Tipping in the USA can be very confusing. Who gets what? How much is enough? How much is an insult? It’s a minefield – especially if you haven’t grown up with it. Here’s our essential guide to tipping in the States that will stop you being chased down the street by angry wait staff.
When I first visited the USA, I really didn’t get the tipping culture. Although I was aware of it, every time I went to the bar or got a restaurant bill, I’d break out in a panic sweat.
In Australia, New Zealand and the UK when you tip, it’s because you’re really happy with the service or the product. It’s a thank-you.
In the States, you’ve got to see it more as an informal yet essential tax.
1. Why tip?
Remember, minimum wage in the US is still considerably lower than Aus or the UK. The service and hospitality industry is often poorly paid and people rely on tips just to get by.
Tips are not just a way of you showing your appreciation for the level of service. Think of them more as just part of the price.
2. Who gets what?
The system for dividing the tips is complicated.
Every time you walk into a restaurant, you’re greeted by one person, then you’re seated by another. Water is poured by another. Menus and service is by another person. Your drinks are made by another. Your plates cleared by someone else…
Your tip is split about 6 different ways, so the money is quite thinly sliced by the end. And that’s just in a restaurant.
3. How much do you tip in the States?
Porter: $1 per piece of luggage you have.
Valet: $1 per piece of luggage – $2 min.
Reception and concierge: no need to tip.
At the bar: $1-$2 per drink but more on the 1st round if you want awesome service later. Alternatively, if it’s that kind of bar and that time at night, offering to have a drink with the bar person by suggesting a shot of Fernet, you’ll have a new best friend.
Fernet Branca is an acquired taste – very bitter and medicinal – but to the seasoned career bar tender it’s like catnip!
Bar tab: add 10% to the total. Cash is better even if you’re paying by credit card for the rest of the bill.
Table service in a bar: 10% of bill (on before tax amount) is the bare minimum 15% is fine. 20% means you’re stoked w/service.
Restaurant bar: if you’re having a drink at the bar while you’re waiting for your table, make sure you settle the bar tab before you’re seated.
Combining the bar tab with your dinner bill is poor form and it’ll piss the bar tender off. This may result in slow or poorly made drinks throughout your meal. Tip $1-$2 per drink – more if the restaurant’s really busy.
15% tip of the pre-tax amount is fine. In California, sales tax is 7.5%, so just double the tax amount. 20% is a good tip.
NYC is often more just because it’s a special case – though especially noticeable with table service – 20% is the norm, 25% if you’re thrilled with wait staff, more if you want to show off or look like a tourist!
$1 or $2 is fine. If you’re using Uber, you only need to tip if you’re really happy with the driver.
As a general rule/’industry standard’, you tip about 20% of the tour price. You tip at the end of the tour.
Sometimes you don’t need to tip but it’s best to bring enough cash with you for this anyway. It’s quite embarrassing and you feel like a swindler when you can’t tip while everyone else is handing the guide bills.
There’s no need to tip at supermarkets, stores or fast food venues.
To make things a bit clearer, here’s a free cheat sheet of what we’ve gone through:
4. Working out percentages
If you’re as bad at maths as I am, doing percentages can be… frustrating. There are plenty of phone apps that help you do this. Alternatively, work out the 10% figure and go from there.
10% is easy to do. Just move the decimal place over one. So for a $95.00 bill, 10% is $9.50.
Double this and you’ve got 20%. Half of $9.50 ($4.75) is 5%. Add that to $9.50 and you’ve got 15%.
Sorry if this seems like I’m taking the piss, but it’s the only way I can do it, and I know there are others out there who feel as disengaged with numbers as I do. Hope this helps!
How much do you usually tip? Have you ever been to the States? What do you think of the tipping culture over there? Tell us in the comments!