How To Tip In America

By Kate Arnold

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Tipping in America is so important but it can also be kind of confusing. If you come from a country where tipping isn’t customary, like I do here in Australia, then it won’t come as second nature to remember to tip your waiters, drivers and others in the service industry. When you’re travelling you will be using these services even more than you would at home so it’s important to make sure you remember to tip.

Why Should You Tip?

Leaving tips for your servers can be controversial. A lot people who believe that people in the service industry should just be paid more and tipping should be done away with but the reality is that people working in the service industry rely on tips because they get paid minimum wage. Minimum wage in America varies from state to state but in some places it can be below $8 per hour. By refusing to tip out of protest you won’t change the laws on minimum wages and you will be taking money away from the people who have worked hard to prepare your meal and dining experience. For the people who don’t tip… let’s just say there’s a reason you get bad service.

Do You Tip Before or After Tax?

The answer to this question may change depending on who you ask. There’s no real right or wrong answer but it most common to tip based on the amount after tax. You always want to be on the higher side of tipping so calculating your tip based of the after tax amount of your bill is safer.

How Much Should You Tip in a Sit Down Restaurant?

The standard for tipping at a sit down restaurant is 20%. There are a lot of people behind the scenes that work hard to get your meal out to you and make your dining experience great and they all rely on your tip. If you have a really great experience and the wait staff, hosts and kitchen staff have done an exceptional job or gone above and beyond to give you great service then you should tip more.

How Much Should You Tip for Take Out or Curb Side Pick Up?

If you’re not dining in you should still leave a 10% tip as a minimum. Less effort has gone into serving you but someone has still prepared your order. You shouldn’t tip less than $1. If you’re getting a Chinese takeaway that only costs $8.50 you should still give a $1 tip, even though it’s more than 10%.

How Much Should You Tip Bartenders?

If you’re sitting at a bar and you’ve ordered a beer, a glass or wine or cider or a standard cocktail like a vodka raspberry or a gin and tonic you should tip your bartender $1 per drink. If you order a really fancy cocktail that takes time for your bartender to make or you order a more expensive kind of alcohol, say an aged whiskey, you should tip between $2-5 depending on the time it took to make and the price of the drink. If you’re in a really upmarket bar you may want to tip more than if you’re at dive bar or club. If you’re paying a tab, tip between 15 and 20%.

Use The Tip Jars At Fast Food Restaurants and Chain Cafes

If you go to a fast food restaurant like McDonald’s or a chain cafe like Starbucks where you order and pay at the counter you don’t have to tip. Generally you’ll see a tip jar on the counter, right next to where you pay. If you get any $1 bills or coins in your change drop some in the tip jar. If you’re paying with a card have $1 bill ready to put in the jar for after you pay.

Offload Some of Your Pennies and Singles

When I was in America I ended up with so many pennies and single ($1 bills) just weighing down my wallet. I’m not say you should just tip in pennies, that would be annoying for the person you are tipping. But if you see a tip jar and you put a few dollars or quarters, use this as an opportunity to offload some of your pennies as well.

Always Keep Change on Hand

By keeping some spare coins and small notes in your wallet at all times you can make sure you won’t get caught in an awkward situation where you don’t have anything to give someone.

Don’t Forget to Budget In Tipping

If you don’t have enough money to tip your servers then you don’t have enough money to go out. In America it’s as simple as that. Make sure to budget tipping into your spending plans for the day. Look at the dish that you want to buy and add 30% to the price to take tax and tipping into account. If that’s more than you’re willing to pay then you should look for a less expensive item on the menu or look at going somewhere else for a meal. If you’re having trouble budgeting while on your travels check out my article Tips for Traveling on a Budget.

How Much Should You Tip For Bad Service?

If your service has been really bad you should still tip at least 10%. Remember that it’s not just your waiter that gets your tip. Other people, like bartenders, bus boys, kitchen staff and hosts also rely on your tips to make up their wages. They may have had nothing to do with the bad service you received and they may have had no control over it.

Who Else Do You Need To Tip?

When you’re travelling in America you’re likely to be using a lot of services that require you to tip them. Here’s a list with appropriate tipping amounts.

Bellhop

If someone at your hotel is helping you carry your bags you should tip them $2 for the first bag (i.e. you suitcase) and $1 for every additional bag (hand luggage, etc.) and and addition $3 for any extra service like carrying them up to your room.

Coatroom Attendant

If you’re checking a coat you should tip the attendant $1 per coat.

Concierge

You don’t have to give a tip if you’re just asking questions. If you’re getting tickets from your concierge you should leave around $5-10 for tickets and reservations or $15 for tickets that are hard to get or 10-20% of the ticket price.

Delivery Person

Remember that your delivery person is probably using their own car and petrol. You should tip $3 or 15% of the meal, whichever is higher. For difficult or far away deliveries tip between 15 and 20%.

Doorman

You should tip your doorman (or lady) $1-3 for carrying a bag depending on how big and heavy it is and $2 for hailing a taxi and more if it’s raining.

Housekeeping

It’s a nice gesture to leave $2-4 per day in your hotel with a note to housekeeping to say thank you.

Spa and Salon

If you have a spa treatment or get a massage you should tip between 15 and 20%. The same goes if you get a hair cut or your nails or any waxing done. You can ask for the tip to be shared by the people who helped you.

Taxi Drivers

You should tip your taxi drivers between 10 and 20% of the fare. If it’s a short trip you can just round up to the nearest dollar amount so that there’s no need for change. If it’s a longer trip, say to the airport and the fare comes to around $20, give $3-4 as a tip.

Tour Guides

You should tip your tour guides 20% as a standard. If they are engaging and informative above and beyond your expectation and you really enjoy the tour, consider tipping more.

Valet

Tip $2-5 depending on how nice the place is. Remember to only give the tip when the car is returned to you.

Wine Steward

15% of the price of the bottle of wine.

Tipping can be confusing but that’s not an excuse not to do it whist you are visiting America. Think of it as wearing modest clothes when you visit a place of worship in other countries, you may not want to do it, it might not be convenient for you but you have to do it anyway. People in the service industry rely on tips so always make sure you are tipping appropriately. Have I left anything out? Share your tipping tips in the comments.

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