Travelfilter: When to tip, who to tip and how much to tip?
April 29, 2008 4:37 AM   Subscribe

Ok, so I'm traveling to the States from the UK for the first time and I realise that you guys tip pretty much everyone. So I need to know when to tip, who to tip and how much to tip?

If someone takes you in a taxi you tip them, if they get you a drink you tip them, if they carry your bags you tip them etc...

But - who else, and how much am I supposed to tip them... and when? If I go to a bar and order a drink do I slip the bartender a sly dollar bill or just give it to them when I pay and tell them to keep the change? If I'm at a cafe do I tip the server or do I put it in the jar on the counter? I'm just trying to avoid awkward situations and prevent myself from looking like too much of a noob!

Thanks for any advice...
posted by stackhaus23 to Travel & Transportation around United Kingdom (33 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Taxi tipping is generally a few dollars, though if you're having your bags carried up to a hotel/house i'd suggest at least five dollars on top of the 10% or so. Round up to the nearest 0 or 5 in the case of taxis.

Waitstaff at restaurants generally appreciate 20% for less than $10 bills, maybe 10-15% for tabs larger than $10 depending on the level of service.

Doormen, Concierges, and the like wouldn't require any sort of tip unless you're really taking their time or effort [again, bags and level of service should determine this].

At the bar, a dollar for bottles or two per mixed drink is always a good way to keep a bartender in your good graces. For cheaper drinking though, head to a booth and just run a tab til you're about to leave, at which time a 15% [or greater] tip would be best added to the your bill. You can do this at the bar as well i suppose.
posted by phylum sinter at 4:48 AM on April 29, 2008

Restaurants: Tip ~20% of your bill (more or less depending on the service) - either pay in cash the bill plus the tip, pay the bill in cash or by credit card and leave the tip in cash on the table when you leave, or pay the bill by credit card and add the tip when you sign your receipt.

Coffee shops and other places where you order and receive food at a counter: You shouldn't feel obligated to tip, though if there is a tip jar there and they gave you good service, you could dump your change into it when you receive it, or stick in a dollar or two.

Bars: Either leave a couple dollars (or more, depends on how expensive in general the bar is) on the bar when you receive your drink, or pay for the drink plus the tip and tell the bartender to keep the change.
posted by LolaGeek at 4:52 AM on April 29, 2008

Over the past few years tipping has grown increasingly ridiculous over here. I expect soon we'll have tip jars on soda machines.

Don't tip people for just doing their job unless they count on tips for income, like taxi drivers and wait staff in restaurants. Don't tip at fast food places. Tip at coffee shops if you make a special or large order with the barista, but otherwise don't let yourself be guilted by the tip jar. If you order and pick up food from the counter, don't tip. If you order food at a table and have it brought to you, always tip. Don't tip more than 20 percent of the cost for food, unless you have it delivered.

For reasons I don't understand you do tip your bartender, but the etiquette regarding it is so weird I won't bother going to bars.
posted by bunnytricks at 5:04 AM on April 29, 2008 [6 favorites]

I would also say it depends on where in the states you are going. I remember the first time I went to a semi-nice restaurant in Chicago and there was a bathroom attendant. That was the most uncomfortable thing. I just wanted to pee. I needed no help whatsoever, but there he was, turning the water on, commenting on how nice and warm he got it, then fluffing up my towel, making small talk about sports or whatever. It was very awkward. I dropped some ones into the basket but not out of a sense of gratitude, it was a sense of unwanted obligation. It gave me the heeby jeebies.

So if you are going to a large city and go to a nicer restaurant, expect to pay a toll to pee.
posted by ian1977 at 5:28 AM on April 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

A slight aside- as an Australian who went there for the first time a few years back, and has been back a few times since- imagine all tips as being tax on your airfare. To me, it just intuitively seems outrageous that I should pay for service on top of the meal/whatever. Surely that's what I'm paying for! I don't tip extra for the freight to the restaurant, or the liquor license, or the rent, so why should I pay extra for that one particular expense?

So. Instead of being appalled by having to pay an extra 20% (twenty percent?! Ridiculous!) on your bill, just imagine it being an extra $10 on your airfare. It's easier that way. Or at least, it was for me.
posted by twirlypen at 5:29 AM on April 29, 2008

bunnytricks: Don't tip people for just doing their job unless they count on tips for income, like taxi drivers and wait staff in restaurants.
twirlypen: To me, it just intuitively seems outrageous that I should pay for service on top of the meal/whatever. Surely that's what I'm paying for! I don't tip extra for the freight to the restaurant, or the liquor license, or the rent, so why should I pay extra for that one particular expense?
Keep in mind that most waitstaff in restaurants earn a different minimum wage than everyone else ($2.13/hour, I think); it's a good incentive for them to give good service and strive for maximum tippage. It's good to tip those people. The random jackasses who stick out a styrofoam cup at the counter with "TIPZ" scrawled on it in black marker? Probably not so much -- in my opinion, they're just looking to sucker people out of a few bucks who feel obligated to tip.

A good rule of thumb for tipping would probably be to tip (a) waitstaff at a sit-down restaurant; (b) bartenders; and (c) anyone who does something for you for which there is no nominal charge (someone carrying anything anywhere for you pretty much warrants a tip).
posted by Doofus Magoo at 5:41 AM on April 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: For reasons I don't understand you do tip your bartender, but the etiquette regarding it is so weird I won't bother going to bars.

You give them a buck per drink if you're paying cash, or a percentage on the bill if you're running a tab. It's not that complicated.

It seems like tourists tend to worry about this stuff way too much. I think because Americans tends to explain every possible detail that could pertain to tipping, and it's just overwhelming. Like people will give advice of 10% for poor service and 20% for great service and 15% for normal service, and then visitors will stress over assessing the quality of the service. You can see it in this thread already. You feel like you need to make a printout to keep track of it all.

What people don't mention is that if you tip 15% on every meal you eat out, you'll be perfectly fine and no one will give you a second look.
posted by smackfu at 5:43 AM on April 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

A couple situations that haven't been mentioned yet:

- Hotel cleaning staff - $2 a day in a cheap hotel, more in a better one.
- Valet parking - $2 or so when dropping off the car

Keep in mind that these are all general "polite" guidelines and that tipping isn't really anywhere near as consistent as it sounds. Ask anyone in a service industry where tipping is traditional and they'll tell you they have lots of customers who don't tip.

For this reason, I often over tip when (a) service is exceptional or (b) I'm likely to need service from the same person again. It's astounding how much they'll go out of their way to help a "big tipper," and I'm always amazed how little I have to tip to qualify as a big tipper.

Also, ian1977 is right, it depends on where you are. In small towns tipping is less common, and I've astounded many a small-town waitress with my "standard" 20% tip.
posted by mmoncur at 5:46 AM on April 29, 2008

Wow, I may be under-tipping at bars, but my standard tip for beer/glass of wine/mixed drink is $1 per drink, if I'm paying as I go (to be fair, most of the time they are just opening a can of PBR for me, so I'm under the impression that's pretty generous). I hand them the cash for my drink, get change, and leave a dollar bill on the bar for them. If I'm running a tab, I still usually do $1 per drink, unless I've also purchased food, at which point I go to 15-20%.

Tip jars in coffee shops annoy me, but I'll usually dump whatever change in coins I get. There are a couple of local coffee shops/food counters where I go fairly often and the staff are really nice to me, so I tend to throw a dollar into the tip jar just to keep the goodwill flowing.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 5:48 AM on April 29, 2008

I've read that a rule of thumb for tipping a bartender: If the bartender leaves you coins as part of your change, its okay to leave the coins as part of the tip, but only if you never pick up the coins and then put them back down.
posted by ian1977 at 5:57 AM on April 29, 2008

Have lived in NYC and San Francisco. As smackfu says its not that hard:

1. Bars. Leave an extra dollar on the bar after you've paid for the drink.

2. Restaurants. Leave an extra 15%.

3. Taxis. Give them a couple bucks. More if its a larger fare.

4. Cafes with a tip jar. I never tip or put money in tip jars.
posted by vacapinta at 6:14 AM on April 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

It might be easiest to just assume that the standard tip is 20%, but never less than a dollar. I can't think of a scenario where that doesn't cover it. It might be a little high, but seriously, what's an extra 5%? That's how I do it (living in Chicago) and it seems to work just fine.

You are absolutely obligated to tip waitstaff in restaurants, bartenders, bellhops, parking valets and taxi drivers. That's how they make their money. If the service provided by that person is unusually terrible, you don't have to, but it has to be exceptionally bad and it has to be their fault. A slow kitchen or badly cooked meal isn't the waitstaff's fault. Tell the manager in that case.

(Look for tips to be added automatically to the bill in certain scenarios. I hate this practice, but it is done. If 15% gratuity is added, there is no need to tip anything extra. Their loss.)

For "tip jar" places like coffee shops, you have no social obligation to tip. I throw my change in there if the person was nice. At walk-up restaurants, maybe a dollar if other people are doing it.

You have it exactly right about the "keep the change thing". If the drink is $5 and you give him six, everyone knows what's up. If your drinks are say $12, wait for your change and then give him the tip, or just leave it over on his side of the counter. The only scenario where you'd need to be sly about tipping is if you are trying to grease a guy to get a better table at a restaurant. Because that's really a bribe.

Another tipping trick is that if you are looking for good service, like if you want your car available from the valet quickly or good service from the bellhops at a hotel is to pre-tip. Lay a $20 on the guy when you walk in, and your troubles will be nearly over. Completely not expected or necessary, but if you do it in a low key "hey, see what you can do for me" sort of way, it can be well worth it.

As an aside to twirleypen's aside- I agree, it seems ridiculous. However, culturally, tipping is simply part of the cost. Bellhops, waiters and taxi drivers are paid a lower amount with the assumption that they are being tipped. Tips are supposed to be reported as income on their tax forms, and if the tips on the form seem low, they will be audited and possibly required to pay taxes on tips they did not receive.
posted by gjc at 6:16 AM on April 29, 2008

For restaurants with table service, the "standard" if there is such a thing, is 15% of the bill. Many states have sales tax is 7-8%; you can quickly calculate the "standard" tip by doubling the tax (or if the sales tax is something different, figure out the appropriate factor). That gives a base tip amount; from there, the advice in the thread pretty much covers it- more for good service, less for bad service.

Note also that if you happen to be with a large party (usually more than 8 people), the tip may be included in the bill (usually something like 15-18% extra on the tab). This is because if it's a large group and people are paying their own way, the last guy to put his money down adds up what everyone else put in and is often short and it's the waiter who gets screwed. If you're service really is that lousy that the tip isn't warranted, a short chat with the manager may result in some relief (helps if the manager is aware of the problems as they are happening, not just at the end).
posted by Doohickie at 6:27 AM on April 29, 2008

You are a visitor from a country whose citizens are known to be bad tippers on vacation. Help give your land a better rep: tip 20% and never less than $1.
posted by dame at 6:42 AM on April 29, 2008

If you happen to be staying in a hotel and ordering room service, look closely at your bill. Sometimes they will automatically add the tip onto the bill, and then if you also hand cash to the guy with the tray you're doubling your tip. (Mind you, I think you only get good karma points for that, but it's nice to do it by choice and not by accident.)

Welcome to the U.S. ... hope you have a great visit!
posted by mccxxiii at 6:49 AM on April 29, 2008

restaurants: I start at 20% tip for dinner, and subtract 5-10% if the service is poor. 15% tip for breakfast/lunch.

coffee shops/fast food restaurants: no tip in the tip jar, unless they've done something extraordinary

bars: $1 per drink, no matter what it is

taxi: about 10%

hotel staff: I've never tipped cleaning staff, but some people do. I don't think they really expect it, except maybe in the fancier joints.
posted by Koko at 7:04 AM on April 29, 2008

note: if restaurant service is really poor, like the waiter isn't even trying or is just really unpleasant, I don't tip at all, of course. But that's pretty rare.
posted by Koko at 7:06 AM on April 29, 2008

Best answer: Just for the benefit of our friends from overseas who are mystified at the whole tipping thing: When people mentioned upthread that waiters depend on tips for their income, that's not an abstraction. Waiters are legally paid less than minimum wage in the expectation that they'll more than make up the difference in tips. Most restaurants also have a "tip-out" system where the waiters are obliged to share out their tips with the cooks and busboys, so they don't keep the whole thing.

Sub-minimum wage is certainly not the case for every job where people get tips, but for waiters, it's a big deal.
posted by adamrice at 7:06 AM on April 29, 2008

vacapinta writes '1. Bars. Leave an extra dollar on the bar after you've paid for the drink.'

I feel moved to clarify that it's a dollar per drink - so if you're getting a round of six drinks, you owe the barman six dollars. (I didn't grasp this when I first went to the US, and only found out when I complained to US-based friends that it was taking me ages to get served at the bar, even though I was tipping a dollar every time.)

My tipping tip: start each day with a roll of $20 or so in $1 bills in your pocket, and keep larger bills in your wallet, replenishing your $1 supply whenever you get change. Working out 'keep the change' sums for barmen and cabbies, especially after a few pints or when you're in a rush, is just incredibly confusing - having a ready supply of $1 bills to drop took all the fretting out of it for me. (And since all the money looks the same, it saves you from accidentally leaving a vast tip by accident!)
posted by jack_mo at 7:10 AM on April 29, 2008

Remember that goods and services in the States are vastly cheaper than in Western Europe. You’ll pay the same number in Dollars (even in NYC) as you would pay in Sterling for the same thing back in the UK. While a 15% ‘surcharge’ can be seen as cause for irritation you’re still getting a comparative bargain.

You are a visitor from a country whose citizens are known to be bad tippers on vacation.

This comment is childish and unhelpful.
posted by dmt at 7:14 AM on April 29, 2008

Slightly related: you'll find that eating out is significantly cheaper than in much of the EU and anywhere in the UK. Especially given the currency exchange. The tip is an essential part of the salary in many service industries; otherwise the menu prices would be dramatically higher. Also, you'll never be charge a "table fee" in the US, unlike several places in Europe.
posted by fatllama at 7:14 AM on April 29, 2008

This comment is childish and unhelpful.

Actually, there is something worth noting. Tipped employees have a good ability to note who the best tippers will be. As a former waitress - single male smokers are good bets as are tables full of women (each will overtip in case the others undertip). Tipped employees tend to focus their energy on the people who are likely to tip well.

You can't try to rewrite the overall perception of who'll be a good tipper and who won't. Recognize that you might get poor service because of that. If you do get poor service, then don't feel obligated to tip well.

Also, we don't tip as constantly as non-Americans often think. I travel for business most weeks. I tip: wait staff, taxi drivers/valet, hotel staff who handle my luggage, housekeeping, and the concierge if I ask for a special service. Also, I tip and salon service providers but you might not get a haircut while you're here.

Oh, and don't forget the hotel cleaning staff - they work hard, are paid little, and always get stiffed because people don't interact with them. Just leave the tip on the bathroom counter.
posted by 26.2 at 7:57 AM on April 29, 2008

Bars = $1 per drink, but only with the bartender.

Sit-down-Restaurants= 20% of your bill. (Yes it's outrageous, but, as others have pointed out, this is most of the waiter's income and they often must share it with others. Why don't we just raise prices by 20%? Because we're Americans, and we like to think we're getting a deal, even when we aren't.)

Take-away, deli or fast-food restaurants = nothing. Don't feel bad: they won't be expecting anything.

Any place which offers a tip jar = nothing, unless you feel like it.

Hotels = a few bucks for the bagman and maybe leave a few bucks on your nightstand for the cleaners when you leave.

It's also traditional to leave a few dollars if you get a haircut or have pizza delivered.

It may seem overwhelming, but this will be less of an issue as our money becomes increasingly worthless. Eventually, just leaving a few bundles of cash behind at every meal should do nicely.
posted by Avenger at 8:16 AM on April 29, 2008

One other situation not yet covered, coat checks. If I'm at a club and leave my coat with someone, then I usually tip $1.

If you're going to be in NYC and get a taxi that takes credit cards they will give you several tip options - 10%, 15% or 20%. With taxis I generally give a bit more than 10% because drivers have to pay for their own gas and a lot of other expenses and with gas prices as high as they are these days (at least in the U.S.) I feel they should get a bit more.

If you're at a hotel, you can also speak with the concierge about what would be appropriate to tip.
posted by brookeb at 8:34 AM on April 29, 2008

To tip coat check people: when you're leaving, hand them a buck and the tag for your coat at the same time. You don't tip the people in museums, even though it's exactly the same job -- you only tip the coat check people in restaurants and the like.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:12 AM on April 29, 2008

I'm originally from the UK and when I first came to the US I hated tipping. Then I got a occasional job as a bartender and it all became clear. Bartenders and wait staff rely on tips to live so it's appropriate to tip.

I tip cab drivers a bit, hairdressers well, but I never, ever tip in coffee shops. Anyway, as many have said, at a bar the easiest way is to tip a dollar a drink unless you order a cocktail in which case I'd tip more, especially if I wanted another one.

When I'm working my bad-tipper radar is on overdrive if I hear an accent like mine, so you should know that we Brits are notoriously bad tippers. We can change this though! When you go to a bar (especially if you're going to go there again) it would be better to pay in cash per round so that the bartender knows that you're a Brit that tips. Don't forget that tipping ensures good service (you get served quickly and if you like cocktails you'll actually get some booze in them) and that only tippers get free drinks (and you should tip for the free drink...)
posted by ob at 10:59 AM on April 29, 2008

I find it amusing that we can even agree amongst ourselves what is "standard." For instance, my impression is that tossing in your change is standard at Starbucks and $1 is a "good tip." I do not believe that many customers tip $2 in a tip jar setting like that, as suggested above.

Also, I do not believe that most people tip $2/day to the cleaning staff at hotels. I always tip $1 per day unless the room is especially trashed and I find that I get greeted extremely warmly by the cleaning staff as a result, leading me to believe that any tip is a pleasant surprise.

I'm also conflicted on the coat check. If it is the front desk at a busy restaurant, I find it irksome to tip another dollar for the return of my coat on top of 20% or more of the tab. At a club or theater, I tip cheerfully. I have no idea why I have this bias.

If you are going to Las Vegas, there are special rules. Nowhere is there more of a tipping culture and nowhere else can tips work for you more. Sold-out shows suddenly aren't, fully booked restaurants find tables and suites become available upon the exchange of currency.
posted by Lame_username at 12:23 PM on April 29, 2008

Errr, I find it amusing that we can't agree....

posted by Lame_username at 12:24 PM on April 29, 2008

"Waiters are legally paid less than minimum wage in the expectation that they'll more than make up the difference in tips."

To add to that, and to silence anyone who thinks that service is "part of what you pay for," not only are waitstaff (and in some places baristas, hotel courtesy staff, and others) paid less than minimum wage, they are actually taxed on considerably more than that hourly wage, so stiffing a server or a bartender is actually taking money out of their pocket.

Yeah, tipping can be out of control, but tipped employees understand this better than most, so be reasonable and everyone will be nice to you. If you can't afford to tip, you can't afford to eat out.

And you know, like, karma, and stuff....
posted by Prevailing Southwest at 3:02 PM on April 29, 2008

Its perfectly acceptably to tip more or less depending on how hot/flirty the bartender is with you, or how drunk you are and if theyre too slow getting your drink.

And don't carry $50s to the bar, they look too much like $5s.
posted by T.D. Strange at 6:34 PM on April 29, 2008

Bar tipping was the only thing I felt weird about on the occasions I have been in the US.
People up thread are saying a dollar or two per drink, but in an even modestly busy bar this would amount to over a hundred dollars an hour.
Surely everyone wants to be a Friday night bar tender if people are really tipping anything like that?
posted by bystander at 4:55 AM on May 5, 2008

People up thread are saying a dollar or two per drink, but in an even modestly busy bar this would amount to over a hundred dollars an hour.
Surely everyone wants to be a Friday night bar tender if people are really tipping anything like that?
posted by bystander 7 minutes ago

They are. And it does. Weekend night bartending is a coveted position usually given to senior bartenders. It also makes for the bulk of their weekly salary since many other days and nights will be more like $3 per hour.

They really are tipping like that. In decades of drinking at bars, I've never not left at least a dollar per drink. Everyone leaves at least a dollar or two per drink. Everyone. Except for the occasional Brit, I suppose.. :)
posted by vacapinta at 5:11 AM on May 5, 2008

To elaborate on vacapinta's post, those jobs coveted (because they make a lot of money in a relatively short period of time) but they are also very demanding. Anybody who has worked for tips at a busy bar can tell you that it is hard work. Working with drunks is not always fun and never easy. Don't skimp on tips.
posted by sic at 2:47 AM on May 9, 2008

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