06
May
10

tips

Reader C.N. asks:

I am a fantastic tipper at restaurants and strip clubs, etc. I get tipping in the food industry. It makes sense to me. But what about in other areas? Bell boys? Car washers? When is it appropriate?

Dear C.N.:

Tipping is such a strange custom in America. You would think in the land where we pretend there are no class divides and everyone is “equal”, giving service professionals money for how well they performed their job would be a thing of the past. In most countries, gratuity is included in the bill, and you can give more if the service was exemplary. Not so in our dear America. Maybe we’ve made it so confusing because we want to make life even harder for foreign visitors trying to get a drink at a bar.

Whatever the reason, we’ve held on to the tradition of tipping being up to the consumer, rather than mandatory.

Most Americans, like you, understand that you’re supposed to tip 15% at restaurants, 20% if they were awesome (or you’re awesome and have worked in food service before), and 25% if you’re really really drunk and happy. Apparently, people paying via credit card are better tippers than those who have cash (which figures — you only ever have a limited amount of cash, but credit cards go on forever). And personally, I judge people by how well they tip (especially dates).

But then there’s the question of what to do when you come across someone who’s providing a service but isn’t your waitress. If you’re not provided a receipt with a line to fill in the tip, what are you supposed to do?

I can give you a few tips (harhar) on what to do in certain situations, but the golden rule is that tipping, especially in America, is never mandatory. It’s completely up to you. If you don’t happen to have any singles on your person, you don’t have to tip. You might feel horribly bad about it (and you probably should), but it’s okay. Just remember that in general, this is how these people are making a living.

But here’s a list of what’s sort of expected, from what I can tell:

Bartenders: Usually $1 per drink, or 15-20% of the total bill if you’re someplace way fancy where drinks cost $12, like in Manhattan.

Who tips 20 Euro?

Here's a tip: avoid the clap. Image: Michal Marcol / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Bellhops, Baggage Handlers for Rental Car Shuttles, Curb-side Check-in at the airport, etc: $1 per bag.

Taxi Cab Drivers: 10-15% on top of fare (they usually have a fancy button they press to charge you extra for handling bags, btw).

Bathroom attendants: This one is definitely completely optional unless you’re somewhere extremely fancy. $1-2 for every trip in, unless they don’t have a tip jar, in which case, it’s awkward to hand someone a dollar bill in the bathroom.

Doormen/Concierge: No need to tip for holding open the door, unless you’re feeling extremely magnanimous; if they get you a cab, you can give ’em a buck or two.

Car wash: This is another instance where it’s hard to tip unless they have a tip jar handy. I always try to give at least $1 per car, preferably $2-3. Remember they split the tips amongst the shift workers.

Car mechanic: Don’t tip for an oil change. That’s silly.

Pizza delivery guy: 10-15% of the bill for the pizza, or $5 for kicks.

Casino table dealer: You don’t have to tip, but if you’re up, throwing the dealer a $1-chip from time to time can be considered lucky.

Caddie/cart guy while golfing: Depends on the green fee and whether or not the course has a dress code. It’s somewhat complicated, and I’m not a golfer, so I’m just going to direct you to About.com’s article on tipping at golf courses.

Haircuts and spa treatments: 15-20% of total bill, depending on how good you want your hair to look next time. I always throw down an extra bit at Christmas, ’cause your hair stylist/waxer/nail tech is like your bff.

Hotel cleaning staff: No tip expected, but you can leave them a little envelope if you feel particularly nice. It’s quite likely they’ll have no idea what to do with it, or they won’t be allowed to accept it anyway.

Post Office Mail Delivery Person: It’s not uncommon to give the Postman (or Woman) a small tip or gift during the holidays, but otherwise, they won’t know what to do with it, and are you going to chase them down the street to give them $1 for delivering your mail?

Buffet or cafeteria-style restaurants: Usually these places will have a tip jar at the cash register, but you should probably leave 10-15% tip on the table for the bus boys.

Valet parking: Give ’em at least $1 for not scratching your car or taking it on a Ferris Bueller-style joy ride. More if you’re at a fancy hotel. Otherwise, they may not get your car too readily next time.

Grocery baggers: Even if they bag your groceries and carry them out to the car, they’re usually not allowed to accept a tip. You can try, though. (My mom was once asked if she’d like to join a Star Trek Role Playing Game by the grocery bagger. They’re friendly folk.)

Concessions worker at movie theater: Again, they’re probably not allowed to accept a tip. Unless there’s a tip jar out in front of the register, don’t bother.

Baristas: Again with the tip jar. If there is one, at least throw your spare change in. If you’re a regular, try to tip well at least once a week — throw in a buck or two. Even Starbucks employees like tips. They probably have to split the money with everyone else on the shift, too.  If there’s not a jar, they work at a crappy coffee shop.

Tattoo artist or piercer: At least 15% is a good rule here. Like your hairdresser, things can get pretty intimate with a tattoo artist. Tip 20% or more if you got a custom job; 25% or more if you got an amazing cut on their hourly rate; 30% or more if you wanna’ get in their pants, etc.

Am I missing anything?

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3 Responses to “tips”


  1. 1 JH
    May 7, 2010 at 2:59 am

    Like C.N., I found tipping confusing until I started using a cheap 99 cent app on my iPhone called Tipping Tips. It aligns closely to Kat’s observations here (it doesn’t cover tattoo parlors though). Plus it has good depth on tipping for 100 other countries and has a built in flashlight so you can actually read the bill in a dim restaurant!!

  2. May 7, 2010 at 7:46 pm

    I’m pretty sure USPS postal workers are not allowed to accept tips at Christmas or any other time. But homemade cookies are usually fine, if you do that sort of thing.

  3. 3 Lena
    May 10, 2010 at 10:46 am

    It is polite to tip the carhops at Sonic.


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