Tipping Etiquette

The Etiquette of Tipping        

In modern America, the rules for tipping are difficult to grasp because the etiquette standards have
changed. What once was a gratuity to reward personal service has become something expected by
people who do not provide a personal service.

When you ordered a cup of latte at a restaurant, the waiter came to you for your order and returned to
you with the latte; you tipped the waiter because his personal attention freed you from the task of
getting your coffee. Nowadays, you go to Starbucks and stand at a counter to fetch your own latte,
and there is a tip cup at the register! The notion of earning a tip by providing a personal service has
disappeared. No wonder folks are confused about when to tip and how much to tip.

I’m here to explain the etiquette of tipping.

1)        Before you go on vacation, stock up on $1 and $5 bills. If you plan to go to an airport, use a
cab, check into a hotel, eat at a restaurant, take a cruise, treat yourself to a spa, or stay with friends
who have a country house staffed with a few servants, you will be tipping lots of people. Planning
ahead and having small bills at hand will save you from many awkward moments.

2)        Tips are not always based on a mathematical formula based on the total fee for the service.
For example, I know that many travel books advise you to tip 15% of the cab fare, but that’s very out
of date. Instead, tips ought to reflect the quality of the experience: did the driver go beyond merely
driving you to your destination? If he helped you with your luggage or baby stroller or wheelchair, or
he cheered you up with a compliment, or he took a route you asked for – then the tip ought to be
based on how much you valued his extra effort.

3)        When giving a person a tip, do not draw attention to the act. Tipping should be subtle. Always
say “Thank you” to the person you are tipping.

4)        You do not tip business owners but you will tip the owner’s employees who provide a service
to you. If you’re a regular patron at an establishment, you can  ensure continued good service by
tipping a little more generously than usual.

5)        Proper etiquette does not mean you have to leave a tip every time. If you receive poor service
in a situation where tipping is expected, don’t wait until the end of the experience to complain to
justify not leaving a tip. Complain as soon as you’re dissatisfied so the manager or owner can
remedy the situation and preserve the tip for a more deserving server.


Cab Drivers: The amount that appears on the farebox when the driver starts the meter is the
minimum you should tip. Add $1 for every 10 minutes of the trip. Tip extra if the driver helped you with
your luggage or a baby stroller or a wheelchair. Pay with the smallest note you have. A good rule of
thumb: if you’re expecting change that is greater than 50% of the face value of the note, it is too
large. For example, do not use a $20 note if you’re expecting more than $10 in change.

Airport shuttles: If the driver takes your luggage on and off the shuttle, tip $1 a bag.

Skycaps: The people who check your bags on the curb at the airport deserve $5 per bag. In larger
airports, tip $5 per bag plus $10 for the convenience. Tip more if you have a baby stroller that needs
special checking. Many people think $1 a bag is proper, but in these days of reduced airline staffing,
skycaps are valuable for the time they save you.

Airport golfcarts: If you need special help in getting to your gate because you’re late or you’re
handicapped, tip the person who helps you. A small gratuity is proper -- $1 or $2.


Bellmen: Tipping the person who delivers your luggage to your room depends on two factors: the
quality of the hotel, and the location. If you’re in a 5-start hotel, tip $5 per bag. If you’re in a location
where the major industry is recreational (Las Vegas, Disney World, Niagara Falls) or in a world-
class city (New York, Paris, London), tip $5 per bag. If you’re in a modest hotel that caters to
business travel in a city where visitors do not come for fun (Albany, Birmingham, Nantes),  $2 or $3
a bag is proper.

Valet Parking: Minimum $2 to the person who delivers your car. You do not have to tip the person
who takes your car away. However, if you ask for special consideration when you drop off your car
(you’d like your car to be ready in 30 mins), tip both the person who takes your car and the one who
delivers it.

Doorman: You don’t have to tip him for opening the door, but you ought to acknowledge his help with
a “Thank you.” If he helps you to catch a cab, or helps you with your packages as you exit a cab, a $2
or $3 tip is proper.

Desk Clerk: You do not have to tip the person who checks you into the hotel.

Concierge: Minimum $5 for routine help, like altering your plane reservations, or helping you with
tickets to a play; if the concierge has performed a rare feat of getting you tickets to the hottest play in
town, or found a way to upgrade your plane reservation at no cost to you, be generous and tip $20. If
you can afford a center aisle ticket to “Spamalot”, then you can surely afford to reward the person
who helped you score.

Chambermaid: Minimum tip is $5 a night for a modest hotel, more for a 5-star hotel or a vacation
destination hotel. If you’ve made a particular mess – you’ve left liquor bottles in the room, or you left
the detritus from a shopping spree, add an extra $5 or $10. I prefer to leave the tip daily when I’m on
a long stay. Put it under the first page of telephone pad, and write “Thank you” on the page so the
maid knows you intended to leave a tip.

Room Service: If an extra fee is added to the bill, no a separate tip is expected. If there is no delivery
charge on the bill, though, tip 10% - 15% of the total.


If you use a credit card to pay the bill, your servers will think well of you if you use cash for the tip. Be
sure to write “cash” on the line for the tip to ensure that no one can alter your charge slip afterwards.
However, if the meal is a business expense and you use a credit card, add the tip to the charge so
you have proof of your expenses for the taxman.

Valet Parking: Minimum $2 to the person who delivers your car. You do not have to tip the person
who takes your car away. However, if you ask for special consideration when you drop off your car
(you say you’d like your car to be ready in 30 mins), tip both the person who takes your car and the
one who delivers it.

At the coat check: Tip $1 per item (coat, briefcase, hat) when you retrieve them.

At the bar: The tip is based on the complexity of your order. You can tip less for a beer and more for
the perfect dry martini. Some bartenders do a little show when they mix a drink, and this deserves a
reward. Tip a minimum of $1 a drink for a simple order, and $2 a drink for a complicated order. If you’
re at a restaurant bar waiting for a table or for your companions, settle this bill before you are seated
at your table.

At the table: You do not tip the hostess or the busboy, and you usually don’t have to tip the more
fancy maitre d’ unless you were shown to a particularly desirable table or you were seated in a
section you specially requested. Base your restaurant tip on the cost of the food, but remember the
bartender or sommelier if you also ordered drinks or wine. Your server shares the tip with everyone
else who helped at your table, so add a few extra dollars to be passed on to the bartender. If your
wine is delivered by the wine steward, that tip is a percentage of the cost of the bottle.

Note: The relationship between your server and the kitchen can be a tense one. Chefs do not like
diners who meddle with their recipes. If you order off the menu or ask that a dish be prepared with
or without a usual ingredient, be aware that the server will have to negotiate on your behalf with the
chef. Reward your server generously if he/she is successful.

In the bathroom: Don’t ever go to the bathroom without money because you might have to tip an
attendant. Tip $1 each trip. Put the money in the dish on the counter; do not hand it to the attendant.


At a salon: Don’t tip the salon owner, even if he/she performs a service. However, you could give the
owner a yearly present (flowers, a good bottle of wine) to show your appreciation. Only tip
employees: $2 to the person who washes your hair, minimum of $5 to the manicurist, and a 15%  –
20%  of the total bill to the person(s) who styled your hair. Tip the hairwasher at the end of the
appointment when you tip the stylist; it us usually too awkward to tip at the point of service.

At the spa: Don’t tip the salon owner, even if he/she performs a service. However, you could give the
owner a yearly present (flowers, a good bottle of wine) to show your appreciation. Tip everyone who
performs a service, but you’re not expected to tip at the point of service since many times you will be
naked and not expected to have money with you.


On a cruise: I believe every cruise ship cabin contains a tipping chart. Each company has its own
customs, and the best rule is to follow local custom. In general, though, expect to tip cabin stewards
and waiters $5 a day (you’ll get to know these people very well in the course of your trip), and tip $2 a
day to the servers who are less personal.

At a country house: Very few people will find themselves in this situation, but if you’re invited to be a
guest at a house with servants, watch “Gosford Park.”  Don’t be like Maggie Smith.

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