Tipping is an integral part of the American culture. To save yourself some embarrassment, here are some tips to keep in mind. On paper, tipping is an optional reward for good service. But in reality, it is mandatory and expected all over America. Unless you have experienced outrageously bad service, you MUST tip 15-20% as a general thumb rule.
Here are some nuances to note.
Many tipped employees rely on tips to make majority of their income. The American tipping system provides an incentive for employees to provide high-quality service.
If you are seated in a restaurant, and a waiter/waitress attends to you, you are expected to pay 15%-20% of the bill amount (before taxes). A quick way to calculate the tip is to double the sales tax. You can leave this in cash, or add it to your credit card. (The tip amount will be billed on the credit card as a separate transaction, once the restaurant submits the signed receipts to the bank.)
If you are in a large group, the restaurant may add a gratuity fee. In that case, you do not need to tip.
If you are seated by a server, the same above rules apply. However, if you are ordering the bar, you have to tip the bartender depending on the kind of drink you order. If it’s a bottled beer, a dollar per drink is acceptable at a regular bar. However, if you are getting a fancy cocktail, you should tip around $3; $5+ if you are at a fancy bar and your bartender has flair moves!
Other food/drink vendors:
Cafes, delis and street side vendors ask for tips too. However, if you pick up something which is pre-made, or if you order take out or even fast food, tipping is not mandatory. Don’t forget to tip your food delivery guy a couple of bucks, especially if the weather is bad. Grocery loaders should also be paid $1-$5.
If any human is providing you his/her time and service, you are required to tip them. Beauty Salons, Spas/ Masseuses and Hair Salons are included in this list. If you have a discount voucher for the service, remember that the tip will still be expected on the full value of the service, but it is not held against you if you don’t do that. Pet services also demand the same tip rates.
If you need a plumber, carpenter, caterer, nanny, house or garden cleaner, etc. you will need to pay them 15%-20% tip over their charges. However, for dry cleaning, it isn’t mandatory!
A premium cab service may expect you to pay 10%, but for a regular cab you hail, you should pay around $1-$5 over the ride charges. This rule extends for Uber/Lyft as well, but it is usually done via the app if you have a good experience.
While you do not pay tip on the hotel accommodation bill, you should pay about $5/day to the room cleaning staff. Bellboys, coat checkers and porters generally make $1-$3/bag they carry or for any help they provide. You are not required to pay a tip to your AirBnB host.
Tours & Travels:
If you book a tour, the tour guide and the driver will expect a tip. It is acceptable to give a combined tip amounting to 10% of the tour value. A valet or someone that helps you park/navigate your car should be paid $1-$5 as well. At airports, skycaps are to be tipped similarly.
Gas stations are usually self-service, but not in New Jersey. A couple of bucks should be given to the person who helps you fill gas.
While you buy gifts for your friends and family, don’t forget the people who make your stay comfortable like your doorman and super. It could be steep, but $100 is the norm during Christmas.
Ensure you have small bills handy with you at all times, because usually you will not get back change. Also, it does not look good handing out a $100 bill for a $1 tip and expecting change!
Some services that aren’t tipped are doctors, pharmacies, concierge, gym trainers and government employees like MTA and the police! If you are ever confused about tipping, it is ok to ask if the person accepts tips!
As you spend more time in America, tipping will become second nature to you! You will automatically be able to gauge how much to tip and if it is mandatory or not. Till then, happy tipping!
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