Everything You Need To Know About Tipping In The USA
To tip or not to tip? If you’re bound for the USA, there’s no question about it. Tipping might still be voluntary here in Australia, but in America, the lines are drawn: tip, and tip well.
Nonetheless, the whole thing can be a little confusing for the uninitiated. Where exactly do you tip? How much should you tip? What happens if you don’t? Don’t panic – we have a few, ahem, tips that’ll get you through your trip to America.
What’s the deal with tipping?
Tipping has been a major custom in the USA for a long time, but you might be surprised to learn that something so “American” actually originated in Europe.
In the late 1800’s, wealthy Americans in Europe reportedly witnessed “tipping” in taverns and restaurants, and took the custom back with them as a way of showing off their heightened class. Though an anti-tipping movement considered the custom, to quote author William Scott, “the vilest of imported vices”, it stuck in the USA like cheese to an In-n-Out burger.
Less a show of wealth these days, tipping is a way of life in America, and nowhere more so than in the hospitality and service industries. There are some signs of change, with some establishments pioneering “no tipping” policies in pursuit of a fairer hourly rate, but it’s still very much the done thing – you best adhere to it, lest you end up with someone else’s meal on your lap.
Here’s how to do it.
Out for a meal and getting served by someone? You’re in for a tip. While tipping isn’t necessarily “compulsory” in this setting, expect to add at least 15 to 20 percent of the bill (closer to 25 per cent if you’re dining somewhere high end).
Why? It’s no news that hospitality workers in America earn minimum wage at best – in some cases as low as US$2.15 per hour. Tips are their bread and butter. It’s not a perfect system, but that’s the way it goes.
If you’re not down with tipping, your wallet will stay fatter at fast food and counter-order restaurants. The standard 15 to 20 per cent doesn’t apply here, though a few extra shekels in the tip jar won’t go astray if you’re feeling benevolent.
On the other end of the scale, if you happen to be dining at The Plaza, there’s a good chance you’ll need to tip your server and the Maître ‘D, too. Add US$5 or $10 to their section on the bill docket (or more if they went the extra mile).
If you’re drinking at a bar, tip your bartender an extra dollar for every drink. With this, so long as you’re not drinking from the top shelf, you’ll probably get your fourth or fifth round on the house. Tip a little extra and you might get something stronger.
Bear in mind that if you’re being served at a table rather than the bar, you’ll need to add at least 10 per cent as the tip to the final tally.
If a porter hauls your luggage to your room when you arrive at your hotel, tip a dollar or two per bag. The same goes if you enlist the services of the hotel concierge (say, for sorting travel logistics or arranging tickets to a show). Tipping concierge a fiver or a tenner is much appreciated in this instance, depending on how much they’ve helped you out.
Don’t forget to tip the people cleaning your room and replacing your sheets, either – housekeepers are the unsung heroes of the hotel experience, and ought to get their slice (A tip of US$2 to $3 per night is fine, though it’s polite to chip in a little more if you’re in a fancy joint or staying as a group).
As for hotel room service, go with what you’d tip in a restaurant (15 to 20 per cent).
Taxis and transportation
Getting around town in a taxi? Tip 10 to 20 per cent on top of the taxi meter total. Feel free to make a judgement call on this depending on the ride – more if you feel like it, less if you don’t.
Tipping on ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft can be a little different. Drivers on both services can be tipped either in cash after the ride, or through the app (10 per cent ought to do it).
Enjoying the in-the-know expertise of a tour guide? Tip them USD$5 to $10 at the end of the tour, or the end of the day. Free services like city walking tours can be a little trickier to discern, so use your best judgement.
This goes for pretty much everything else. Hairdresser? Ten to 20 per cent. Masseuse? ‘Bout the same. Dry Cleaner? Probably not required.
When in doubt, and as a general rule, if someone’s helped you out or served you in some way (and not behind a counter), it’s a good idea to drop a standard 15 per cent tip at the end of the transaction.
One final word: preparation is key. In no other country is having a bunch of $1 bills both a lifesaver and a totally necessary measure. Sort out a bunch of small notes right after you arrive (or before you get there), and make sure you’ve always got a handy stash of tipping cash – it’ll make your travel (and tipping) in America whole lot easier.
(Lead image: Mathieu Turle)