Tipping is Not a Concept Known by Everyone!
The concept of “tipping” (the act of leaving money – sometimes in addition to the money already paid for the service – as a gratuity for the serviceperson who assisted or served you) is foreign to many visitors who come to the United States every year. Many tourists come from countries where service workers are paid a living wage and make significantly more on an hourly basis than service workers do here. Some travelers are unaware that prices for various services and goods are not “all-inclusive” or do not include any amount for the service worker. Whatever the case may be, not everyone in the world understands the concept of tipping.
Tipping in the United States is Very Important and Often Expected
For those who have lived in the U.S. for an extended period of time, tipping is as much a part of a restaurant, bar, or travel experience as paying for a plane ticket.
In fact, tipping at a restaurant is so common that most of us do it without even thinking about it.
While tipping is, for the most part, technically considered “optional”(some bars, restaurants, and hotels add a mandatory gratuity fee in certain circumstances or as part of their resort fees and additional guest charges), it is definitely expected here in the United States. In addition, it’s not just bars and restaurants where you will want to tip people who treat you well.
Of course, there are exceptions. For example, when one receives terrible service, they are much less inclined to leave a large tip. However, even in these instances many people would still feel bad if they did not leave any tip whatsoever. Another example is at a coffee shop or fast food restaurant, where tips are not expected or required (although many of these establishments will have “tip jars” at the front counter in case you want to show appreciation to your barista or server).
For the most part, however, tipping is a part of the service industry culture in the United States and travelers should be aware that tipping is expected in most places that you will visit in the country.
The biggest questions I receive when asked about tipping are:
- When do I tip?
- How much do I tip?
Here is a quick guide to tipping (and the exceptions to the “tipping guidelines and practices” that I speak of) in the United States:
15% – 20%+ of Final Bill Before Tax*
*18% mandatory gratuity is often charged at restaurants when there are larger parties of six or eight or more
Most servers at restaurants in the United States are paid minimum wage and are expected to make most of their money on tips and gratuities. Depending on the service level received and how much the server heightened your dining experience, leaving somewhere between fifteen and twenty-five percent is not unreasonable.
For supremely exceptional service, it is also not unheard of to leave much larger tips as well. I have left a 100% tip before on a meal service that was simply the greatest service I have ever received at a restaurant in my life. Again, this is not standard practice, but it can happen and if you feel it is warranted, by all means please do so.
15% – 20%+ of Final Bill Before Tax
Be aware that if you are at a fancy bar or lounge and you order an $18 cocktail it is not uncommon to leave a $5 tip.
Like servers at restaurants, bar tenders are often paid minimum wage are are expected to make the vast majority of their income off tips and gratuities. Again, depending on the level of service received and how much the bartender heightens your experience at the establishment, tipping between fifteen and twenty-five percent is not unheard of.
If you are at a busy nightclub or lounge, make a lot of unusual requests with your drinks or order a large volume of drinks at one time, you should probably tip more to show your appreciation for their time and effort.
Skycap at the Airport (or Curbside Checkin)
$1-$2 per Bag ($2 Minimum)
If you take advantage of the curbside checkin offered at the airport, please be sure to tip the attendants who do all the heavy lifting for you and allow you to go right through to security. Not only does this save you the time of standing in the long checkin lines at the airport, but can also save you if you are in a hurry or arrived later than you should have for your flight.
15%-20%+ of Final Bill Before Tax
The taxes, fees, and costs of maintaining a taxicab these days can be exorbitantly high. Therefore, most of the fare does not go into the pockets of the cab driver and the amount that a driver takes home is largely dependent on the tips that the driver receives during their shifts.
I should note here that you are under no obligation to tip the driver if they “long haul” you (or take a routing that is unnecessarily long), do not follow proper safety procedures or laws, or do not properly display and utilize a certified meter and place their taxicab license and number in plain view.
I should also note that if the ride is relatively short, you will probably tip more than 15% of the final bill (for example, an $8 cab fare might still warrant a $2-3 tip depending on the service received). You should also tip more if the cab driver had to make a long drive to pick you up or go out of their way to drop you off somewhere that is out of the standard operating range for taxicabs in the area.
20-30%+ of Final Bill Before Tax OR $20-$100+
If you pay for your limo ride, you should always tip the driver 20% of the total bill (or more).
If you receive a complimentary limo ride via work (or some other complimentary service like through a casino), you should still tip the driver. I know for many of you that would mean that the “free” ride is no longer free in your opinion. However, limo drivers often work for tips or have very low hourly wages and the fee your company paid to the limo service operator does not go to the driver.
In addition, if you and your buddies hire a limo driver for the evening so that you can bar hop or club hop in style (a smart move on your part to have a designated driver, by the way), please know that eight or twelve rowdy people riding in a limo for six or eight hours probably warrants a larger tip. If everyone chips in $10-$20, you should be able to come up with $150-$250 for the driver easily. Again, I know that might sound expensive or outlandish to some of you out there. However, especially in places like Las Vegas, this is not only normal, but expected!
Be sure to tip both the valet person who receives your car and the valet person who brings your car to you at the end of the evening.
Also, be aware that it you are driving up in a Ferrari or Mercedes-Benz and are arriving at a fancy restaurant or hotel, most valet drivers will expect a $20 tip or more.
In some cases, if you wish for the valet captain to leave your car out front in plain view (where no one can steal, harm, or damage it) for the evening, please know that you will often be expected to tip the valet up to $100 or more. Again, as the service level rises, the expectation that the employees will be taken care of rises as well.
Hotel Porter or Luggage Attendant
$2-$5 per Bag
If you arrive at the hotel early and check your bags with the hotel luggage attendant or valet, be sure to tip them an appropriate amount foe safekeeping your articles while you wait for your room to be ready.
Also, be sure to tip both the attendant who takes your bags into their care AND the attendant who delivers them to your room.
If you have an exceptionally large load of luggage, a lot of specialty items, bulky bags, fragile gifts, electronics, or groceries with you, showing your appreciation for their careful delivery is also important.
Hotel Front Desk Clerk or Manager
*exceptions for the “$20 trick” or when they waive resort fees or early checkin fees or give you something that is not standard practice or an exception to the hotel’s standard policies
Tipping the hotel front desk clerk is not expected. However, it can lead to wonderful and amazing experiences or additional perks that you would not have received otherwise. Free suite upgrades, some nice fruit or flowers, bottles of water (or even wine), drink passes, and more can be had. It always pays to be nice to the front line workers, especially at hotels.
Hotel or Resort Concierge
Depending on how much work you ask the concierge to do (and how many tickets they book for you), showing your appreciation for their effort is always standard practice.
In fact, if they get you four tickets to a sold out performance or tee times that no one else can reserve, leaving a bigger tip is always appropriate.
Housekeeping at Hotels
$1-$5 a day
This is often a very overlooked area of tipping. Many people (even people who were born and raised in the United States) do not realize that it is standard practice to leave a tip or gratuity for the housekeeping staff at the hotel you are staying at during your trip.
Depending on the hotel and area where you are staying (in addition to how often and well they service your room and how many special requests you make during your trip), leaving a $5 a day tip is not unheard of or unusual.
At some fancier hotels and resorts, gratuity for the housekeeping staff is included in your room rate, so be sure to check at the front desk or when making your reservation if you are unsure if you should leave a tip for the housekeeper or not.
Hosts at Showrooms/Maître D’ at Theatre or Restaurant
$5-$20+ (depending on service received)
If you are given a better seat or upgraded to a better view at a show (let’s say you were given a lower orchestra seat when you only paid for an upper orchestra seat ticket), it is common courtesy to tip the maître d’ or usher who upgraded you or gave you a complimentary upgrade.
The same is true if the maître d’ at a restaurant upgrades you to a better table or finds an available table for you and your party on a very busy night when you are without a reservation.
Many large resort spas have multiple attendants for each section of the spa or common areas for men and women. If an attendant does more than just show you around the wellness areas (such as constantly bring you flavored water, teas, and healthy snacks or hot facial towels), tipping is appropriate even if not expected.
Massage Therapist or Spa Services Specialist
Although gratuity is often included in the price of many spa services these days, it is always good to check and make sure that your therapist is taken care of for providing you with exceptional service.
Barber or Hair Stylist
Again, gratuity is often included in the price of many spa services these days. However, a local salons and barbershops, the price quoted is often the price of services BEFORE any tip or gratuity is added. Knowing this beforehand is always important.
Gratuities are NOT Expected or Anticipated for Certain Services
Of course, there are some services where tipping is not expected (and in some cases, offering a tip might be considered unusual or at least make for an awkward situation).
Here are some examples:
- Grocery Store
- Electronics or Retail Shops (unless you have a personal or private shopper)
- Bankers or Bank Tellers
- Money Exchange Booths
- Car Repair Shop
- Doctor’s Office, Emergency Room, Urgent Care Center or Hospital
- Flight Attendant (although giving them factory-sealed chocolate, candy, or other items can lead to some fun service and free alcoholic drinks)