Take the 2-minute tour ×
Travel Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for road warriors and seasoned travelers. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Tipping customs in the United States can be surprising for people who travel there for the first time. It happened to me when I used a shuttle van service out of LAX a few years ago. To sum up the bias: I am French; a country where service charges are included and optional tips to waiters in restaurants are only a few euros.

Although I paid by credit card, the driver gave me a pen and a form on which I could write the tip amount. At that moment, I was really missing simple rules that could help me define how much a suitable tip could be.

Afterwards, I heard about different calculation tricks. Some people say it's 20%, others 18%; some suggest to double the sales tax.

  • Is the rule the same for all occasions to tip, or are there different amounts depending for a table service restaurant, the tip jar of a fast-food restaurant, a bar waiter, a taxi driver?
  • When someone gives outstanding service although not used to get tips, how much is appropriate? For instance, we had an airport car rental shuttle bus driver calling a competitor rental company for us to see if they had cars available, since the rental company of that bus was sold out.
  • Restaurants often add a gratuity for large parties. Are patrons expected to tip beyond this amount and how much?
share|improve this question
1  
<Bastard Mode> If you get lousy service but still feel bullied into tipping, you can always report them to the IRS. Tipping counts as income, and if they dont declare it... </Bastard Mode> –  NWS Aug 9 '12 at 15:47
1  
@NWS: If you tipped by credit card, it probably gets processed through their employer's payroll system and will be taxed. Anyway, I can't imagine that "reporting someone to the IRS" for receiving a tip would trigger an investigation, much less any dire consequences for the employee in question, without a lot more evidence. Small fish are not worth the IRS's time, and I bet they get lots of spurious reports from random disgruntled people trying to cause their enemies trouble. –  Nate Eldredge Aug 10 '12 at 1:31
add comment

2 Answers 2

up vote 23 down vote accepted

Tipping in the US is much more common than elsewhere. In much of the US service staff are deliberately paid very low wages and expected to make it up in tips. Remember this when comparing prices in North America and Europe - the price of a restaurant may look low, but you are going to have to pay up to 30% extra on it - 15% tax and 15% tip.

I can't do better than recommend this Tripadvisor page. It squares with my experience. To summarize:

  • Normal tip in a restaurant for normal service is 15%. 20% for excellent service, 10% for poor (0% for really terrible). However remember that bad food is not the same as bad service.
  • Tip in all restaurants, but not fast food joints. The tip jar is largely for show, and if you throw in a quarter you are tipping above the average.
  • Some restaurants add a gratuity charge, especially for large groups or foreigners, in which case that is the tip. There is no need to add more tip, unless the service was remarkable. If the service was bad ask to have the gratuity charge reduced, but refusing to pay a gratuity charge added to the bill has resulted in legal action in extreme circumstances.
  • The article recommends tipping in cash to ensure that the tip gets to the server, but nobody does that. It's too complicated, it's not my place to get between a server and their employer.
  • The article has a whole list of other places where you should tip.
  • Service staff are generally pretty tolerant if you undertip or fail to tip.
share|improve this answer
    
I would advise against tipping cash, if possible. Tips through the tip line on the credit card slip are recorded and reported, and disbursed to staff per IRS regulations. Cash tips may get unreported, and end up just causing troubles for the server if caught. –  littleadv Aug 9 '12 at 17:34
3  
@littleadv: On the other hand, if you tip by card, Visa/Mastercard and your bank take their cuts, and the recipient and/or their employer winds up with less. –  Nate Eldredge Aug 10 '12 at 1:35
1  
15% tax seems a bit much even for California. Plus service staff only appear pretty tolerant about undertipping and not tipping. :) –  Karlson Aug 10 '12 at 17:33
    
California state sales tax is 7.75%. Some cities add up to 1% local sales tax. –  nibot Aug 10 '12 at 19:23
2  
I disagree with @littleadv; Servers prefer cash. But it would be unusual to mix forms of payment. –  nibot Aug 10 '12 at 19:24
add comment

Is the rule the same for all occasions to tip, or are there different amounts depending for a table service restaurant, the tip jar of a fast-food restaurant, a bar waiter, a taxi driver?

Rules are not the same. In a restaurant it is considered typical to tip ~15% for an average service. If the service is good, go for double sale tax (in CA/NY at least). Some restaurants put the suggested calculations on the bill. For cabs, I usually round up to the next $5, unless there was something extraordinary (like the driver carried my bags 10 floors up or something). I never tip at fast food restaurants (I almost never eat there too, though). Jars - put a $1 bill, if you really liked the service - put two.

When someone gives outstanding service although not used to get tips, how much is appropriate? For instance, we had an airport car rental shuttle bus driver calling a competitor rental company for us to see if they had cars available, since the rental company of that bus was sold out.

I would say "thank you" is enough. It might offend people, if you give a tip in a situation usually not considered a "tip-giving" situation. But that's just me.

Restaurants often add a gratuity for large parties. Are patrons expected to tip beyond this amount and how much?

If gratuity is charged, I never add tips.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.