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


    • 2


      I tip based on service. 15% med 18% good 20% great with tax included
      I would tip @ 16% for this service since I am a reular $4.50

  1. 3

    Corinne says

    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!)

    • 6

      Gator says

      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.

  2. 7

    Olivia says

    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?)

  3. 8

    Ryan says

    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.

    • 10

      Ellen in AZ says

      I’d calculate the same as Ryan. It’s much easier also to then keep the balances straight (and not make math errors) on checking/debit or credit cards, no matter which is used.

  4. 12


    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. 15

    Teresa says

    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.

  6. 16

    Candy says


    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!

  7. 17


    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.)

  8. 18


    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. :-)

  9. 20


    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?

  10. 23

    Ilene says

    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

  11. 24

    scarbeg says

    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.

  12. 25

    Linda says

    $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.

  13. 28



    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. :)

  14. 29

    Darla says

    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.

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