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Tipping Etiquette in the USA

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A handful of dollar bills, quarters, nickels and dimes.

Tipping, also known as providing a gratuity, is a common part of American culture. The USA is emphatically customer service oriented, but also highly cost-competitive. In exchange for lower prices on goods and services, businesses pay service employees less money under the expectation that the employee can earn a living wage through the generosity of customers' gratuities. For example, the average base wage for bar and waiting staff is $3 per hour.

Generally, tipping in the USA is limited to food and beverages, personal services, and transportation and lodging industries. In exchange for higher levels of customer service, customers are expected to provide remuneration directly to the employee providing a service, in addition to the baseline cost for the service. If, when you're travelling, a question arises with respect to the circumstances for tipping, it is better to err on the side of tipping.

While tipping is a culturally-expected part of American society, it is considered extremely rude and inappropriate for a service worker to directly ask a customer for a tip. Doing so is grounds for providing no tip and speaking with the employee's manager.

The most common types of services where customers might be expected to provide gratuities to employees are listed below.

Food And Beverages

  • Waiting staff and food servers - Tipping varies significantly based upon the class of restaurant. Common tips for bar staff - bartenders and cocktail waiting staff - are 50c for a single beer and $1 for a mixed drink. If a tab is run, a minimum of 10% of the tab should be paid as a gratuity.

  • Food Delivery Services - Most food delivery services (such as pizza or chinese food) add a delivery fee into the cost of the food. It is recommended that the total tip, including any delivery fee, equals 10% of the bill.

  • Fast Food Restaurants - Tipping is not expected.

  • Limited Service Restaurants - If there are waiting staff members who bring drinks to your table or clear dirty dishes away from the table, a minimum of USD $.50 per person should be left as a tip. Examples of this type of restaurant include buffets and salad bars.

  • Full Service Restaurants - The general rule of thumb for tipping in a full service restaurant is 10% to 20% of the final bill, depending on the level of service received from the waiters or waitresses. Mediocre service should be rewarded with only 10%, average service with 15%, and superior service with 20%. If the service is terrible, it is advised that the customer leaves the server an insignificant tip so the staff member realises the tip was not overlooked, and instead that he/she was intentionally slighted for the poor performance.

    Larger parties (usually of eight or more diners) will frequently be charged a 15% gratuity automatically by the restaurant as part of the cheque (bill). Make sure to review the bill carefully when dining in restaurants as some restaurants will automatically add in a baseline gratuity charge, regardless of the party size. In these cases, no additional tip is expected unless the diners feel the service was so outstanding that the serving staff merit more.

Personal Services

  • Masseurs/Masseuses - This is a discussion of tipping for professionally licensed masseurs/masseuses, not side-street services. It is appropriate to provide a 10% to 15% gratuity for a well-given massage.

  • Professional Moving Services - If a professional moving company is hired in order to relocate personal goods, it is considered a standard courtesy to provide lunch and non-alcoholic beverages to the moving company employees. If the service given meets or exceeds the customer's expectations, it is appropriate to provide additional gratuities of $5-10 per hour to each of the movers. If the service is not up to par, no tip should be expected.

  • Salon Service (including hairstyling, pedicures, and manicures) - It is standard to provide a 10% gratuity for a well-done salon service. No gratuity is expected if the job is poorly done, and the customer should be able to expect corrective services for an unacceptable haircut, manicure, or pedicure.

Transportation And Lodging

  • Baggage Handlers - These service employees are most frequently encountered at airports, hotels, and car-for-hire services. The appropriate tip is $1 per piece of luggage/baggage handled.

  • Cars-for-Hire - It is generally recommended to tip 5% to 10% of the rental car fare, in addition to $1 per piece of luggage/baggage handled by the driver.

  • Concierge - A hotel concierge should be tipped according to the time and energy he/she saves the customer. There is no hard fast rule for tipping a concierge, but one should either tip a minimum of $5 for the service provided or none at all.

  • Couriers - Tipping of couriers varies significantly within the USA depending on both the type of delivery and the geographical location. Most business couriers services set a premium cost for delivery services, and no additional tip should be expected. Couriers who deliver personal service items (such as flowers or balloons) should be tipped between $5-10, based upon the timeliness and value of the delivered items.

  • House-keeping - Depending on the class of the hotel and the care and quality of the room, gratuities should be based on 5% of the per-night room cost. Gratuities are not usually expected by motel workers (limited service hotels), but are expected in full service hotels.

  • Hotel Staff - The level of gratuities for hotel staff vary depending on the quality of the hotel. Hotel waiting staff, room service providers, and bell-hops (baggage-handlers) should be tipped in accordance with the rules for tipping waiting staff and baggage-handling as above.

Other Services

There are countless circumstances when tipping may be appropriate, but are not included in this general guide. If there are questions regarding when services providers should be tipped for unique or uncommon activities, travellers should ask local residents for regional tipping norms.

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