You may have noticed that this site has existed for quite some time now and yet we have not gotten around to writing a guide to tipping. This is because we are great big cowards and it is a hugely contentious topic. But the time has come to go forth and do our best. As a caveat to international readers, this is a 100% American post, we know people in your countries get paid fair wages and tipping is a token and yadda yadda yadda.
Dining In Restaurants
This is probably where most people do their tipping and is the most fraught with peril. Know before you begin that in many states (but not all! For instance, California servers must be paid minimum wage.) servers are allowed to be paid below minimum wage, something like $2 per hour with the assumption that tips will bring them up to a fair wage. So by entering a restaurant, you are entering into a social contract that you will pay for both food AND service. If you receive subpar service, it is NOT acceptable to lower your tip from the standard. You really need to speak with a manager and alert them to the problem and ask that it will be rectified. If you leave a poor tip, your server will just think you are stingy.
So what is standard? 15% is the absolute bare minimum. In many places this is a perfectly fine tip and you don’t need to go higher. In bigger cities (I know NYC for certain), 20% is the general standard (and I find it a lot easier to calculate!) Knock yourself out going higher if you wish. I do think if you have tons of demands, substitutions, maybe your kid spills stuff all over the table, you should raise your tip accordingly.
There is some debate about whether you tip before or after tax. I generally think before makes sense, since taxes are also a percentage of the total, but its not going to make a huge difference either way, so go with what feels right to you. Or servers can chime in in the comments?
We wrote about this before, but you aren’t obligated to tip for coffee or ice cream or simple sandwich places. However, it is very nice to tip if it’s a big or complicated order or if they go out of their way for you.
Someone is literally bringing food to you so you don’t have to step outside your door. Tip 15-20% and definitely raise that up significantly if the weather is horrible.
You probably already know this but maybe there are some bitty baby college freshmen out there (as I once was) who are very nervous about being caught out as underage because they don’t know what to order and don’t know what to tip. $1-2 per drink is standard or 15-20% on the tab.
I used to always think that you only tipped if you had bags, but then I moved to NYC and find that people tip 15-20% per ride regardless of bags. We are pretty anti-Uber at Uncommon Courtesy, but I am a kind hearted soul and checked, and it turns out that Uber includes a 20% tip in the fare, so you don’t need to worry about tipping separately.
At salons (hair, nails, spa, etc) you tip 15-20% (more for big cities or more personalized services). Technically if your service is provided by the owner, you don’t need to tip, but I would want to be REALLY sure they were the owner before I did that. Also, if a separate person than your stylist shampoos your hair (and gives you a head massage if you are lucky!), you should give them a couple of dollars separately.
$2-5 when you get your car back, fancy-wheels.
Restroom attendants are the most ridiculous thing. I fly into the Charlotte airport when I go to visit my parents, and they have them in ALL the restrooms. Like, I get it at a fancy nightclub or something where I am choosing to be, but an airport is a glorified bus station and it’s ridiculous. I don’t tip when they are foisted upon me and I don’t need their services, but if you do take their little mints and towels and stuff, tip between 50 cents and $2 depending on what you need.
What is this, the 1920s? Okay, if you are fancy enough to stay at a hotel with a bellhop (especially if they have a cool hat) you should be also be able to afford to make it rain for them. Otherwise, $2 for the first bag, $1 for all the following bags. Do airports even have skycaps anymore? (actually I used to use them in college all the time for some reason?) But anyway, if you can’t haul your bags the extra 50 feet to the desk, they also get $2 for the first bag, $1 for the second bag.
$3-5 per day. Do it daily as the person doing the cleaning might change from day to day. Always leave a note saying “for housekeeping” or something so they know it’s for them.