As someone who has worked in the service industry, I believe that tipping in the United States is important. The United States does not have universal high wages. Although your perceptions of the United States may be different, if you’re traveling in the United States, you generally need to tip. Keep reading for tipping etiquette in the United States!
This post was contributed by Michelle. Michelle is a first generation American who has been to every state. She writes on her blog about adventure, cruises, and dogs. The beach, afternoon tea, and Rothy’s Points are a few of her favorite things.
Tipping Etiquette in the US
Here in the United States, tipping is the standard way of doing things for us. For the most part, we don’t think even about it. It’s automatic to us. Especially at restaurants, when the bill arrives, it is just something we expect to add before we pay the check.
Of course, the tipping culture of the United States is very different from that of most other countries. In many European countries, tipping is minimal. However, tipping etiquette in the United States is an outlier, due to the way that the United States operates.
Just last month, when my husband and I were in London, a nice couple we were chatting with said, “We just never expected to travel to New York to spend $100 on a nice meal and then have to pay extra tips on top of it.”
I admit, wholeheartedly, that those of us here in the US need to do a better job of explaining why we tip. And, how it has become such a huge part of our culture. We need to explain the etiquette of US tipping to those traveling within the United States instead of expecting it to be more widely known.
How Tipping Started in the United States
If you read our history books, you will find stories about Americans learning about and using tipping methods soon after the civil war. Various history texts say that this was something wealthy new Americans learned from their British peers.
Interestingly, for the average new America in those days, tipping was a very polarizing concept. So much so that organizations, such as the ‘Anti-Tipping Society of America,’ existed in the south to discourage the practice being spread throughout the newly formed states.
Eventually, the practice of tipping became formalized across the United States in the
Today, in 2020, the minimum wage for those working positions defined by the law, such as those working entry-level roles in restaurants and bars, is still $2.13/hr. (Note: This varies by state, however, the idea is that employees who work for tips are forced to earn their wages from customers’ tips. ) Meaning, for those working full time in these positions, their total weekly salary is only $85.20. The rest of their income is solely from tips.
The American Tipping Culture & It’s Evolution
Given that the law standardized tipping in the US almost 60 years ago, tipping became ingrained in our culture. So much so, that tipping for ‘great service,’ has expanded beyond just tipping those in restaurants and bars. Well, more than just expanded. It has evolved.
Now, Americans expect to tip for any personal service we receive, regardless of the rate of pay of the service provider. For example, hair stylists, tattoo artists, animal groomers, and massage therapists are highly skilled service providers that earn a much higher salary than that of entry-level service personnel. Still, we tip these individuals for their service.
Likewise, when we receive any type of on-demand delivery to our homes, such as food or furniture, or receive housekeeping or other such services, we tip. If we have a tire changed, turn our luggage over to a skycap at the airport, or take a taxi, we tip.
US Tipping Etiquette defined for travelers
This is tricky, but I would stick to these general rules of thumb. If you enjoy a sit-down meal, or drinks at a bar or lounge, expect to tip. If you request anything delivered to you (from a restaurant or room service), expect to tip. If you take a car service, taxi, or rideshare, expect to tip.
If you receive assistance with luggage at a hotel or at the airport, expect to tip a few dollars. If you take a formalized tour, expect to tip, If you use any spa, hail, or nail services, expect to tip. If you’re staying at a hotel, expect to tip housekeeping.
However, if you are picking up an order, just receive the kindness of a stranger, or take public transportation, do not expect to tip. Similarly, you do not generally don’t tip if you get fast food or you’re at a restaurant with self-service.
How Much Travelers Should Tip in the US
My recommendation here is to use our standard protocols for tipping as a traveler in the US. For the most part, tipping for most things is pretty straightforward, though a few situations require calculations.
When tipping for travel services received, such assistance with luggage, transportation, or food delivery, expect to tip a few dollars for each service received. Typically, you should expect to tip about $2-5 per car ride, turning over of luggage, or day of housekeeping.
If you are staying at a hotel, leave a few dollars daily as the housekeeper will change regularly and their wages are also quite low. It should be noted that service charges imposed by hotels are not given to waiters or maids. Similarly, if you leave a tip on the last day at a hotel for a housekeeper, it won’t be distributed among the staff. (Click for hotel tips from a former housekeeper!)
If you take a tour, expect to tip $1/hr per person. For example, if you take a 5-hour tour as a couple, you would expect to tip $5+$5, or $10. If it’s a multi-day tour, 5-10% of the tour price is a good rule.
For most other things, expect to tip on a percentage of the total spent as you tip. This applies to a spa service or beauty service. The standard rate of gratuity is 15%, great service is 18%, and excellent service is 20+%.
Tipping at cafes and bars in the US
When tipping for drinks at a lounge or bar, expect to tip at least $1-2 per round per drink. (The simple act of tipping with your drink will ensure that the bartender comes back to you faster next round!)
If you are with a larger group (4+ people), expect to tip a bit more as you are requiring additional service for each round of drinks. For a couple enjoying 2 rounds of drinks, a tip of $2-$4 is expected.
If you’re at a cafe with table service, you’ll want to tip around 15% on top of the order. That said, it depends on the cafe. If you’re just sitting down with your drink after ordering it and there’s no table service (e.g. Starbucks), tipping is not necessary.
Tipping for your coffee is not necessary
Tipping at restaurants in the United States
At restaurants where you have a dedicated waiter, you are expected to tip. 15% is standard, but 18-25% of the total bill is a good rule of thumb.
You can use the total bill BEFORE tax is added, as the tax is just the fee going to the local government. If your total for a meal is $35, and you received excellent service, your tip would be $7.
If you intend to eat out at any nice restaurants (e.g. Michelin starred ones), expect good service and to tip accordingly. If a sommelier comes to your table, they will expect a tip. Similarly, the waiter might expect upwards of 20-30%.
If you’re traveling with a large group (typically 8+), many sit-down restaurants will automatically calculate gratuity. this is often at a rate of 21%, so don’t be surprised if you see a tip added onto your bill if you’re dining out with a larger group.
If you’re eating out at a fast food restaurant or a cafe with self-service, tipping isn’t necessary. If an employee is really accommodating about a food allergy, I might consider tipping a dollar or so.
…What if you have bad service?
Editor’s note: The one question that I’m often asked is if I receive bad service in the US, do I have to tip? You don’t have to tip
That said, if something truly goes wrong, don’t be afraid to talk to someone else if you feel that the situation isn’t getting resolved. If it gets resolved, tip the person who helps you resolve the situation. Generally, customer service in the US is quite good.
Hopefully, after reading this post, you feel comfortable with exactly what you should, and shouldn’t tip for when visiting. Even better, you now know how much to tip well. If you’re taking a cruise, read Michelle’s tips for cruise tipping!