Tips for tips: How to pay when you’re in the US
For us Aussies, the concept of tipping is quite foreign. An extra, ambiguous amount of money on top of the bill just seems absurd. But there’s a lot more to it than just coughing up some extra cash.
In the US, it’s actually completely legal (with the exception of a few states) to underpay your employees - granted they make it up in tips. This means that as of 2018, the average bar job paid $8 US dollars an hour. Some wages are as low as $3.
A $20/hour bar job doesn’t seem so heinous anymore.
This means two things. One: the level of customer service is outstanding. The wait staff are super efficient and the taxi drivers don’t stop grinning. You didn’t know it was possible to get a suitcase up a staircase so goddamn fast.
You can also imagine how shocked people from the US are when they go overseas. Getting suitcases up staircases suddenly becomes a slower process. At the end of the day, we still get paid.
The second thing it results in is a wacky tipping etiquette system. Americans tend to tip on a combination of the quality of the service and a percentage of the total bill. The system works, for those who know how to use it.
But when you throw us tourists in the mix, things become a little more complicated.
It’s time to get tipping.
Percentages and Tipping Standards
All tipping recommendations and percentages are in US DOLLARS.
The Golden Rule: Tipping is not expected, but appreciated.
At a restaurant, 15% of the bill is a standard. But do remember that tips make up most of the pay in hospitality, so 20% is a more solid amount. If you’re in a more upmarket restaurant, a 25% tip is fine.
20% tips are also easier for you to work out. 10% of the bill, times two. Simple.
Taxi drivers expect a similar 15% - 20%. For smaller jobs, low dollars tend to be acceptable. Hotel porters, a dollar per bag. Food delivery, round up the total. Simple.
If all else fails, use this as a rough guide:
Long service (taxis, restaurants, hairdressers): 15 - 20%
Short service (drinks, bags, valet and food delivery): $1 - 5
Don’t think of tipping so much as an exact number, but a reward for the given service.
Here are our 10 tips for tipping in the US.
Dollar Bills and Envelopes
There’s a reason that the US still has $1 notes. Chances are, at some point you’ll stumble across a tipping conundrum. Be sure to keep dollar bills on you throughout your trip, and don’t be afraid to ask the hotel front desk for change.
You also might chose to carry envelopes to ensure your tips get to the right people. Perhaps your hotel maid went above and beyond - a clearly labelled envelope will get your tips to where they belong.
Delivery: Are they bringing it to you?
If you’re struggling with when to tip, look at how much the person you’re tipping is doing for you. In Australia, we tend to order food from the bar or counter, whereas the US tend to use table service. When tipping the standard 15% - 20%, it’s important to consider what lengths they have gone to to make sure you have had an enjoyable meal.
The same goes for at home food delivery. If you’re staying in for a takeaway, a couple of dollars for delivery will suffice. It’s also common to round it up; for a $26.50 meal you might pay $30.
Hotel room service is also considered food delivery. The same goes for home delivered groceries.
What’s new? Uber, Lyft and Airbnb.
The concept of tipping is old, but new ways to travel are popping up everywhere.
Tipping your taxi driver is important: it tends to be the same amount as you would in a restaurant (15% - 20%). This also applies to Uber and Lyft drivers. There have been recent reports of reduced fares, so tips are often what compensate for working longer hours.
Any ride-hailing drivers should be tipped, this includes Limousines. Like any US tipping, it is not expected, but appreciated. If you are visiting America, it’s important to follow their social etiquette.
While it’s hotel staff tipping is often a debate, tipping your Airbnb is not standard. Hosts will rarely interact with guests as Airbnb is considered a house share more than a service.
Drinks at the bar
This one is easy: $1 per drink.
This being said, America does tend to have table service. 10% of the bill at the end of the night is a good tip.
You don’t HAVE to tip.
You don’t. But if you aren’t, make sure there's a reason. If your food was cold and the service was slow, and your driver took you in the completely wrong direction you don’t need to tip. You are tipping for a service which they may not have provided.
You also don’t need to tip everyone. Sometimes it seems daunting and the default is to reward anyone for basic human decency. A concierge at the front desk, or doorman who simply opens the door. They are just doing their job.
If someone goes out of their way to help, perhaps to secure you a difficult reservation or itinerary, a $5 - $10 tip makes a nice thank you.
Maybe it’s the reason that fast food is so popular in the US. Large chain stores such as McDonald’s don’t expect tips. There is often a jar on the counter, but don’t feel inclined.
Supermarkets may also be a confusing place when it comes to tips. There is no need to tip the checkout employees when you are doing your grocery shop.
This one is easy to forget. Hairdressers, manicurists, eyelash technicians and beauty therapists: these professions all expect a tip. It’s up to you, but 15% - 20% is a safe bet.
Also, remember the apprentices. Often whoever is making your tea and washing your hair is being paid the least. A low dollar tip is fine.
Check the bill
You don’t want to tip more than you need. Check the bill for service charge or gratuity already included - sometimes restaurants include the tip for you. You don’t have to accept it if the service wasn’t up to your standard, but often it’s a good indication of what’s expected.
Coffee doesn’t expect a tip, so it’s up to you. Baristas generally make minimum wage - so if you’re feeling generous - tip away.
A recent survey from INSIDER found around 70% of people tip when they pick up their coffee. A couple of dollars for a cup of coffee is quite steep, so perhaps stick to rounding up to the nearest dollar if you feel obliged.
There are a whole lot of unexpected tip-ees you might come across on your ventures. Tour guides, drivers, valet staff, spa workers and bathroom attendants should be tipped. Use your judgement: the greater level of service, the greater the tip. If you’re ever feeling lost, take note of how much those around you are paying, or ask a local. The process isn’t as daunting as it seems.
Restaurants: 15 - 20%
Upmarket Restaurants: 25%
Hotel Porter/Bags: A dollar per bag. Two if heavy.
Bars: A dollar per drink. If it’s table service, 10% of your total.
Coffee: No tip. Small change if you feel obliged.
Taxis: 15 - 20% percent. You may consider more if they have gone out of their way to get you somewhere on time.
Tour guides: No tip. $5 - 10 if you feel obliged.
Hotel receptions: No tip. Transport advice and directions are a given. Tip if you feel obliged.
Valet: $1 - 5
Fast food: No tip
Supermarkets: No tip
Takeaway food delivery: $2 - 4 or round it up.
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