Tipping etiquette: Are you confident or confused?
One way to avoid leaving a tip is to stay home.
As I researched this post, I realized there are a lot of tipping situations I have never experienced.
I’ve never used a concierge book my tee time. I’ve never had a bellboy bring my carry-on backpack to my room.
I don’t even know what a restroom attendant does. And I cook food with a hotel iron for heaven’s sake – room service never crosses my mind.
We don’t live a fancy lifestyle.
But once, I was forced into a valet parking situation. And I had no idea what to do.
I pulled away from the curb, drove around until I found a place to pull over, and Googled my problem.
The first help I found was an article on The Art of Manliness website.
A gentleman knows when and how to tip those who serve him. The unmannered and uncouth do not. – Art of Manliness
I’m not a gentleman, but I don’t want to be uncouth. I’m not sure what uncouth means, but it sounds like a horror.
So I vowed then and there to figure out this tipping thing and get on with my life.
Why we tip
The US economy
Tipping is how the United States service economy thrives.
Hospitality jobs are low-pay, usually minimum wage (but more on that in a minute).
The system rewards excellent service with patron tips.
It has been this way for a long, long time.
You may wish tipping would go away – that the business would charge enough for the service to pay their employees well and be done with it.
There are grass-roots efforts in this direction, and you can join up and be a voice for change.
But, in the meantime, penalizing the worker is not making a “statement with your wallet,” it’s just plain stingy.
State by state
Since I live in Washington, one of seven states that require employers to pay minimum wage+tips, this came as a shock to me…
In some states, employers can pay as little as $2.13/hr. to tip-based workers. (Source: US Dept of Labor)
I made more than that as a babysitter in middle school! That was a looooooonnnngggg time ago. Let’s say when I was in middle school, Micheal Jackson was a hot new sensation.
These workers depend on tips for their livelihood.
Again, if you don’t like it, fight the system – don’t starve the worker.
Emily Post, Miss Manners, and Amy Vanderbilt tell us that a civilized society depends on a standard of conduct.
Tipping is an accepted social construct in the United States.
Are you ill-mannered, a skinflint, tacky?
Of course not.
Emotional side of tipping
Now let’s think about the fuzzier side of tipping.
We all have values, and ideally, try to match our conduct with our beliefs.
Getting our mindset straight on tipping will create a sense of calm, confidence, and satisfaction.
For the sake of service
One of the arguments for tipping is that it encourages service providers to do their best.
Some cynically call this “working for the tip.”
Most professions reward high performance. In this case, the customer gets to write the evaluation in the form of a tip.
In many countries, tipping is not a thing. Maybe this is why the waiters in certain cities are notorious for being rude and imperious to customers???
Or, consider clerks in retail stores. They are not tip-based employees.
Have you ever had a bad experience in a retail store? Yep. Can you imagine a waiter acting that way?
He wouldn’t be a waiter for long.
So there’s probably something to the theory that tipping contributes to good service.
I heard a theologian say,
“Christians should be the most generous tippers on earth. Our Father owns the cattle on a thousand hills.”
Even if you don’t identify yourself as a person of faith, I think most people would agree with the underlying premise:
“I am blessed. Therefore, I can afford to be generous.”
It feels good to be generous.
Have you ever left a stingy tip and felt a surge of satisfaction?
To not look like a jerk
Your reputation is the least generous reason to tip fairly, but it’s effective.
Most people don’t want to look like a cheapskate.
Remember the ‘Friends’ episode where Ross makes Rachel’s dad angry by leaving a more generous tip for the waiter? Rachel’s dad is a character portraying a rich, entitled asshole. Don’t be Rachel’s dad.
Who and how much to tip
How much should I tip housekeeping?
Tip housekeeping $2-5 a night. Leave a tip daily; you may have a different housekeeper each day.
Be sure to mark it, or leave it in the envelope provided. Housekeepers will be cautious about taking the money if it looks randomly left on the dresser.
This article in the NYTimes changed my paradigm when it comes to tipping housekeepers.
They are the least tipped service providers and arguably work the hardest.
How much should I tip room service?
Check the room service bill, hotels often add a 15% gratuity automatically.
If not, tip room service 15% of the order.
How much should I tip the doorman?
The doorman will bring your bags from the curb to the lobby. Tip the doorman $1-2/bag.
How much should I tip the bellhop?
Tip a bellhop $1-2/bag delivered from the lobby to your room.
How much should I tip the concierge?
Tip the concierge based on the level of service provided.
Answering simple questions – no tip.
Securing reservations, or tickets, etc. – $5-10.
For exceptional, out-of-the-ordinary help, tip higher – up to $50.
How much should I tip at bed and breakfasts?
Do not leave a tip at a bed and breakfast.
Instead, leave a great review on one of the many travel review sites.
You can leave a tip for the housekeeper.
How much should I tip at a vacation rental (Airbnb)?
Do not tip at a vacation rental.
Again, leave a review.
Do not tip for housekeeping.
Usually, daily room attention is not part of these transactions.
These rentals either charge an extra fee for cleaning or build it into the rate.
How much should I tip at the breakfast buffet?
Complimentary hotel perks, such as breakfast buffets and evening receptions, involve attendants.
It’s unnecessary, but $1-2 is welcome, especially if they made an effort to be extra helpful or clear your table.
When we traveled with little ones, I always left a tip on the table. If the attendant has to pull out a vacuum as you walk away…
Accommodation tipping situations
|Room service||15-20% of the tab|
|Bed and Breakfast||None|
|Hotel breakfast buffet and evening receptions||$1-2|
How much should I tip in restaurants?
At sit-down restaurants, tip 15-25% of the total bill (pre-tax).
The restaurant will add the tip to the bill for large groups (usually 8+ people), so check first.
How much do I tip a sommelier?
If you use the services of a sommelier, they will expect a tip 18-25% of the wine cost.
In terms of the amount, if you’ve splurged on a nice wine or a few nice bottles per the sommelier’s suggestions, it’s standard practice to tip 20% to the server on everything but the wine, and 10% to the sommelier on the wine itself.Pinot Squirrel
How much should I tip at buffets
It’s unnecessary to tip at a buffet unless an attendant serves drinks, buses your table, or provides some personal
service. In which case, tip 15% of the bill.
How much should I tip for takeout or fast food?
It is not standard to tip at fast-food or take-out-style restaurants.
Most chain fast-food restaurants do not allow workers to accept tips.
Small, privately-owned restaurants often suggest a tip on the checkout tablet.
(See the murky water section below.)
If your order is large or complicated, it’s nice to leave a 10% tip. You can also leave a small tip in the tip jar or on the table.
Lydia Ramsey is an etiquette expert. Check out her thoughtful article on Tipping for Takeout – The Latest Etiquette Dilemma. If you’ve been perplexed about current tipping practices, you are not alone.
How much should I tip at a coffee shop?
Tipping for coffee is optional.
Spare change, up to $1/drink, is appropriate.
If your drink is complicated, the service is fabulous, or you are regular, and they remember your “usual,” a tip is probably in order.
How much should I tip for food delivery?
Tip the food delivery person $2-4 or 10-15% of the bill, whichever is greater.
Typically when you order food online, you will be prompted to leave a tip as you pay the bill virtually.
Food delivery services (think Door Dash, Uber Eats, etc.) are cashless to protect everyone involved. You will tip on the app.
How much should I tip at a bar?
Tip bartenders and cocktail servers $1 a drink or 15% of the tab.
Add a little extra if you order complicated mixed drinks or food.
During happy hour you would tip based on full price, not on the discounted price.
For free drinks in casinos, the same rules apply – if you expect the cocktail server to return, that is.
Restaurant tipping situations
|Restaurants||15-25% of the total bill (pre-tax)|
|Sommelier||18-25% of the wine cost|
|Coffee Shops||Optional: spare change, up to $1/drink|
|Food Delivery||$2-4 or 10-15% of the bill whichever is greater|
|Bars||$1/drink or 15% of the tab.|
How much should I tip valet parking?
Tip the valet parking attendant $2-5.
Tip when the valet brings your car back. It is also appropriate to tip when you drop the keys off. Either way.
So if you don’t have cash when you arrive, no worries.
Yes, I eventually returned to the hotel and handed over my keys!
How much should I tip a taxi driver?
Tip taxi drivers 10% of the fare or $2, whichever is greater.
A little extra if the driver helps with luggage.
How much should I tip a rideshare service (Uber or Lyft)?
Tip a rideshare driver 10-15% of the fare.
Tip a little extra if the driver helps with bags.
Uber is a cashless system. All money changes hands via the rideshare app.
The app will prompt you to leave a tip when the ride ends. (The same advice applies to any brand of rideshare).
Drivers that provide helpful suggestions and regale you with entertaining stories deserve the higher tip.
How much should I tip the airport or hotel shuttle driver?
Etiquette says tips are not necessary for a simple drop-off. The airport shuttle is often large, busy, and impersonal. Some drivers hop up at stops and offer to help; others sit firmly in their seats and pretend you don’t exist. Tip accordingly $1-2/bag.
However, if you get to talk to your driver, ask them for restaurant and entertainment recommendations. We have met some real characters behind the wheel of hotel shuttle vans.
In our experience, they have a lot to say about where the locals eat and play. We get some of our best intel from hotel shuttle drivers.
That’s worth a buck or two.
How much should I tip the airport skycap?
Tip the skycap $1-2/per bag.
Transportation tipping situations
|Taxi Drivers||10% of the fare or $2, whichever is greater|
|Rideshare Service||10-15% of the fare|
|Airport and Shuttle Driver||$1-2/bag or for special service|
|Airport Skycap||$1-2/per bag.|
How much should I tip the tour guide or tour bus driver?
Tip a tour guide or driver $3-10/day.
The amount of the tip depends on how involved the guide is. Silent driving is on the low-end.
A tour guide providing an entertaining, knowledgeable show would be on the high-end.
For one-off tours, tip about 15% of the cost.
How much should I tip free tour guides?
These tour guides are usually gregarious characters and will let you know that tips are appreciated.
$5-10/hour is a good range.
All tours by government employees such as National Park Rangers – no tips.
It is illegal for them to accept tips – so don’t make it awkward.
If you love them, leave a good review in the suggestion box.
How much should I tip at museums?
Many museums offer free tours led by volunteers that work for the love of the subject.
Tipping is not expected.
But every museum is willing to accept donations; look for a donation box near the entrance.
How much should I tip buskers and street performers?
If you stop and enjoy the show, it’s customary to leave $1-2 in their hat, instrument case, or tip jar.
Buskers are not beggars; they are a legitimate part of city life and often add color and enjoyment to travel.
Brittany plays the fiddle. Once, she and her Irish dancing friend performed at the farmer’s market.
Before they even started, a lady walked by and threw in a $5 bill. I wanted to run after her and say, “They are not bums! You stop and watch their performance!” (Because, of course, all 4 of us parents were lurking in the shadows:).
How much should I tip the dealer?
If you play the tables (and if you read my Las Vegas post, you know I have no idea what I’m talking about!), it’s customary to tip the dealer.
Tip $5/hour. More if you are winning.
There is a finesse to casino tipping that involves chips, timing, and winning that I have no experience with.
The Wizard of Odds put together a page of gambling etiquette.
How much should I tip the coat check attendant?
Tip a coat room attendant $1/item when you pick up.
How much should I tip restroom attendants?
Tip restroom attendants $1-3, depending on services.
Again, I’m not very sophisticated; I have no idea what those services would be!
How much do I tip for personal services?
Personal services include any spa or beauty service.
Expect to tip 15-20% of the bill.
Entertainment tipping situations
|Bus Driver/Tour Guide||$3-10/day|
|Free Tour Guides||$5-10/hour|
|Museums||No. Donations appreciated|
|Buskers and Street Performers||$1-2|
|Coat Check Attendant||$1/item at pick up|
|Personal Services – Spa or Beauty Service||15-20%|
Murky tipping waters
New methods for collecting payment have created a slew of tipping conundrums.
It’s not an accident when the server gives you a screen with prepopulated tips to choose from.
How to structure those tip screens is thoroughly studied from a psychological perspective. Even the shape of the button makes a difference.
When offered a choice, most people pick the middle button.
It’s common for the buttons to offer a 15-20-25% tip option. Lately, I’ve seen a few suggesting 18-25-30%! No more 10% tips.
Stop the madness. Look for the custom tip button and decide for yourself. It’s usually at the bottom of the screen in small print.
We find the idea of tipping 25% for simply taking an order at the register ridiculous.
But there you are, paying for your food, and it’s not exactly practical to come back with your credit card and leave a $1 tip.
We purchased some items in a boutique the other day, and the screen suggested I leave a tip. To shop in a store?! And because it’s so easy now to insinuate that leaving a tip is standard, these tip screens are popping up EVERYWHERE.
The solution is to carry dollar bills and leave an appropriate amount at the table or in a tip jar.
Tipping 20%+ when you pick your food up at a counter and bus your table is not the original intention or spirit of tipping.
Be generous because you are generous, not because a screen passive-aggressively blackmails you.
What do you do about bad service?
First, realize that often the service provider is not responsible and has no control over the situation.
A long line of employees and circumstances can be behind your inconvenience.
Maybe it’s their first week on the job. Have you ever started a new job?
If the server is doing their best, tip them.
Because the American hospitality and tourism industry is tip-based, it’s rare to receive bad service. If you get lousy service more often than not, it’s time to take a close look at your personality – just sayin’…
If you have a legitimate problem with your experience, take it to management.
Just be sure to give a good word about the waitstaff if the situation was out of their control, so they don’t take the blame.
What if the employee is truly rude and surly?
You have to decide based on your internal code.
You could kill them with kindness by leaving an extravagant tip.
Or, leave a standard tip and a kind note that you hope they feel better soon. I like that one. It feels secretly snarky. Like saying, “Bless her heart…” when you mean anything but.
Practical how-to’s of tipping
Budget for it
Start thinking of tips as a regular part of the vacation budget.
Like accommodations, car rental, and museum entrance, it’s part of the experience.
If you accept this and plan for it, angst over tipping will disappear.
Have dollar bills and quarters handy
The best habit I’ve added to my travel skills is getting a wad of dollar bills before every trip.
The amount depends on where we are going – camping requires little tipping, city weekends more.
Having dollars handy will smooth over a dozen awkward moments.
Paper money will also help you navigate murky water tipping in a way that feels right and comfortable for you.
Over-spenders and under-spenders
If you are traveling with a companion, chances are one of you tends toward free-spending, and the other hangs on to money a little tighter.
In our house, the overspender manages the budgeted tip dollars.
That way, the right people get tipped, and everyone feels good about the situation.
An easy way to calculate a tip is to look at the total and move the decimal point one place to the left. That is 10%.
Example: The bill is $32.59. Move the decimal left, and the amount is $3.25 or 10% of the bill.
If you want to tip 20%, double the amount.
Example: Double $3.25, and your tip is $6.50.
You can round up or down depending on the quality of service.
If math makes you nervous, practice this a couple of times at home, and it will become second nature.
Or get yourself a tipping app on your phone.
What others say about tipping
The Art of Manliness – The Gentleman’s Guide to Tipping
I highly recommend this post, whether you’re a gentleman or a gentlewoman. It covers the tipping mindset and situations beyond travel.
Facts on tipping. Check out Emily Post for all things etiquette.
Travel+Leisure – How to Tip in 25 Countries Around the World
If you’re traveling outside the United States, this post is an excellent place to start.
Go forth and have fun spreading dollar bills around!