For us Aussies, the concept of tipping is foreign. An extra, ambiguous amount of money on top of the bill just seems absurd. But tipping in America is expected.
And 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 were even as low as $3.
Your kids $24AUD/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 just 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 a waiters attention suddenly becomes a slower process. At the end of the day, they still get paid.
Tipping in America is much easier when you understand the strict tipping etiquette system. Americans tend to tip based on a combination of the quality of the service, and a percentage of the total bill. This system works for those who known 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 American Tipping Standards
Note – All American tipping recommendations and percentages are in US DOLLARS.
The Golden Rule: Tipping in America 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 generous 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 by a couple of dollars.
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 as a reward for the given service.
Here are our 10 tips for tipping in America.
1. 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 may choose to carry envelopes for tipping in America. A clearly labelled envelope will get your tips to where they belong.
2. 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, where as the US mostly use table service. When tipping the standard 15% – 20%, 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 tipping system goes for home delivered groceries.
At buffet restaurants, 10% is generally acceptable for the servers who are getting drinks and clearing tables. If the service is exceptional, you might want to bump it up to 15%.
3. 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 – including Limousines. If you are a visitor to the US, it’s important that you follow their system.
While tipping hotel staff is often a topic of confusion, tipping your Airbnb is not common. The company considers themselves providing a house share, more than a service, and hosts will rarely interact with their guests.
That being said, people often leave a cash tip for the people that clean their hotel rooms. Leaving $5 on the dresser as you check out will cover your entire stay.
4. Drinks at the bar?
This one is easy: $1 per drink.
This being said, America does tend to have table service. 15% of the bill at the end of the night is a good tip if your drinks have been brought to you.
5. You don’t HAVE to tip in America.
You don’t. But if you aren’t going to, make sure there’s a good reason. When you tip you are paying for a service, and sometimes the service hasn’t been provided. If your food was cold and the service was slow, or your driver took you in the completely wrong direction, you don’t need to leave any extra money.
Don’t feel as if you need to tip everyone. Sometimes in the US, the default is to reward anyone for basic human decency. A concierge at the front desk and a doorman who simply opens a door: they are just doing their job.
Tip jars are popping up everywhere in the US, on counters and in convenience stores, reminding people that tips are ‘good karma’. If you see a tip jar in a place you wouldn’t usually tip, don’t feel as if you have to.
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.
6. Fast food is already fast.
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 can also be confusing. 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.
8. Check the bill
You don’t want to tip more than you need to. 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.
If you are eating with a larger party – six or more – a restaurant will occasionally add in the service charge. It’s generally 18%, but feel free to leave a few dollars more if you feel there was exceptional service.
Coffee doesn’t expect a tip, so this one’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.
10. The extras
You will find 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 the 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.
We promise the whole process isn’t as daunting as it seems.
To summarise: Tipping in America
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, 15% 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. Only tip if you feel obliged.
Valet: $1 – 5
Fast Food: No tip
Supermarkets: No tip
Takeaway Food Delivery: $2 – 4 or round it up.