Traveling is supposed to be relaxing, but when you travel you’ll encounter multiple tipping opportunities: taxi drivers, bellhops, doormen, skycaps. How do you know when and whom to tip? How much is the appropriate amount? Most of us have been going to restaurants and figuring out tips since our teenage years. Tipping shouldn’t confuse us, but it does. Here are my best tips on tipping.
Should you tip?
Yes, if the service was acceptable. Many jobs in the service industry pay very little. Without tips, these workers would have a hard time raising a family. For example, both the regular and tipped-worker minimum wage is $8.25 in Nevada, but the tipped-worker minimum is just $2.13 in nearby Utah, Texas and many other Southern states.
Who should you tip?
Just about anyone in the service industry, including, but not limited to, non-fast food restaurant workers, manicurists, maids, Uber drivers, and bartenders.
How much should you tip?
Tipping at 15% is a good starting point. If service was ok, tip 15%. If service was great, tip 20%. If service was horrible, tip but notify management.
These are three very simple things to keep in mind. NO, it’s not really all that simple. We don’t think twice about tipping the wait staff but we’ll ignore a tip jar on the counter at a deli. For most of the transactions where the person serving expects a tip, we do just fine if we remember the following:
- Waitperson: 15 percent to 20 percent of your total bill after tax. Most servers make less than $3 an hour, so tips are really their salary. It’s important to remember that your waitperson tips all of the other servers who assisted him throughout your meal, such as the busboy, the bartender and others.
- Host/hostess/busboy: Nothing. Generally, they receive a cut of the waiters’ tips each night.
- Bartenders: $1 per drink. If you’re waiting for a table, it’s also polite to close your tab at the bar and then start fresh with your server for your meal.
- If you order food at the bar: Same as if you were seated — 15 percent to 20 percent.
- If you use a discount coupon for your meal: Tip your server on what the bill would have been before the discount. A little extra for discounted “happy hour” drinks is also appreciated.
Other Types of Eating or Drinking Establishments
- Buffets – someone has to clear your table, refill your drink and bring you more plates. Ten percent is the usual amount to tip in these restaurants.
- Bars -10 to 15 percent is considered average, but you should also take into consideration the complexity of your drink orders.
- Cafes and coffeehouses – it’s appropriate to contribute 10 to 15 percent to the countertop tip jar.
Personal Care Tipping
- Salons and spas can be among the most confusing places to determine who to tip. A good rule of thumb is to tip each person based on the cost of the individual service, not your total bill.
- Hair stylist: 15 percent to 20 percent. If the stylist is the owner, traditionally you do not tip him or her.
- Colorist: 15 percent to 20 percent
- Hair washer: $1 to $2
- Manicure/pedicurist: 10 percent to 15 percent
- Massage therapist: 15 percent to 20 percent
- Bellhop: $1 to $2 per bag
- Valets: $1 to $3. You can tip when you drop off the car if you like, but definitely tip at pickup.
- Room service: 10 percent is acceptable, 15 percent to 20 percent for a large or difficult order.
- Housekeeping: $2 to $3 per night; $5 if you have more than three people in a room/suite. Leave the money in an envelope with “Thank You” on it, so they know the money is for them.
- Concierge: Nothing. But if you have something brought to your room, such as a sewing kit or extra toothbrush, a $2 to $3 tip is appropriate.
- Doorman: $1 for help with each bag, $1 for hailing a cab
- Cab driver/Uber driver: 15 percent to 20 percent tip of the fare. (Find out ahead of time if your cabbie accepts a credit card. If he or she doesn’t, make sure you have enough cash for both fare and tip.)
- Airport Red Cap/Baggage personnel: $1 to $2 per bag
- Wheelchair attendants: This really depends on the level of service. If the attendant is transporting the passenger from the check-in to the gate, $5 to $10 is the standard, Airport transportation attendants: If the driver helps you with your bags, offer $1 per bag.
Who are we NOT supposed to tip?
There are still a few people out there who we are NOT supposed to tip. Some of these include:
- Restaurant owners
- Salon owners
- Other owners of establishments where you tip the service providers
- Airline flight attendants
- Hotel desk clerks and doormen (unless they provide some special service for you)
- Bus drivers
- Theater ushers
- Museum guides
- Employees at fast food restaurants
You might want to take a vacation to get away from all these American tipping details. Matters get a little simpler once you leave the USA, but it depends on where you’re going. Each country places a different value on service.
International Tipping Tips
Familiarize yourself – Guidebooks and many country and city specific web sites list tipping protocol for regular services. In a few nations, including Canada, Mexico and India, tips are expected. In many European nations, service is included in your restaurant bill. If so, there wouldn’t be an obligation to pay more, though some customers still leave small, single-digit tipping percentages. (Tipping also can make sense for activities like carrying luggage). In other nations such as Australia, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Brazil and Japan, tipping isn’t common. That’s also true of China, except for tipping tour guides, which is expected.
- Know the value of the currency – Not understanding a country’s monetary system can lead to over – or under-tipping. (I once tipped $30 to a porter who brought me a glass of water on a train in Mexico.)
- Don’t use U.S. currency – Although it’s convenient to provide tips with U.S. bills and coins, it forces the service provider to go out of his or her way to exchange the currency — not to mention the cost associated with changing money.
- Be nice – Even if the service isn’t great — or even good. Customs and language barriers are just a few of the circumstances that may prevent you from seeing the whole picture.
Except for filing income tax returns, there are few common financial exercises more confusing than tipping. With all of this confusion, maybe we should just stay home.
Just kidding! Following these tips on tipping should keep you in servers’ good graces and prevent any international faux pas.
Fun fact: Tipping is a very old practice. It dates back to 18th century England, when an urn would be placed in pubs with a simple sign that read, “To Insure Promptitude.” This was later shortened to the acronym T.I.P. or “tip,” as it is currently called. While originally a way of ensuring good service, tipping is now expected at most businesses where a personal service is performed.