There seems to be so much confusion out there with regards to the common ritual of tipping that I decided to take the initiative and help clarify the rules when it comes to this long standing practice.
But unlike some other tipping guides I’m not just going to tell you how much to tip, instead we’re going to focus on why people earn the tips you give them, and therefore gain a better understanding as to how much to give.
Starting with the high level overview, there are two primary reasons to tip people in service industries:
- All, or much, of their compensation for the position in question comes in the form of gratuities.
- An excellent example of this is a waiter. In essence they traditionally receive no base pay. Some may get a $2 base, but their check is usually $0 once taxes are removed from credit card tip receipts. They are truly on a pay for performance program.
- Barbers and beauty salon attendants may receive a base pay of some sort, but it’s not enough money to attract quality talent so society has a history of putting some of these people’s compensation up for grabs based upon performance the form of tips.
- Greasing the palm of a manager at an exclusive restaurant or club might get you special treatment next time you need reservations and they are booked up. It has for me, many times…
- A larger than average tip for your stylist will have them paying more attention to your hair than the person before you. My barber stops cutting to greet me when I walk in the door…
The Tipping Guidelines
- Mail / Package Deliveries – Do not tip postal workers or package delivery firms such as UPS or FedEx for normal deliveries. However, feel free to offer coffee or a cold drink depending on the weather.
During the holidays postal workers can accept gifts worth up to $20, though in my opinion they are doing their very well paid Federal job. Unless you are an abnormally demanding customer I wouldn’t recommend tipping.
- Hair Stylists – 15 percent is standard, but never tip less than $3 if you want a decent haircut next time.
This is one place it pays to cultivate a relationship with someone that does a good job for you as they’ll spend extra time and take a little more pride in your appearance. You can’t put a price on that so when in doubt over tip here.
For the holidays, slip your regular the equivalent of one session as a “thank you”.
- Shoe Shine – $3-5 for a quality shine. $1-2 if they are hurrying you out of the chair.
- Babysitter – You most likely pay by the hour, so round up to the next nearest hour. Teens, why typically do this job, will feel more loyal to you when they feel you are generous with them. It might mean the difference between getting them on a night you really need them, or having them choose to go out.
For the holidays give your regular babysitter $20 or an appropriate gift in that range.
- Maid – Since maid services are based on a fixed hourly wage there is no need to tip for regular service. However, if you call in a last minute rush cleaning be prepared to leave an extra $10-20. After all, you’re screwing up someone else’s schedule to accommodate your emergency.
For the holidays tip your regular maid (but only if you have a “regular”) about the cost of one session
- Masseuse or Personal Trainer – Again, since these services are based on a fixed rate there is no need to tip for regular service.
For the holidays tip your regular (but only if you have a “regular”) about the cost of one session
- Wait Staff – 15-20% of the total bill, 20% only for first-class attentiveness. According to the Zagat Survey, the average across the US is about 18%.
Even poor service warrants 10% unless the wait person is purposely trying to make you miserable.
You should never, ever stiff a waiter. If the service is that bad you need to get a manager and change wait stations.
If something is screwed up and you get your meal partially or fully comped, you still need to leave a tip based upon what the meal would have cost originally.
- Buffet Wait Staff – If you visit a buffet with a server that gets your drinks and clean plates, leave $1 per person. These people make minimum wage plus tips and they have to clean up after you when you’re gone. And most of us act like pigs at a buffet…
If you are at a completely self service buffet there is no need to leave a tip.
- Bartenders – If you’ve had a drink at the bar, leave the bartender 15-20%, or at least $1 a drink. Failing to tip a bartender will likely result in slow service, or poorly mixed drinks.
- Greeters – Give the coat-checker $1 per article. This is customary and is based on the concept that these people are looking after your possessions in your absence.
Do not tip a host or hostess for seating you at your table unless you are at an exclusive eatery and they purposefully do you a favor with regards to special seating. In that case $5-10 would be appropriate and will ensure that they remember you the next time you come in.
- Housekeeping – Personally I consider housekeeping more of a liability than a benefit at hotels. I’ve known too many people who have had stuff disappear from their rooms, so I’d recommend leaving the do not disturb sign on the door most of the time.
If you’re going to allow them to clean your room, generally there is no reason to leave a tip. These employees are earning normal wages, and hotels have to pay the going rate to fill these jobs.
If you are staying at a luxury hotel and receive turn down service and other personal attention from housekeeping you may optionally leave a tip in an envelope on the day of departure.
If you call down and have non-standard items delivered to your room a $2 tip would be in order. This does not include items which should have been there such as toilet paper.
- Concierge – A good Concierge is an invaluable resource. They spend a lot of time cultivating resources and gaining knowledge and their salaries do not reflect this. If you receive general directions or information there is no reason to tip. This is what they are there for.
If the Concierge makes you dinner reservations a $5 tip is in order. $20 would be appropriate for theater tickets or other special favors such as custom flower delivery, etc.
- Valet Parking – Valets usually work long hard hours. They receive a small base pay, but they only take the job for the tips. These folks have to run around in the heat, cold, rain, etc. and have tremendous pressure to be safe with your vehicle. (They can get fired for even one accident.) In most markets a $2-3 tip is the minimum warranted.
If you are driving an expensive vehicle (Mercedes, Jag, Lexus, etc.) bump the tip up to $4-5 because they are usually extra cautious with your vehicle.
If you leave an exotic vehicle and they put it in front you’re looking at a $10-20 tip because they’re giving you extra special treatment and attention.
- Doorman / Bellhop – These folks also brave the elements and do physical labor so you don’t have to. Even though they have a small hourly wage, they are working for tips. Give $1 per bag for delivery to your room.
Give $1 for hailing a cab, $2 if they help handle your luggage.
- Taxis – Taxi drivers usually earn their pay based upon the number of fares they take in a given night as well as the miles traveled. If you know the area and believe your driver is purposely running up the miles do not tip. Unfortunately I’ve seen this happen a number of times, especially on slow days.
If your driver is friendly, helpful and efficient, 15 – 20 percent is appropriate.
If you use your driver like a hotel Concierge, increase the tip for the additional service.
- Limousines – If you’re booking a limo, hopefully you understand that you’re also acquiring the services of a professional driver. These people are going to place themselves in your servitude and attend to your every need. A good driver will warrant a $20-100 tip at the end of the evening depending on how much you put them through.
- Airport Skycap – The Skycap is the person who stands outside, in the heat, cold and rain, to take your bags and issue your tickets so you can carry them the shortest distance possible. Tip $1 per bag checked, plus an extra $2 if they move your seats around on the flight.
- Car Wash Attendants – If you go through an automated car wash no tip is required.
For a full service job with interior cleaning, etc. $2-3 is appropriate.
$5-10 would be appropriate for a full service hand wax.
- Groceries to the Car – Remember, often these are the neighborhood teens, and this is their first job. Reinforce their work ethic by slipping them a buck or two.
- Furniture / Appliances – First, always offer delivery people a cold beverage – in a can or bottle, not in a glass. If it’s a small, simple drop off job, no tip necessary.
If they are hauling multiple large items, especially up stairs offer $10 to the team and tell them “lunch is on me”. These folks are breaking their backs so you don’t have to.
- Food / Beverage – Delivery drivers typically have to supply their own vehicle, pay for gas, maintenance, etc. and generally receive an hourly wage and sometimes $1 per delivery. Without tips they are in the hole for the vehicle costs alone. Even though they don’t serve you, 15% is standard for deliveries or 20% for large party orders. $5 should be the minimum tip, otherwise go get it yourself.
Magellans has also assembled an excellent overseas tipping guide which should be reviewed prior to any international trip. In some countries tips are already included, and in some they are just plain insulting.
The final thought here is that all service has intrinsic value. In many professions, such as the ones noted above, people are rendering their service in advance based upon a faith that you will reward them accordingly. Make sure that you fulfill that obligation both for yourself, and for those that come after you.