentence with anyone who has EVER waited tables. Splurge a bit. Dare to overtip. It won’t kill you. Always round up to the next dollar as a minimum. Do NOT take out the tax to figure the 15%. No one should be that pitiful and cheap.

  • Justin

    I would do somewhere between 4 and 5 bucks. If it was just average service and the waiter was just ok, it would probably end up being $4. I don’t ever do the round up method for tips. It’s either $4 or $5 or whatever other whole number fits the bill and service. I’m curious when the custom shifted from leaving 10-15% for good service to leaving 20-25%. I still usually stick with 10-15% unless the service is really good. Usually anything under $10 get a $2 tip, under $20 gets $3 for tip, under $30 gets $4.

    • Beth

      if you cannot afford a tip, or do not care to tip, then don’t dine out. Choose fast food, take-out, or partial-service establishment where table service isn’t part of the meal!

  • Shay

    I don’t tip on tax (the server is performing no service there!), but I would add in the salad. Since the service was just okay, I’d tip 15%, or $5.00. I’d happily go a buck or two higher for excellent service. Mom was a waitress most of her life, and she;s right there with me!

  • [...] Len Penzo – Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? Then Calculate This Bill’s Tip… [...]

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  • [...] waiting for me aside from washing dishes…Dorothy could challenge me to play a game of “Are You Smarter Than a 5th-Grader?” by making me recite my credit card number from memory. Of course, that wouldn’t be so bad if [...]

  • [...] fates waiting for me aside from washing dishes. Dorothy could challenge me to play a game of Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? by making me recite my credit card number from memory. Of course, that wouldn’t be so bad [...]

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