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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?
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    <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
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    @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
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    Doubling the tax rate would work reasonably in some parts of the U.S., but it's not a reliable rule for all of the U.S. There are 5 U.S. states that have no sales tax at all, while other states range from less than 2% all the way up to about 10%. In many states, the exact rate even varies from one county to the next (though not usually by as much as it varies between different states.) – reirab Sep 19 '16 at 19:56
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    Tips are just that tip's.So why waste the money while in America? They expect them. Does not mean they get them. You are not returning soon so why bother with them. – J Bergen Mar 2 '17 at 23:49
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    why a tip? so that you can subsidize the restaurant owner. If they can pay a sub-standard wage, and then get the mug to pony up, why not? In other countries with similar (or different) costs of living, they can pay decent wages to servers, and it is considered a profession. My solution? I just do not go to restaurants in usa. – pitney Mar 3 '17 at 10:44
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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 20-25% extra on it.

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 (i.e. places where they take your order at the table and bring you your food), 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 or service 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.
  • Don't stress about it. Nobody will call you out or make a fuss if you undertip or fail to tip.
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    @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
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    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
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    I disagree with @littleadv; Servers prefer cash. But it would be unusual to mix forms of payment. – nibot Aug 10 '12 at 19:24
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    i don't think it's unusual to mix forms of payment, unless you want to pay with cash and tip with a card (WTF?). paying with a card and leaving cash on the table is preferrable to the server because they can pocket the cash immediately. – ell Sep 25 '15 at 22:21
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    refusing to pay a gratuity charge added to the bill has resulted in legal action in extreme circumstances. Really? I find the entire concept of suing someone for a gratuity bizarre, even considering the litigiousness of Americans. – March Ho Jan 30 '16 at 9:41
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I find this article, Everything You Don't Know About Tipping, by Tim Urban of Wait but Why, to be the best I've found.

Even those of us who are native US citizens like him (or myself) often find ourselves in "ambiguous tipping situations", where we are not quite sure what the right amount to tip is, and want to avoid blunders such as:

The Inadvertent Undertip, the Inadvertent Overtip, and the “Shit Am I Supposed To Tip Or Not?” Horror Moment.

In Tim's words,

Tipping is not about generosity. Tipping isn’t about gratitude for good service. And tipping certainly isn’t about doing what’s right and fair for your fellow man.

Tipping is about making sure you don’t mess up what you’re supposed to do.

(And though I like to be generous and fair, there's certainly much wisdom in that.)

He interviewed 123 people in New York City working in jobs that involved tipping, and then supplemented with information from "a bunch of readers" and research, including the website of Wm. Michael Lynn, recognized tipping expert and Burton M. Sack Professor in Food & Beverage Management at Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration.

This handy table breaks it down by tipping situation, percentage of customers who typically tip, how much low, average, and high tippers give, what the providers typically think of people who don't tip in that situation (fine, cheap, the worst), what percentage of their salary is typically provided by tips, and other helpful notes.

So basically, decide whether you want to be a low, average, or high tipper, and tip accordingly.

Tipping Statistics -- broken down by tipping situation with percentage of customers who tip, amounts for low, average, and high tippers, how much of a faux pas it is not to tip, which percentage of their salary tipping is

On his page is also included a handy table to help estimate the impact on one's budget of being a low, average, and high tipper, depending on if you're a low, mid, or big spender when it comes to buying tipped services, and other handy notes about factors that should influence the decision, and how it looks from the service provider's perspective.

And, a fascinating "tipping spectrum" of where people in different groups tend to fall on the tipping spectrum, based on a survey of 1000+ waiters (Sample: Best: All-Male Dining Parties, followed closely by Gay Men; Average: All-Female Dining Parties, Young Adults; worst: Teenagers, Foreigners, Coupon Users), and other interesting things about tips.

The TripAdvisor page referenced in @DJClayworth's answer is also an excellent reference, and includes a few situations not included in Tim Urban's table and article. But Tim's table is just about the most convenient and informative guide I've found for most common situations in a format that provides more info on the server's perspective.

Notes I'll add from personal experience:

  • As a former sometime taxi driver (in Albuquerque, NM, not NYC), it seemed to me that people were being cheap if they tipped on a straight percentage when the percentage would result in a tip under $1, or were stingy about rounding up to the closest whole dollar (esp. when paying cash). (But, I'd never hold it against people who didn't tip; it did impact my bottom line, but I prefer to think the best of people and not to attribute to malice what can attributed to ignorance, poverty, lack of consciousness, etc.)

    • As a consequence, I personally feel cheap tipping less than $1 almost anywhere (except maybe a coffeeshop or similar place where ticket prices are low and tips are not expected). YMMV: Your Mileage May Vary. Albuquerque is not NYC, but is certainly fairly representative of many mid-size non-"Cab Towns" you may find across America.
  • It's always OK to add more to an automatically included gratuity, if you feel it's warranted, or you want to be a "good" tipper. Only paying the included gratuity puts you in "average" range.

  • "Doubling the tax" is highly unreliable, as it varies from state to state and city to city, and some localities have none at all.

  • I'd agree that most servers prefer cash -- and it's not all that unusual to mix payment types (leave cash at table, pay ticket with card, etc.). If you feel so inclined, there's nothing wrong with it, and for better or worse, servers prefer it because they're likely to be able to take it home the same day, and taxes and card fees are not taken out, so they can take home more, leaving up to their own conscience and discretion how much of their tips they report for tax purposes.

    • But, if you're paying by card and don't have cash, no big deal, just leave it on the card.
  • 15% is not "a bit much for California", at least for a restaurant. It's solidly in "low tipper" range anywhere I've been in the USA.

  • It's true that it can be considered insulting, or at the least very awkward, to give a tip in a "non-tipping situation". Eeesh. :/ But, that's up to your own conscience and knowledge of the situation.

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    Wow, I was taught to always tip a waiter 15%. These 18+ numbers look bizarrely alien to me. Otherwise the numbers look right for hairdressers, taxis, delivery drivers, etc. – Roddy of the Frozen Peas Aug 5 '16 at 6:37
  • @Roddy Yeah, I remember hearing 15% as a rule of them when I was a kid, too ... Somehow, as I've gotten out more and gathered more information, seems things are different. The info from Tim Urban's post is based on his own research, actually talking to tipped workers, and research he compiled from other sources. And it seems to mesh with what I've gleaned as I've grown older. But hey, as always, YMMV. And 15% just puts you as a "low tipper", but doesn't mean it's not adequate -- it's much higher than, say, 0. It's just on the lower end of the current spectrum (for full-service restrnts). – Aaron Wallentine Aug 9 '16 at 23:12
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    @RoddyoftheFrozenPeas Ya. I think that's what server say they should get, and of course they think they deserve more. Especially telling is "never tip below 15% even if the service is terrible." I'm sorry, but if service is terrible, I'm not about to pay for it. – Andy Feb 27 '17 at 0:53
  • @Andy you sometimes pay for terrible food, or terrible products, too. The tip is payment for the service, not for the service being good. – ajd Mar 10 '18 at 8:25
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    @ajd No, its not. A tip is a reward to encourage good service. The waiter gets paid whether they are tipped or not. Less perhaps, but that's the purpose of the tip. I don't know about you, but if i get terrible food, I don't eat it and give the restaurant a chance to make it right, or refund me. I return terrible products. – Andy Mar 13 '18 at 23:49
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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.

2

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

The gratuity is the tip. You can give more if you would like, but it is not expected.

As additional information, a restaurant may alternately stick a service change on your bill.

At one particularly obnoxious restaurant, my bill was increased by 11% tax, 18% gratuity and 18% service charge. I will never eat there again.

0

If I'm at a sit-down restaurant, then I generally tip 15-20% and round to the next dollar. I only tip my barista if I have a complicated order, or pay cash.

If I get delivery (pizza, Chinese, etc) I generally tip 20% rounding to the next dollar.

If I'm at a sporting event, I might slip the usher a dollar or two for "leading" me to my seat. Usually, when I get my hair cut, I tip $5. Same thing goes for valet parking.

If you get Full-Service gasoline/petrol (where an attendant pumps your gas for you), I believe that the custom is to just round to the next dollar (i.e if gas costs $34.34, you give them $35). That said, outside of New Jersey and Oregon, there aren't many full-service gas stations.

Also, I might leave a couple of dollars in an obvious place in my hotel room for the housekeeping staff. (I think when I went to Canada, I left a loonie and a toonie)

I don't use any other type of tipped services, so I can't give any advice there. But in the US, if you even think that someone is a government employee, NEVER TIP. It will be taken as an offer of a bribe, which is illegal.

Sources: These are the amounts that I personally tip, which should be a proper amount for most of the US.

protected by JonathanReez Mar 3 '17 at 11:23

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