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The do's and don’ts of tipping in the USA

Published May 13th, 2013

 

Tipping is quite a complicated business in the USA. With percentages for some people and dollars for others, the whole thing can get quite confusing for a foreigner (and requires way more brain power than I'd prefer to give on holidays). So, with questions marks above our heads and calculators in hand, we set out to find the do’s and don’ts of tipping in the USA.

 

Do realise that people rely on tips to live: There’s a reason why stuff is so cheap in the USA. Granted, our healthy dollar is one reason for budget-wins, but the real reason is because service taxes haven’t been added to prices like they are in Australia. When you take this into consideration, tipping makes sense. It just requires a bit of maths, which is annoying if you hate maths.

Don’t be an asshole about it: No, it’s not mandatory to tip, but you should do it anyway. Like you should say your please-and-thank-you's and give little old ladies your seat on the bus. So don’t be an asshole about it. You’re better than that.

 

Do beware that there are different tips for different services. From a couple of dollars a bag for a hotel porter to $2 for the doorman if he hails you a cab and 15% at a table-service restaurant, different amounts are suitable for different services.

Don’t forget to smile: Apparently angry and cheap tippers make for bad lovers, so be generous and do it with a smile. Tipping, that is.

 

Do tip based on level of service: If you receive great service at a restaurant, increase your tip from 15% to 20% or more.

Don't not leave a tip at all:  Even if the service was terrible, you should still leave a minimum tip (usually 10%) and let the manager know.

 

Do tip a couple of dollars to: Bartenders, housekeeping, concierge, porters, drink serves, valet parking.

Don’t think the same rule applies to other services: Hair dressers, tour guides, waiters and spa staff should be tipped a percentage of the bill, normally 10 – 20% based on satisfaction.

 

Do tip your cab driver: Generally speaking it’s around 15% of the fare

Don’t forget the bus driver too: If you opt for a shuttle bus instead of a cab to the airport, tip the driver a couple of dollars.

 

Do tip the housekeeper each day: Housekeepers may service your room everyday so will need to be tipped accordingly.

Don’t leave it on the night stand: They’re not a prostitute. General practice is to leave the tip on the counter or desk.

 

Do your research on tipping etiquette in different states: Just to make things even trickier, tipping amounts can vary between areas of the USA. Generally speaking though, the more rural the town, the less you are expected to tip.

Don’t be surprised if a gratuity is included: In some tourist heavy areas like New York or the Grand Canyon, gratuities are often automatically added to your restaurant bill just to help make life a bit easier.

 

 

Lauren Burvill

Australian born but London based, I'm a sucker for big cities and small tropical islands. When travelling, I like eating like a local, dressing like a local, but staying in 5 star style. Have a travel story to share? Tweet me @laurenburvill.