Advice on tipping in the U.S

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  • Tom Otley

    Although tipping is not mandatory in America it is widely expected.

    Depending on the service, tipping can vary but a “safe” amount to tip is between 10 and 20 per cent. If you struggle with the maths, there are a number of apps that can help you figure out how much to leave, such as :

    • iHandy Tip Calculator
    • Tip N Split Tip Calculator
    • Tip Me

    On occasion you will see tip jars, but do not feel obligated to contribute. “Service charge” additions on bills are mandatory.


    In the US waiters and bartenders are paid below minimum wage, because they are expected to earn tips to supplement their income. The current minimum wage varies between states, with a range between US$10.50 (£7.90) and US$7.25 (£5.45) per hour. The wage for waiters and bartenders is often US$2 an hour (£1.50).

    Before tipping, check the receipt, as some might already include a gratuity though this depends on the size of your group. At restaurants, it is recommended to leave a between 15 and 20 per cent extra on top of the amount before tax. Some restaurants will recommend a sum at the bottom of the receipt.

    If you’re at a bar, the usual tipping amount is US$1-2 (£0.75-1.50) per drink. If you order food to be delivered, you’ll be expected to tip no more than 10 per cent.


    Although taxi drivers are not paid as little as waiters or bartenders, they should also be tipped. Tips vary between and 10 and 15 per cent. In general, if anyone helps with your bag, whether at the airport, in a taxi, or hotel staff, the recommended tip is US$1-2 (£0.75-1.50) per bag. At hotels, many people tip housekeeping staff. This can vary between US$2-3 (£1.50-2.26) per day, or a decent amount at the end of your stay.


    For spa and beauty treatments, the recommended amount is 10-20 per cent. For valet parking, tipping is either optional or mandatory. If your car is parked and collected for you, you might pay the attendant US$2-5 (£1.50-£3.75).

    Tom Otley

    This was written bu our US intern. Any comments, feedback welcome. Be gentle.

    I remember tipping a doorman in the US about five years ago for getting us a taxi. It hadn’t been a big job, he put up his hand.

    I gave him two, one dollar bills. He looked at them, and handed them back to me, and moved on to the next waiting hotel guest.


    Thanks for the post. Personally, in the US I just go by my simple rule – tip 15%, no less.


    Tom, I have seen your doorman experience in the states too – many years ago, a one dollar tip was returned to a colleague with the words “If that is all you can afford, you need it more than I do!!”

    Couple of years ago, in the AA Lounge at LAX, my 21 year old ordered from the menu (about $15 worth) and gave a $100 bill to the waiter. “Will you require change from that, Sir” was greeted with horror and zero by way of a tip.


    I have often used the “ready reckoner” that the Tip in a Restaurant was sounle the tax on the Bill. Tax is always shown separately and as this is usually 7-8% then double this is then aprox 15%.

    ALso, it means you are tipping on value of the Items purchased and NOT on the TAX itself.

    I have never had a problem when doing this. I remember an American colleague telling me of this.

    Safest then to Round up the amount to the next $.


    I dislike open credit card vouchers when service has already been added – & never even thought about paying a tip on tax (thank you SwissExPat)..

    My last few visits to the States, I generally ask for the cheque – service charge / tip free – so I can leave cash as a tip. The looks of astonishment and worry on the servers, especially students. My favourite occasion was when a student looked very worried and asked if there was a problem – I said its the opposite and wanted to pay him personally for the way he had looked after the table.

    Surprisingly though, as reported on the last thread about tipping in the States, there are a growing number of restaurants in the States that are paying their staff fairly and removing the need for guests to leave tips.

    (Not sure the link will open – Google, tipless restaurant New York)


    Strange your US intern was treated like that, as that is my standard tip for getting a taxi, $2 and the same for the guy who brings my bags to the check-in.
    The one who actually brings it to my room, offloads them and shows me how the room works etc get $5 which is roughly what I tip in Switzerland, CHF 5. Though in Europe you don’t tip from the taxi to the check-in, besides it’s usually the same person.

    I tip in restaurants 15% of the amount excluding tax then round up to the nearest $5 dollars. Like Martyn I always give this in cash and I leave it to them and their conscience if they should wish to tell Uncle Sam about it! Never had a frown or been bad mouthed.

    I particularly dislike it when the server tells you service is at your discretion, but as a European I should know its’s usual to add 20-25% to the total. I point out that as a European I don’t like to be ripped off and will leave what I feel like leaving – which if the service is bad, server unfriendly or service slow will range from nil to maybe 10% but I always tell them why I’m leaving such a low tip.

    At one restaurant I got all three and left nothing. before i could leave a rather brusque manager came up to me and asked me what the matter was. He actually made me a bit nervous but I stood my ground and told him everything that went wrong compounded by the rude and arrogant (and he really was) waiter. I was astonished when he ripped up the cheque, said i did not deserve to have to pay and hoped I would come back and give them another chance. Something he did not give to the server as he was then fired on the spot! Well i didn’t want that to happen but there wasn’t much I could do.

    Taxi’s I usually tip the suggested amount and when the fare is tip included, the driver still expects something more, so I give either $5 or $10 depending on the distance, time taken and friendliness.


    I am curious to know whether travellers to the US tip Uber / Lyft drivers any differently regular taxi drivers?

    Do you tip Uber / Lyft more, less or the same way as taxi drivers?


    When I lived in Manhattan around 1999/2000, the unwritten rule for tipping in a restaurant was 10% for “bad” service, 15% for “ok” service, and 20% for “good” service.

    I could never get my head around the idea of tipping for bad service.

    Tom Otley

    I am curious to know whether travellers to the US tip Uber / Lyft drivers any differently regular taxi drivers?
    Do you tip Uber / Lyft more, less or the same way as taxi drivers?

    When Uber started I tried to tip a driver and he told me off, as though I was some old guy who really hadn’t got the hang of the system. (True). I think that has changed.


    amazing how different a post reads with a 1 letter typo…

    Tom, surprised you are not incarcerated in Riker Island after trying to “top” an Uber driver 🙂


    Made a serious point about bad service by leaving a tip of a few cents a few years back and then enjoyed the result that was the lady involved busting into tears…the US system is rubbish and needs sorting out…


    I am always thankful I rarely have to go to US on business. The queues at immigration and the tipping (and need to have a good supply of smaller notes) is a total bore.

    As are those who take it for granted, add it automatically, explain to you in detail how to tipping works etc.

    And let’s face it in NY these days you can’t fart without someone expecting a tip.


    I remember a few years ago taking a short taxi trip in New York. When we stopped, the meter showed 4.50 and I gave him 5 – ie 11%. However the driver didn’t stop the meter when the cab stopped. As I handed over the note and opened the door, the meter clicked over to 5. Cue a stream of vitriol from the driver suggesting, among other things, that I should never visit the US again, casting doubt on my parentage and so forth before gunning his engine and disappearing in a cloud of tyre smoke. Even if I had doubled the tip, it would have been an extra50 cents…. And all of this was so loud that the doorman questioned me about what *I* had done. When people feel this entitled, i think it is a problem. I rscognise that in some cultures tipping is ingrained and a part of their compensation. I can just about enure myself to that, but I don’t like it….


    It took me a few visits to realise but one important place where we’re expected to tip is for every drink in airport lounges in US $1 minimum. Even if the drink is comped. It’s apparently really rude not to even if all you’re having is one drink, water etc.

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