How to tip in the U.S.!

To tip or not to tip?  And if you do, how much?

A few month ago, my friend Julia came to visit me from Germany. One evening she took me out for a nice dinner at an Italian restaurant in Boston’s North end.  We ran up a $96 check, and my friend left our waitress a $4 tip.  That’s 3.84%.  The waitress politely asked her if there was anything wrong with either the food or the service, and when Julia replied everything was great, the waitress informed her: “For future reference, it’s customary to tip 15-20% in America.”

This encounter left both the American waitress and my European friend astonished: the American because of the bad tip, and the European because of the waitress’ forwardness.

One of the reasons Americans tip way higher than most other countries, begins with the unquestionable fact that service-industry wages and benefits are, on average, far less in America than in Europe for example.  Each of the 50 states has a different minimum wage, usually around eight dollars an hour.  But under federal law, the minimum wage for tipped employees like bartenders and waitresses is just $2.13/hour.  Americans are aware of this and hence want to express their gratitude by paying a higher tip and help make up for their low pay.  In Germany, on the other hand, the minimum wage is a lot higher and waitresses make an average of $10/hour.  Hence, tipping a waitress is only a form of acknowledgement and letting her know that they were satisfied with the service.  Rounding up to the next higher number is therefore adequate.

In the U.S. you are not legally required to tip. Service charge is always voluntary.  However, whether you agree or disagree with the reasons behind America’s tipping culture, the best reason to tip like an American while in America is simply because, when abroad, one should adjust and respect other people’s cultures.  But because it can be confusing at times and not always make sense, here are the basics:

Restaurants/Bars/Cafes:

  • 20-25% is excellent, 18% is great, 15% is ok, 10% is bad
  • Gratuity is almost never included in the bill, except for large restaurant parties (usually six people or more).
  • Bare in mind that, depending on the establishment, a waiter might share their tips with other people such as hostesses, bartenders, food runners and wine servers.
  • At the bar, tipping begins at $1 per drink.  If you have a larger order, including fancy cocktails, be prepared to leave a higher amount.
Hairdresser:
  • Be prepared to leave $3 – $5 for the person who washes your hair
  • For the stylist the same rules apply as in the restaurant: 20-25% is excellent, 18% is good, 15% is ok, 10% is bad
Taxis:
  • 15%.  If they are helpful, carry your bags and go a direct route, you can head towards 18%+
Tour guides
  • If you go on a guided tour of the city, historic places etc. and you thought the guide did a good job, giving them $5-$10 is great.
Parking Valet and Pizza Delivery person
  • $1-$3 is fine.
No tipping is required at gas stations or grocery stores, unless someone helps you load bags in your car.  
Tipping in the U.S. is something you will get the hang of after you do it a while.  You will soon notice what good and bad service means.  If you are mistreated anywhere, you’re not obliged to pay extra. You might even want to let the manager know. If you don’t want to do that, leaving a 10% tip means “The service was awful”.  
Take a look at the Tipping Etiquette Around the World info graphic and tell us how you feel about tipping and how it works in your home country! 

2 Responses to How to tip in the U.S.!

  1. Pingback: How to Tip in the UK | peerTransfer Blog

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