4 July 2019
Read Time: 1.8 mins
The USA: land of the free, home of... the anxiety-inducing practice of tipping.
While Australians aren’t strangers to tipping for exceptional service, the obligatory nature of US tipping practices creates much confusion and culture shock.
From how much to who, and when, you need to tip, we’ve debunked the most common quandaries of this distinctly US custom so you can navigate the minefield of confusion and social awkwardness, sans stress.
Technically, tipping is voluntary throughout the US. But with a federal minimum wage so paltry it veers dangerously close to indentured slavery, wait staff rely heavily on tips to live. So, if you think the calculations and constant cash carrying feels annoying, imagine surviving mostly through the grace of tips. The upside? Service is noticeably chipper and attentive.
Who to tip?
Surprisingly for many travellers, tipping is extended to almost anyone who serves you or provides a service. That includes (but isn’t limited to) restaurant waitstaff; bartenders; housekeepers and room service; bellhops; taxi and Uber drivers (via the app); hairdressers; nail technicians; and valet parking, coat check and restroom attendants.
Handy hint: For room service and housekeepers, tip daily to ensure your room is kept top notch; anything from a couple of dollars a day is fine.
But how much?
Anything between 15 to 25 per cent of the pre-tax amount is considered standard. The lower end of the spectrum and below sends a clear message that service was sub-par, while the upper end is at your discretion for excellent service. In restaurants and eateries it pays to remember that even if your server isn’t up to scratch, the kitchen staff benefit too, so providing some tip is customary, if not expected. In bigger cities such as San Francisco and New York, the level of service is fairly irrelevant; servers and staff expect at least 20 per cent even if you’ve pre-paid at the counter first.
The general rule for bars is $1 per beer and $2 per cocktail. Bellhops expect about $2 per bag and parking attendants and concierges are accustomed to anywhere from $3 to $5 on top of the charge.
Basic rule of thumb? If in doubt, tip. And while there are some variations in the amount to tip from state to state and city to smaller towns, 20 per cent is even and makes calculations easy. Plus, who wants to be squabbling over a two per cent tip?
Techy tips and handy hacks
As is the case with most challenges in our tech-obsessed world, there are apps for tipping. If the mathematics are quite literally the tipping point for your sanity, make sure you’ve downloaded apps such as Gratuity, Tipulator (includes a split-bill calculator), Tap Tip and Tip Check before you take off.
For an on-the-go trick, many locals recommend doubling the state tax dollar amount (like Australia’s GST, it varies from state to state), which is indicated on the bill. There’s also a growing – and helpful – trend towards establishments precalculating tip amounts of 15, 18 and 20 per cent and indicating them on the bill. You simply tick a box and go.