In America, the answer is almost always yes.
Down Under, where workers are paid a decent wage, you might leave your loose change for great service. But in the USA, the minimum wage for employees who can earn tips – like bartenders and waiters – is an awful $2.13 an hour. So while it’s super-annoying to tip people for doing their jobs, you have to suck it up.
Until the States sorts this out, tipping isn’t a choice – it’s customary. Here’s how to tip in the USA.
The tipping starts as soon as you hop off the plane. Welcome to America! At the airport, sky-captains – the porters who wait at the curb and help passengers with their baggage –expect tips. Tip $1 per bag, and $2 for heavy bags (stuffed with Showpo goodies, obv).
To skirt around this, just carry your own bags in and out of the airport. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Next up, there’s the cab, Uber, or shuttle who drops you off at your destination.
The taxi driver who whisks you to your hotel expects a tip, but you have a bit of leeway. If your driver helps you with your bags, takes the fastest route, and doesn’t smell like cigarettes and BO, lean towards the higher number.
Many taxis now have screens that display ‘default tipping’ amounts. In New York, the options are 20, 25 and 30 per cent – but don’t feel like you have to oblige. Just tap in your own number: the average is 10-15% of the total fare.
Heading to NYC? Check out our guide to 48 hours in New York City.
Uber and shuttles
With Uber and Lyft, tipping is up to you – but just be wary that there’s a star rating attached to your favourite dial-a-driver app.
For courtesy shuttles (like those organised by your hotel), tip $1 to $2 per bag if your driver helps to load them. For paid shuttles, you can tip in the same way, or not at all.
Visiting LA? The city of fast cars and movie stars loooves a valet. And to be honest, it’s a great system, because trying to parallel park while sitting on the wrong side of the car is a nightmare. When you pick up your car, tip $2 to $5.
When you arrive, have a stack of singles ready. (There’s a reason why America has held onto $1 notes, while the rest of the world has moved on to coins…)
Generally, the bellman will unload your suitcases, walk you to check-in, and bring your bags up to your room. While they’re up there, they may show you how the TV works, and point you to the mini-bar. Sure, it’s their job, but ‘stiffing’ them is basically a slap in the face.
The golden rule is to tip $2 for the first bag, and $1 for each additional bag.
Do you really have to tip the concierge? It depends. If your concierge helps you to score a hard-to-get dinner reservation, book show tickets, hire a car, or charter a limo for you and your 10 besties, acknowledge this effort with a $10-$20 note at the end of your hotel stay.
Now, being helpful and friendly is part of a concierge’s job, so if you’ve just asked one quick question on your way out the door, you don’t need to tip.
What about tour guides? Did the guide do a good job? Sling him/her $5 or $10 when you leave.
Even though you might not ever see the person who tidies up your room, they deserve a tip – especially if your room looked like a hurricane just tore through it. (Wardrobe crisis? No judgement).
Each morning, leave $2 to $5 on your pillow. The more you tip, the more diligent your cleaner will be for the rest of your stay. (Remember, this is the saint who’s picking up your dirty towels and changing your sheets after steamy hotel sex).
Half the fun of hotel living is the luxury: fresh towels every day, fluffy bathrobes, and feasts delivered to your door. Tipping for in-room dining is confusing, mostly because in America, the bill will already have a ‘service charge’. Ironically, that money doesn’t go to the servers – it’s sent straight to the hotel.
You guessed it: unless gratuity is included, tip the server 15-20%.
RESTAURANTS AND CAFES
Whenever you sit down at a table to eat, you’ll tip for that privilege. But when you think about how little waitstaff get paid, that softens the blow.
Cafés and Diners
Eating at a café, diner, or casual eatery? It’s standard to tip 15-20% of the bill before tax. Suck at math? Pull out your phone on the sly. Or look for the ‘sales tax’ – usually around 8% in most US states – double it, and add a couple of dollars.
If you leave anything less, the staff will assume you weren’t happy with their service – and they’ll demand to know why. Seriously, they have no shame in chasing people down the street.
Eating at a fancy restaurant? Get ready to depart with a chunk of change! When the bill arrives, you’ll see a section to tip the waiter, as well as the maître de. After you’ve finished gawking, tip 25% of the bill (before tax) to the waiter, who’ll divide it among his or her support staff. If the maître d got you a window table, or organised a candle to be plonked into your bf’s birthday dessert, tip around $10.
Oh, and when you need to pee, bring your bag – at really nice places, there’s an attendant doling out paper towels (yep, really), mints and hairspray. Pop $1 into her basket.
But what if the service was terrible? If your server was rude, your food came an hour late, or it was not cooked the way you asked, ask for the manager. Chances are, they’ll be gracious and dock your bill, or give you a free meal.
Do I still have to tip if gratuity is included? Some restaurants automatically add the tip to the bill, especially in touristy areas. You don’t have to accept it if you think it’s too high. Again, flag down the manager and explain why you want it slashed.
FAST FOOD, TAKEAWAY AND DELIVERY
Funds running a little low? Opt for takeaway or fast food. Hello, Maccas!
You don’t have to tip when you buy food/coffee over a counter, though there’s usually a cheeky tip jar next to the cash register. Just ignore it.
For takeaway, there’s no need to tip. But if you’ve ordered for six people and it’s all packaged up nicely, that took time, so tip $1-$2.
When you get gloriously greasy hangover food delivered, tip your driver 10-15%, and 20% if they had to schlep up stairs or battle bad weather.
This one’s easy: tip $1 per drink, or 15-20% of your bill if you’ve set up a tab.
Our advice? Pregame!
HAIR SALONS, NAIL SALONS AND SPAS
Booking in for a pamper sesh?
For beauty therapists (e.g. masseuse, facialist) and manicurists, tip 15-20%.
Hair salons are trickier. If you can postpone your cut/colour til you’re back in Oz, do that. Otherwise, you’ll need to shell out for everyone.
The assistant who made you a coffee: $1
The apprentice who washed your hair: $3-$4
The stylist who cut/coloured/blow-dried your hair: 15-20%
Whew! It’s insane, right? But now you know, so say sorry to your bank account and go make some stories. 😉
Words by Katia Iervasi.