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How to Master Tipping in the USA

Travelblog Gone with the Wine Blog

Travelblog and lifestyleblog. Life under the Californian sun - Gone with the Wine. Trips, food and wine from all over the world. Solo and family adventures.

How to Master Tipping in the USA

Paula Gaston

Tipping culture might be familiar to those of us who live in the U.S., but many people just visiting the country are not used to tipping. I am from a country where the tips are already included to the price, so you never have to wonder how much to leave your waiter. So I had to learn how to tip when I moved to California. It took me a long time to remember who to tip and how much. So here are some things to consider when you are traveling to the USA:

WHAT IS A TIP?

A tip, officially called a gratuity, is money given to someone as a "bonus" for customer service. A traveller will mostly face this at restaurants or hotels. A tip is usually given to people in those professions that only pay minimum wage, for example waiters or house keepers. American minimum wage can be pretty low. It varies per state but as its lowest, it can can be $7.25. In some countries you will never have to worry about leaving a tip, so it can be a little confusing to figure out how to leave the right tip in the U.S. However, you should always remember, that for people the tips are a majority of their earnings.

When getting a check, you can either write the tip on the receipt, or leave some cash on the table. If you want to be safe, you should always write the zeroes on the sum or draw a line after it. This way no one can add any numbers on your tip. Many businesses such as beauty parlous or hair salons wish to get their tips in cash, so that the people serving you can take them home right away. But if you forgot to bring cash don't worry, you can still write your tip on the receipt.

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WHO SHOULD I TIP AND HOW MUCH?

You should leave a tip for people working in the service industry, and usually it is about 10-20% of the bill. In stores, gas stations and dry cleaners you typically don't tip, but at least the following people should be tipped:

Waiters: 10%-20% of the bill (20% for excellent service, 10% even for bad service)
Bartenders: $1 per drink
Hotel housekeeper: $2-5 per night
Hotel bellhop, rental car shuttle service, skycap at the airport: $1-2 per bag
Hotel doorman: for getting you a cab $1
Valet parking: $2 for bringing you the car
Wheelchair service at the airport: $5 per person
Hairdresser: 10-20% of the bill
Manicurist: 10-20% of the bill
Massasist: 10-20% of the bill
Taxi driver: 10-15% of the bill* 
Food delivery person: 10% of the bill
Tour guides: For short excurcion $5, multiple hours $10 and a whole day $20-30 (don't forget to tip the bus driver who you can tip little less). On a private tour you should tip more, for example 10-15% of the tour price.

Usually in fast food restaurants or restaurants where you order the food from the counter you don't need to tip. However, sometimes they do have a tip box on the counter, and if you feel like you got good service, you can leave a dollar or two. There is one exception when it comes to tipping tour guides; national park rangers. Even though the ranger are there to guide and help you, and often do tours, they are not allowed to accept tips since they are government workers.

For groups in the restaurants, the gratuity is often added automatically, so you might see the suggested sum on your bill. Usually this is done for groups with six people or more. You should always remember, that leaving without tipping is very rude. Even if you weren't totally satisfied, you should still leave something. And if you leave a penny on the table, that is a message for the manager, that the service was unacceptably bad. 

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*Unlike in the beginning, Uber now allows customers to tip the drivers. Uber says that tipping is not needed but highly appreciated. When using Uber, it is good to remember, that just like you give feedback of your driver, they give feedback of you to other drivers. Like Uber, Lyft also lets you tip the driver through their application. 
 

SPLITTING A BILL

Splitting a bill has nothing to do with tipping, but I thought I would mention it as well. In Finland where I'm from, we are often used to everyone paying their own bill and exactly what they owe. But over here you usually get only one bill per table. It is pretty common that among friends, one pays the bill this time, and someone else next time. Waiters are not thrilled if everyone on your party will ask for a separate bill. In some cases they will do that, for example if there are multiple families at the table, but you should already mention that when you order your food. Another common way to split a bill is to divide the sum equally between the party. You can even give the waiter multiple credit cards, and ask her to split it three way for example, if there are three of you. In that case, you all would leave your own tips. 

HELP FOR TIPPING

Usually when I travel, it takes me a few days to get used to tipping. A good way to remember things is to carry a little note in your wallet. You can write who you should tip and how much. I often even carry a little note about calculating the currency when I'm abroad. But there is of course some useful apps for this too. You can try: Tip, QuickTip or GlobeTipping. They are all free. 

If at some point you are not sure what to do, you can always ask advice from the locals. Usually they will have the answer for you right away. And don't be embarrassed, tipping causes some grey hairs for locals too sometimes.