Should You Tip When Visiting Priority Pass Restaurants?

Filed Under: Travel

As I wrote about yesterday, Portland Airport might have the best Priority Pass setup of any airport in the US, as there are four options:

  • The Alaska Lounge (which sometimes has capacity constraints)
  • House Spirits Distillery (where you can spend up to $28 per person on liquor tastings)
  • Capers Cafe Le Bar (where you can spend up to $28 per person on food and drinks)
  • Capers Market (where you can spend up to $28 per person on food and drinks)

This setup is even better than I had ever anticipated, though I’ll cover this in much greater detail in subsequent posts.

While I wrote about my experience visiting these Priority Pass locations upon arrival in Portland, I witnessed something on the way back that I feel like I should bring up, since I think it’s a genuine point of confusion for many.

Yesterday afternoon Tiffany, Ford, and I had lunch at Capers Cafe Le Bar before our flight out of Portland. It was interesting to see how everyone around us was there using Priority Pass. Like, everyone. The server was running around like crazy, because it’s clear they’re staffing based on pre-Priority Pass levels, while presumably Priority Pass has greatly increased the demand for this place, at least during peak times.

The server seemed well intentioned and friendly, but frustrated (which may seem like a weird vibe to pick-up on). When the check came I said “we have Priority Pass, if that’s okay.” She sort of let out a quiet sigh, said “oh, you guys too?” and then brought over the Priority Pass machine. I signed, and that covered the entirety of the bill (we had up to $84 to spend).

I handed her a $20, and said “can I have a $5 back, please?” She gave me $5, but didn’t seem to connect the dots that it was a tip. After a few seconds she said “oh, I’m not used to people tipping on these. Thanks so much… I really appreciate it.” So I said “is there a built-in tip when these are used?” She shrugged and said “no.”

That really surprised me, and now I totally get how frustrated she must be. I understand this is probably a genuine point of confusion for many, but when you use Priority Pass to access a restaurant, tipping is not included. It’s even specifically stated in the terms, where it says “any remaining balance cannot be used towards gratuity.”

No matter how you feel about our tipping culture as such, when you’re in the US at a sit down restaurant, tipping is expected, because it’s how servers make a living. I know some might say “well I don’t tip in Priority Pass lounges,” and I get that, as it might explain the confusion. But I view this differently here — Priority Pass is simply being used as a payment method for a restaurant. It would be like saying “I don’t have to tip because I have a gift card.”

Like I said, this stuff can be confusing. For example, at the distillery room I wasn’t sure if I should tip or not. Based on Googling, it seems there are conflicting reports about whether or not you should tip at tasting rooms. There’s probably no right answer there.

However, for the US Priority Pass sit down restaurants (at Portland Airport and now Denver Airport), tipping is the right thing to do. It’s not fair for the restaurants to profit hugely off this, while the servers get screwed.

Arguably the restaurants themselves should come up with a better solution. They’re seeing a huge increase in business due to Priority Pass, so it would be nice if they rewarded servers in some real ways for taking care of those guests, assuming many truly aren’t tipping. It’s unlikely to actually happen, but it sure would be nice.

Anyone see things differently when it comes to tipping when visiting Priority Pass restaurants?

  1. Just another argument that we need to increase server wages to move to a 5-10% (for grea service) tipping society like the rest of the world

  2. Jason,

    I don’t like the European-style service charges. Although the rate is typically lower than a tip (10% typically) it takes away all discretion and motivation.

    I’d rather tip anywhere between 0% and 20%, based on service, than pay the same regardless of how good or bad the server was.

    Also note that, even in Europe, you can refuse to pay the service charge if the service is bad enough. Or add a cash tip on top. It’s actually not mandatory although it is presented as if it is.

    I think Lucky handled this right here. Tip the amount you would have done on the gross amount. And waiters generally prefer cash to stick it on a card.

  3. @Martin
    while I guess I get your point – and it’s a common one (so I’m asking everyone and not you in particular) – why is there such a fixation on “discretion and motivation” in restaurants?

    We typically doing talk about tipping the A/C guy, or the UPS guy, or the cashier, or the receptionist at the doctor’s office, or the dental hygienist, or the guys working on the street in front of the house, or the bus driver or subway conductor….but when it comes to restaurants, it’s all about “motivating” them.

    Those other jobs can arguably have a much more meaningful impact on my day to day life, yet we collectively feel that people who put in orders and bring pates of food require “motivation” more than earning a decent living wage with the chance of moving up to better restaurants as they get better and time goes on. It’s such a unique perspective in the world but one that I don’t get.

  4. The “motivation” comes in the same way that all sales commissions work – the more you sell, the more you earn. That’s the reality – and the stupidity – when tipping restaurant staff.

  5. “It’s not fair for the restaurants to profit hugely off this, while the servers get screwed.”

    I’m glad we all agree to support corporate welfare by paying tips to workers who ought to be paid properly in the first place. Oh the poor bosses/owners who would otherwise be making less profits…

  6. Ugly post. It’s Priority Pass’ job to fully pay for the service provided. A d am sure they do, which is why the bribe you gave the server was unexpected. A bribe that studies show would have been much smaller had she been a black male instead.

  7. Make everythin self service. I can walk to the counter and pick up my own food. I don’t need a fake “how are you guys doing today” bs.

    If I am not given an option to choose what level of service you want, I should not be forced to tip.

    That said, service job have to be the real crummy jobs. You see the worse off the people whIle they are pretending to be better than they really are.

  8. I would definitely tip, same as any restaurant. Think about it, you’re getting a nice meal for the price of tip.

  9. This is the USA, tip your servers 15-20%. It isn’t rocket science. In Europe, round up the bill. Like most of the readers of this blog I live this amazing life, traveling all over the world. We don’t worry about how to feed our families. We don’t worry about whether we will be able to pay the rent this month, or the child care, or gasoline. I tip the value of the meal regardless of whether I am paying with my money, or some voucher. You can afford it.
    If you want to change the wage structure, start voting for people who propose it. Don’t just stiff the waitstaff and make up some BS ‘principled stand’. Be nice. Be a standup person.

  10. ofcourse you should tip in restaurants and i’m sure you do lucky because you’re not a classless piece of #*$% j#$. There are clearly times when and not to tip. Yes tip a waitress. No don’t tip a barista at Starbucks. etc……………….

  11. @Jake “It’s Priority Pass’ job to fully pay for the service provided”

    I’m pretty sure you get a $28 food and beverage credit. Where is the part about them “fully pay”ing for everything?

  12. US people need to learn from japanese regarding tipping, courtesy and kindness. I’m in no way implying that japanese is much cultured than american, tough….

    On the way, maybe you can also learn about healthy eating habits. Lol…..

  13. Tipping was invented by businesses (restaurants and such) to shift their burden of paying their employees living wages to the consumer (guests).

  14. PP should include a service charge to cover this. Most of the time I would only be eating in these restaurants because of the PP membership. I wouldn’t be going out of pocket to eat at these places.

  15. Debate about tipping in general aside, yes, you should definitely tip at a restaurant even if you have Priority Pass. When I went to Capers Cafe Le Bar, I realized I didn’t have any cash. I purposely spent just over $28 so I would still get a bill, that way I could leave a tip. I feel bad for the servers if they are now much busier and a lot of people aren’t tipping.

    As far as the distillery, I tipped there as well, especially since the service was excellent.

  16. @Nancy you most certainly are NOT getting a meal for the price of a tip in most cases unless its your first year with a credit card. Many of us pay annual fees in order to have PP membership, so this is something we already paid for.

  17. Your tips go to pay some seriously underpaid people who also happen to be the most motivated, the buspeople and kitchen staff. If you have an issue with tipping call-out the restaurant boss and tell him / her to pay their staff more, and stop acting like a giant douche: you’re at an airport about to get on a flight where the TSA fee alone is likely to be more than the hourly wage some of these workers earn. Arrogant selfish privilege

  18. It’s not about motivation, it’s about a living wage. Restaurants can pay servers far below a non-tipped minimum wage position. States can up the amount, but the federal minimum we for tipped servers is $2.13! That’s the way the system is set up, whether you agree with it or not. THAT’S THE WAY IT IS. They are also taxed on tipped wages based on a percentage of their gross sales. The US assumes 8% minimum. Not tipping means it’s actually COSTING THEM money to serve you. Sure I’d love it if the US were like Australia where everyone earns a living wage, but it’s not. Tipping your server is an expense of eating out. Until something changes that’s a fact. If you’re too cheap or have some moral or ethical outrage over it, that’s fine. Go to a grocery store, fast food counter or vending machine.

  19. @ Mark F – a slight digression to make a point.

    You say “Like most of the readers of this blog I live this amazing life, traveling all over the world. We don’t worry about how to feed our families. We don’t worry about whether we will be able to pay the rent this month, or the child care, or gasoline. ”

    I’ll bet you that most people who read this blog DON’T fit that profile. Just like loooking at famous people on Instagram, or reading about rich people in magazines, this blog is all about a lifestyle that only a very few can partake or afford. It’s an escape, it may be aspiration, but it in no way reflects how I or 99.9% of the population lives. To suggest otherwise is exactly why so many were so shocked after Brexit, after the US election, etc. I am guessing, based on your admonishment to “be nice”, you were one of the shocked.

    I, for one, do get to travel, but I constantly worry about feeding my family, the rent, gas, hospital bills, and how – maybe – one day I will retire. I am keenly aware that I worry significantly less than many others do, as luck would have it.

    I know that “rich” is a relative term, but if you don’t worry about such things, you are in a very, very small minority.

  20. I agree that you should tip in this case.

    However, I really hate the argument for tipping in the US is to motivate servers or because they are selling stuff and should earn a commission. It is just economics. In addition, some States allow restaurants to pay less than minimum wage to servers and they have to make up the difference with tips. However, it does not apply to California, and especially in San Francisco, some servers in mid to high-end restaurants can make over $100k a year in total income, including tips.

    In France, Italy and Spain (not all Europe), and especially Japan, no one expect any tip. I don’t think any of my servers in those countries were any less “professional” than those in the US. I have seen servers in Italy told patrons that the wine was corked and took it back. They may not be as “engaging” as those in the US, but I certainly has not had a bad server. Granted that some “high end” (mainly chain hotels) restaurants have a service charge included in the bill, but most don’t.

  21. The thing I’m confused about is I went to the same Capers Cafe at PDX that lucky pictured and there was no waiter service. You went up to the counter, ordered, paid and someone brought out your food. You don’t normally tip at those places outside of airports.

  22. Seeing as PP takes pains to disclaim that “unused credit may not be used towards gratuity”, it’s pretty clear normal tipping rules should apply (though it becomes a hassle because you’ll have to either carry enough cash to cover the tip, or go just over the credit amount so you can add the tip on a credit card). FWIW, I was actually just at the Distillery yesterday and did the whiskey flight. I’m not sure what the proper etiquette is in tasting rooms, either, but I left the bartender $5.

  23. Obviously you tip in this situation. Unfortunately the arrangement between PP and these restaurants seems to be set up to benefit the restaurant owners at the expense of their employees and customers. I get why PP doesn’t want customers to be allowed to add discretionary tips and have them charged against their $28 cap – it could lead to people tipping $25 on top of a $3 coffee. But I’m sure the restaurants could make it so that an automatic service charge (say 15-20%) was applied to PP customers’ orders, and the $28 could be used to cover the bill including tax and service. But that would likely result in lower sales for the restaurants (those wanting to max out the benefit would only be ordering like $23 of stuff instead of $28) and higher costs for PP (on everyone who orders less than $28 of stuff). Really wish they would take another look at this.

  24. I would imagine this is a big issue because the bills are often smaller than the credit allocated, so there’s no opportunity to add a tip on a credit card swipe, since the server never swipes your card, combined with the fact that some people, self included, literally never carry cash.

  25. Kalboz,

    Actually tipping was not invented by businesses. The use of a “baksheesh” (or even an outright bribe) goes back to ancient times and was practiced by merchants in the Middle East. but it was generally a special payment only for a special service – not for just doing your job.

    America has done what it always – take an idea from elsewhere and shameless promote and market it into a vast apparatus for relieving people of money.


    Some cities apply the minimum wage to wait staff, even though they also get tips. San Francisco is an example.

  26. Really do not know what to say. PriorityPass gets a bright idea and offer other services (restaurants, sleep pods , massage center, and etc.. ) they are trying to improve services to keep or entice more people to join or whatever. They go beyond their realm of a lounge. And we have people that are crying about they extra few bucks they have to hand over for service.. I paid for my lounge pass already why should i pay more? You know what groupons, gift cards, gift certificate, credits and etc,….. we paid for it too, and we still have to leave a tip. If you do not feel like leaving a tip then go to a lounge. And stay there. Priority pass offers more of a choice not everything is inclusive. More service means more choices, not just away for people to be cheap.. nobody is asking to give a big tip. Just a little tip shows the person you appreciate their service. Always remember if your roles are reversed, how would you feel. I appreciate that PriorityPass has taken on to restaurants because if these service are not offered, think how much I would have to pay extra and still had to give a tip. Have you seen the prices of restaurants in the airports. Wow, I rather tip….

  27. Toby

    I think most of us agree and anyway, if too many PP-holders stiff the wait staff then we will get really crappy service if they know we are paying with PP.

    This is good for other reasons too. It will help make lounges less crowded, provide more business for the restaurants and give flyers more choice as to what services and products they can enjoy.

  28. Yawn, why bring this up yet again, Lucky? Those form the US will want to tip and arm and a leg for any form of service, those from anywhere else in the world will say just pay people properly for doing the job in the first place.

  29. I find this quite amusing. I am continuously amazed by how people love to boast about how much money they have, make it appear that they have plenty, but when it comes down to it they’re cheap as hell. This one is a no brainer. These are frequent travelers, they fly premium cabins and expect to be treated as such. Well, yes, of course you tip! As you all well know, there’s an art to service, and also an art to being served. Don’t embarrass yourself.

  30. One thing that’s always confused me…

    If the goal of tipping is to provide an acceptable wage for the server, why do you mostly base your tips on the amount you spend, not the amount of time you spent there?

  31. Callum,

    Indeed. Suppose I order a $100 bottle of wine rather than a $50 bottle. Why is the tip double given that the work is the same either way? Likewise a $30 steak is the same work for a waiter as a $15 burger – either way they have to shlepp a plate from the kitchen to your table. What is on that plate and how much it costs isn’t usually an issue, except perhaps for some special dishes that require table-side activity.

    So wouldn’t it make more sense to tip on the basis of time and effort? More like leaving a buck on the bar for each drink you buy?

    This still leaves open the option of tipping more if the waiter is very helpful in his advice, fixes problems quickly, and knows when to be around and when not to be. But removes the randomness of the tip amount.

  32. @Callum
    Because those who tip barely knew the real reason why they do it. Someone else do it and it seems to be politically correct. Also, its nice to be seen as someone who cares for the workers with low wages. In reality, they are stupid hypocrite.

  33. Thanks so much for bringing awareness to tipping the waitstaff in restaurants! I hope that people are not tipping at PP restaurants out of ignorance and not purposefully stiffing them. If anyone has an issue with the principle of tipping they need to take it up with PP, not penalize the innocent servers in restaurants. Thanks again Lucky.

  34. @James
    I do agree with you on this!

    I remember way back when, you don’t tip the same percentage on bottle of wines because it just does not make sense. Granted that I understand they might serve a $1,000 bottle a bit differently than a $100 bottle. But it shouldn’t be $200 vs $20 in tips. I was in a restaurant in Japan watching the Sommelier decanting wines over candle lights, and not expecting a tip! Now, that is service. So don’t be telling me tipping will get you better service!

    In addition, what really irks me is some restaurants started calculating tips on tax and the San Francisco “mandatory” tax. I won’t be tipping at that amount for sure.

  35. alinsfac

    I think by “mandatory tip” in San Francisco, you are referring the mandatory 4% that gets added to the bill to (allegedly) cover the provision of healthcare benefits to employees.

    If you wish you can just reduce your tip, say from 15% to 11%, to compensate for that.

    The bigger issue in SF is that wait staff get the minimum wage even though they gets tips. Most parts of the US do not apply the minimum wage for those who gets tips, for obvious reasons. Some wait staff in SF make 100K a year, so I hear.

  36. So glad you wrote this article. When I go to a restaurant with a pre-paid Groupon certificate I know it is incumbent to leave a tip on the amount the bill would have been. One solution would be for Priority Pass to amend their agreement to add an automatic tip at these affiliated restaurants.

  37. WOW!!!

    I can’t continue to read all of these posts. Way too much negativity.

    I think, simply put, “Pay up, if you think the service you received is worth it”. Gift card, priority pass or whatever, 10%, 15% or 20%+, pay up if the service warrants it.

    “TIPS” is an acronym which meant “to insure prompt service”. From there, I don’t know where it went, however, we now give it after the service.

    We do give “tips” to waiters and waitresses, cab drivers and shuttle bus drivers to name a few. Forgive me if I forgot anyone because I DO tip anyone that has given me any kind of “good” service. So much so that, not to toot my own horn, others say I have given too much too often.

    We do not give “TIPS” to (and in no particular order) bus drivers, store clerks, fast food cashiers (other than at “Sonic” in the US southeast), gas station attendants, flight attendants, pilots and many more to mention or think about…

    Even when I travel to parts of the world where “TIPS” are not the norm, I still give extra with the exception of Japan because, apperantly, it is an insult. Please correct me if I am wrong and I will definitely start showing my appreciation.

    In a nut shell, if you appreciate the service you have received, give thanks and believe me, it will continue to be passed on. Appreciate everyone and everything.

    Rant over…..happy times!!!

    see ya…Al

  38. ugh tipping culture in the US is the worst BUT yes, if you eat at a sit down restaurant in American and pay with PP, tip. Even if its a couple bucks.

    But Ben, Ill have to disagree when you say we have to tip because thats how servers make their living. Uh-no. They have their salary, from their job….THATS how they make their living.

  39. We were at PDX and used our PP and tipped each place (including for food to go) per what we would normally (20+%). Everyone was very friendly and helpful.

  40. I ran into this issue at the Priority Pass restaurant in London Gatwick. I was in London to connect between a flight from the US and a flight to Italy, and I did not plan on having any expenses that could not be paid with a credit card during this short period. Upon paying for my meal with Priority Pass, I asked if I could pay the tip with my credit card. They told me that I could not because I did not use the credit card for the expense and told me not to worry about the tip.

    I am not sure whether Britain has a different tipping culture and this is the normal expectation, or if they just didn’t expect a tip because of my situation. Looking back, I suppose I could have just tipped with US dollars or Euros.

  41. You operate under the assumption that servers MUST get tipped, which is false. The tip was not included in your pass because a tip is not required, with or without a pass. Oregon requires servers to make the state’s full minimum wage, and it’s one of the highest minimum wage in the country. If you want to show off your wealth or throw away money, donate to a charity. Servers on the west coast get paid enough without tips.

  42. Fact: In the US it is the business model and custom to tip for service. Don’t like it? Don’t visit.

    Fact: Those who choose not to tip are choosing to deliberately harm a server.

    That makes you a rotten person, and in my experience rotten people are just that, and they do not change. Respect the culture you’re in.

  43. ““TIPS” is an acronym which meant “to insure prompt service”. From there, I don’t know where it went, however, we now give it after the service.”

    Well, “ensure” or “assure” there would be a more accurate word. And as you say historically it would have been paid upfront as an inducement to excel. But most people do not pre-pay for performance and so we see a gratuity as more of a reward for excellence. In an ideal world it would not be seen as an expectation or entitlement, but rather as a discretionary bonus for going beyond what the job calls for.

    Outside of bars and restaurants I rarely tip. Maybe round up a cab fare to the nearest $5 and give my hair guy a couple of bucks. Never tip in hotels unless I’m staying there a long time.

    Incidentally Japan is not the only nation where a tip is considered to be an insult. An Australian is likely to respond to a tip along the lines of “What? Do you think you’re better than me and that I need your charity?”

  44. In this case I would tip 20% of the full bill.

    If you have to worry about what sort of arrangement the lounge made with the restaurant or the restaurant made with its emploees, you have too much time on your hands.

    I also tip on the full amount of a meal that includes a gift certificate ex. total cost of dinner $150, $100 gift certficate, Balance $50, tip $30. Same with restaurant discounts, tip on full amount.

    Been a waitress, who knows, may have to do it again.

  45. Travel in Europe, all receive normal wages so no tip. Then again full meals are never available. Do not tip for drinks.

  46. I hope they do something like this at LAX since the Virgin and Maple Leaf lounge are now gone and the Alaskan lounge is now typically not allowing guest entry.

    As to or not tip when PP is being used, I tip in airport lounges where it is permitted; the only PP lounge I have been to that doesn’t allow employees to accept tips is the Alaskan Board Room. In the case of a $28 credit being applied to PP user to the bill, I would 20% , the same as if I was paying by credit card or cash.

  47. hope they do something like this at LAX since the Virgin and Maple Leaf lounge are now gone and the Alaskan lounge is now typically not allowing guest entry.

    As to or not tip when PP is being used, I tip in airport lounges where it is permitted; the only PP lounge I have been to that doesn’t allow employees to accept tips is the Alaskan Board Room. In the case of a $28 credit being applied to PP user to the bill, I would 20% , the same as if I was paying by credit card or cash.

  48. Tipping after service isn’t even effective. The biggest factor of the tip –the bill–is determined even before the first plate lands on the table. If you only order a pasta dish, plain water instead of a full 3+ courses, your server is going to ignore you for the duration of your meal in favor of the big table full of steak and whisky guys even if you end up tipping 25%.

  49. Martin – No Australian will insist on a tip as, like the rest of the civilised world, their minimum wage is adequate. No Australian however is going to be insulted by receiving a tip, nor will they view it as charity and make a scene…

  50. @Daniel…at Gatwick they wouldn’t expect a tip. London is the only place in UK where they add a ‘discretionary’ 10-12% to the bill as a tip. In other places a tip is gratefully received but not expected.

  51. “when you’re in the US at a sit down restaurant, tipping is expected, because it’s how servers make a living”

    No, actually.

    ” State law prohibits using tips to calculate the amount of Oregon´s minimum wage. This means that all employers in Oregon must pay the full amount of minimum wage without benefit of a tip credit. All tips must remain the property of the employee except to the extent that there is a valid pooling arrangement. ”

    The minimum wage in Portland is now $11.25.

    Tipping is appreciated but not required.

  52. Andy – London is not the only place where they add a discretionary 10-12% to the bill, nor are tips any less expected outside of the capital. Attitudes between London and the rest of the UK are not particularly different when it comes to tipping.

    I don’t have the slightest idea how you ever came to that conclusion? I don’t know if you exclusively visited touristy restaurants in London and exclusively visited non-touristy restaurants outside the capital? (Though even then, “normal” chain restaurants will often add a service charge anywhere they operate)

  53. I think tipping should be about going above what the job description entails…here in Australia it isn’t common practice to tip, but I would happily do so if I knew the person serving me was doing more than just their job – they get paid for that already.

  54. I don’t know why tipping is compulsory, it’s just a choice from customer if you have enough. Like when i visit US and i didn’t tip and then i receive a disregard look from the waiter, i thought that really ? From my POV the waiter had his/her own salary, tipping is not apart from it.

  55. As a European I don’t always understand the US tipping culture especially when it comes to people who argue things like you should be tipping the bartender for pouring your free soda in an admirals club.

    That said in this case I would definitely tip as if I had paid normally. My bigger concern is that I almost never carry cash these days so if there is no bill to pay with a credit card, I dont know how id tip. i guess ill just make sure to get cash before visiting these places.

  56. I realize that this is an old post, but just had an experience that made me look up this topic. We just used the PP at the Corona Beach Grill at MIA. I didn’t really check prices, but figured we were under the $60 for the two of us (this place is $30/pp). The server came and said that there was an overage of $2.94. Certainly no biggie.

    When I looked, I saw that part of the reason for this was that a top of 18% had been added. I added a bit more (gave a $5 for th3 $29.4). Called PP, and they said “case-by-case basis.”

    So, seems not so cut-and-dried. I always think tipping is appropriate in these cases (my viewpoint, not gonna debate that part). But it’s good to know if tip is included already.


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