Tipping is a confusing custom that gives many of us heartburn. We don’t want to shortchange great service or be embarrassed by not knowing when a gratuity or tip is warranted. Nor do we want to feel pressured to tip every brief interaction with someone in today’s vast service industry. Learn how to distinguish “must-tip” obligations from “nice-to-tip” and “don’t-need-to-tip” situations.
The Evolution of Tipping
Tipping didn’t become entrenched in our culture until 1938 when Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), guaranteeing a minimum wage to all employees except tipped workers. This made it more common for people to tip those not entitled to a minimum wage.
Today, the FLSA guarantees a $2.13 minimum wage for a tipped worker. This encompasses most wait staff at full-service restaurants and bartenders, and it means that their guaranteed hourly minimum wage is significantly lower than the $7.25 minimum of other workers.
Over time, service industry workers not included in the tipped-employee definition started displaying tip jars, encouraging patrons to reward them for great service by supplementing their relatively low wages. You’d see these jars at coffee houses, ice cream shops and fast-food restaurants.
In the last few years, technology has transformed the tip jar into a smart-device screen or app prompt that suggests a tip for seemingly everything, even self-service situations. Here’s how to navigate this new environment without insulting someone or destroying your budget.
Food and Drink Gratuities
Unless a full-service restaurant indicates that it’s a no-tip establishment, meaning it pays its employees the standard minimum wage ($7.25) or more, you should leave your waiter a tip because their wages are based on the assumption that you will. The recommended amount ranges between 15% and 20% of your bill.
With exceptional service and/or food, feel free to tip more than 20%. For poor service, etiquette experts say you can reduce your tip to 10% but shouldn’t go lower. When tempted to forego a tip, remember that your waiter can’t control everything. A long wait for your food may be the fault of a backed-up kitchen rather than a lax waiter. Additionally, your tip may be split among other workers in the restaurant like busboys and dishwashers.
When it comes to bartenders, the norm is tipping $1 to $2 per drink or 15% to 20% of the total tab.
What about carryout situations or service at fast-casual and fast-food restaurants? You’re now more likely to be prompted to leave gratuities in such cases, but it’s perfectly okay not to tip, especially if the interaction is brief, the service is unsatisfactory or you’re at a self-service kiosk. However, a tip can be a nice gesture for good service from workers who don’t make a lot of money. For example, you might leave a 10% tip when a waiter brings a large curbside order to your car in the pouring rain.
Whether you’re traveling around town or out of town, you run into various service workers. Social norms indicate they also deserve tips:
- Transportation by a limo driver, taxi or ride-sharing service: 10% to 20% of the fare
- Hotel staff:
- Doormen: Not necessary, but should they help you hail a cab or with your bags, consider $2 or $3.
- Porters: $2 to $5 per bag with the latter common at upscale hotels
- Concierges: Around $5 per service but more for difficult requests
- Housekeeping: Up to $5 per day
- Airport curbside baggage check: Around $5 for each standard bag, more for extra-large ones
Cruise lines have their own tipping rules that you should check out before your departure.
Tipping Other Service Providers
Other people in your life also deserve a tip of about 15% to 20% of your total bill in appreciation for the service they provide you. The general consensus is that this includes hairstylists, barbers, manicurists, masseuses and estheticians (facials), as well as gig workers like baby sitters, dog walkers and food and grocery delivery drivers.
You’re not obligated to tip movers or furniture or appliance delivery drivers, however it can be a nice gesture. Check with the company providing the service first to make sure their workers are allowed to accept tips. Even if they aren’t, a bottle of water can serve as a thanks for a job well done.
Finally, it’s also become commonplace to provide a year-end tip around the holidays for some service workers in your life. This can feel overwhelming when your budget is already stretched tight.
Rather than feeling obligated to tip everyone, focus on those that you know well or interact with often and that care for you or your children, pets or home. An extra weeks’ worth of pay makes an excellent bonus for a nanny, regular babysitter, dogwalker, housekeeper, landscaper or pool cleaner. The equivalent of one extra haircut or workout session does the same for a hairstylist or personal trainer.
It’s also a nice gesture to provide a cash tip within your budget’s limits to those who regularly provide you with a service but that you don’t employ. This includes building door attendants, newspaper carriers and sanitation workers. If nothing else, a note of appreciation or a homemade gift shows your gratitude.
As for those working hard to deliver all your holiday packages, FedEx and UPS discourage their drivers from accepting tips, while the USPS only allows its mail carriers to accept non-cash gift items worth a maximum of $20. Your alternative to a tip: Greet them with a smile, bottled water and, maybe, a holiday baked good to make their day.
Where have you been asked to tip lately? Tell us about it in the comment section below!