Sunday, September 25, 2011

How to tip in the U.S and why you should do it.

To travel is to go out of your comfort zone. Imagine if every place on earth would be exactly like home. What fun would that be? The differences in our cultures are what makes traveling so exiting. Few things in my opinion manifests so the differences in cultures as the art of tipping. How many times have I not stared at my bill in some small Italian town, absolutely flabbergasted on what I should pay, what i should tip, whether or not service charges are included? It is also one of those things that so clearly points you out as a tourist instead of the sophisticated globetrotter you would like to be perceived as. Well fear not. I will set this straight for you. Here comes my guide on how and when to tip while in the U.S.A. The rest of the world is beyond the scope of this blog and my knowledge, but with my experience from our recent travels and a lot of help from friends in the U.S this is what I've learned o far.

First of all. The word tipping if you didn't know that, derives from To-Improve-Service(in short tip) and in some parts of the world this is exactly how it is looked upon. If you receive good service you can choose to show your gratitude. This however IS NOT how it works in america, and I'm now gonna try to explain to you why it is so and how tipping might save you from getting carried out of town covered in feathers and tar.

In many parts of the service industry, especially restaurants, cafes and bars, tips are the main income for the people working there. In fact(and I'll quote my friend D in Seattle on this)" Waitstaff in the U.S are legally allowed to be paid BELOW the minimum wage, with the expectation that their tips will make up the difference. Also, tips are not just for your waiter! They get split between the waiter, dishwasher, busboy, and other service staff that you may not see during your meal." I've also heard even if I can't verify it that bartenders in some bars in New York get no wages at all and their tips is their only income.

So how much should you tip and when?

This is the easy one. 1 $ for each drink(beer, wine, mixed drink) is the standard in any bar. Cocktails that are a bit more complicated and require more work you usually tip extra for, 2 or 3 $ is enough. For a pitcher of beer you tip 2 - 3 $.

Here's a little something I've learned myself. More than often if you tip really good early in the evening and strike up a conversation with the bartender. Free drinks and great discounts might come your way.  An advice though! If you start getting free drinks it's even more important to tip good!

Restaurants/ diners/ cafes
The general opinion is that tips should be in the area of 15 - 20 % if service is good 10% if service is bad and as someone suggested in a forum on this topic, the only time you don't tip is when service is so bad that you should notify management about it. Keep in mind this rule is for table service. Whenever you order at a counter(fast food places etc)there is no need to tip(even if some people do). A trick that some people use is that you tip double the tax on the bill. In some states tax is in about 9% so that would make your tip around 18 % which is good. However the tax varies in different states so I'd go with the 20 % rule if I was you. 

A warning! Some places add a gratuity and service charge. This should count toward your total tip. However(as my friend M from Tampa pointed out) some places will try to hide this from you so that you would tip another 20% on the bill. It should be in plain writing on the bill and if anything on the bill is hard to understand just ask the staff. I have never experienced someone trying to scam me myself but apparently it happens so maybe it's good to know that it does.

One last advice from D in Seattle, "One other note: not tipping at all is insulting. Tipping a tiny amount (ie, leaving pocket change as a tip for a $30 meal) is even more insulting though - it says "I didn't just forget to tip. I went out of my way to tell you I thought your service was worth almost nothing"."

Tipping a cab driver is not a necessity but is often expected(thanx T). I go for the 15-20% rule here as well and usually round it up to the closest dollar. A few bucks extra if they help you with your bags. 

There are a variety of services that could require a tip with your overnight stay.

Valet parking - Tip the person who gets you your car 2 $ each time. 

Housekeeping - Not all people tip housekeeping. Someone I met said they only do it at cheaper hotels and motels since they believe the nicer hotels pat better wages. I guess your own moral will have to guide you here. I personally prefer to tip the house keeping(since I learned i should). Tips should be between 2 - 5 $ a day. I think the staff prefers if you tip on a daily basis since different people work different days. Only tip if you have service done and the size of tip should relate to how messy your room was. A reason why I think you should always tip is that most house keeping staff in the U.S are low income earners. Some argue that you should only tip if you stay more than one night since they tidy the rooms in between guests anyway. Again it's up to you here.

Bellhop - If someone carries your bags to the room it's a dollar a bag.

Front desk/ Concierege - Tip 5 - 10$ if they help you to get tickets or dinner reservations. General advice such as directions does not require a tell you I thought your service was worth almost nothing".

So there you go, i hope this guide will assist you and if anyone feels like contributing with more thoughts I'd be happy to update this guide. Let's think of it as a work in progress.


  1. a good idea! It is always a problem knowing how much and when to tip