Do Restaurants Have to Pay Sales Tax on Gratuities?

Do Restaurants Have to Pay Sales Tax on Gratuities?
By Joe Sharpe | 10/30/2023 | 9 min read

In the restaurant industry, it is crucial to comprehend the intricacies of sales tax concerning gratuities. Before discussing the regulations about sales tax on gratuities, it is essential to differentiate between a tip and a service fee.

It is important to note that there is no federal sales tax. Instead, sales taxes are collected on behalf of a state and, if applicable, local government.

Do Restaurants Pay Sales Tax On Tips?

The answer is usually no; however, there are conditions that must be met to qualify an item as a tip.

Most states and local governments rely on the specific rules defining a tip, which come from the International Revenues Service (IRS). State laws usually follow these definitions. Check with your state and local laws to be sure.

The IRS says that tips may be in the form of cash, charges on a bank card, receiving an item of value from a customer, or a portion of pooled tip collections.

Moreover, a tip must have the following characteristics:

  1. A tip must be voluntary and not enforced on a customer.
  2. The customer is free to decide the amount of a tip.
  3. A tip payment should not be subject to an employer's policy or a negotiated labor agreement.
  4. The customer decides who gets the tip.

Suppose one or more of these four qualifying characteristics are not met. Such a payment would be considered a service fee.

An example is the automatic application of an 18% fee on a restaurant bill for a table with six or more guests. A service fee is considered a sale and, in many jurisdictions, is subject to a sales tax.

Gratuities and Tax Implications

Cash tips plus the fair market value of any valuable items received as a gratuity are considered ordinary income by the IRS and must be reported to the employer, who in turn reports this amount as part of the payroll processing and accounting. A restaurant worker pays income tax on tip income. Restaurants usually do not have to pay any sales tax on tips.

Understanding Restaurant Sales Tax

Service fees are calculated as part of the overall sale, and if sales tax applies to the transaction, the amount of taxable sale includes the service fee. It is important to note that a sales tax is collected by a restaurant as required by law as part of the customer’s bill. The customer pays this amount. The restaurant collects all the sales taxes to submit the money to the tax authorities (state and local). Even if the total amount of the service fee is given to the restaurant workers, if there is a sales tax on the bill, it is calculated to include the service fee.

When a customer leaves a cash tip, there is no opportunity for the restaurant to charge sales tax. In comparison, when an automatic service fee is applied to the bill, the restaurant has the opportunity to collect the sales tax from the customer by adding it to the bill.

How Restaurants Benefit From Using A Comprehensive Payroll System

All restaurants benefit from accurate recordkeeping of tips, efficient payroll processing, and financial management systems. In the restaurant industry, employee turnover is a common problem. As a business owner, it's crucial to stay ahead of the curve and simplify the onboarding process. You need to collect information about cash tips, allocate funds for tips made by bank card purchases, and differentiate between gratuities that are service charges requiring different accounting methods.

When a restaurant chain has locations in areas with different sales tax rates, they have to collect sales taxes based on the appropriate laws that apply. These laws can change, so it's essential for them to have a comprehensive financial management system to handle any updates in tax laws.


As a restaurant owner, it's important to keep accurate and detailed payroll records, including information about your staff's tips. Failing to file or pay taxes on time, especially sales taxes, can result in hefty fines, interest, and even criminal charges in severe cases. To avoid these legal issues, it's crucial to establish effective systems for managing payroll, accounting, and sales tax collection. By doing so, you can ensure the smooth operation of your business and avoid any potential legal troubles.

Are you navigating the financial nuances of the restaurant industry? Streamline your operations and ensure compliance with us. Request a consultation to learn more about how using us for restaurant financial management can help you run your business smoothly.

DISCLAIMER: The information provided herein does not constitute the provision of legal advice, tax advice, accounting services or professional consulting of any kind. The information provided herein should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional legal, tax, accounting, or other professional advisers. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a professional adviser who has been provided with all pertinent facts relevant to your particular situation and for your particular state(s) of operation.