Tipping and Gratuities

Content Written/Updated on March 29, 2007

How much should I tip? Should I be obvious when I tip? Should I tip secretly? Should I let anybody see my giving a tip? What do I do if I think they don’t deserve a gratuity?

Tipping doesn’t need to be complicated. Here are some guidelines to help you out.

Why should I tip?

Tipping (a.k.a. giving a gratuity) is a way to say, “Thank you for doing a good job. I appreciate your effort.”

I often hear others say, “Why should I tip? They pay him to do his job.” Keep in mind that some workers earn the bulk of their income from tips and are only paid minimum wage (or slightly above). The price you pay for the product or service goes to the employer, the company owner, not the worker helping you (e.g. waiter, waitress, housekeeper, busboy, steward, delivery person, drivers, baggage handlers, etc.). A gratuity is filled with gratitude: thank you for tending to my needs, so I don’t have to do it myself.

To Tip or Not to Tip: When do I need to give a tip?

It is almost always acceptable to tip if the mood strikes you. Very few people would be offended if you chose to give them a dollar or two. Anyone not allowed to take tips will politely refuse and be honored that you wanted to tip them.

So who gets the gratuity? Anyone whose job it is to provide you with a free service deserves a tip (e.g. free shuttle drivers, complimentary concierges, anyone who gives you extra assistance, cafe musicians, street performers, etc.). Likewise, you should tip anyone who probably makes minimum wage while doing a service for you. You should especially tip anyone who cleans up after you (e.g. housekeepers, stewards, etc.) no matter how neat and clean you think you are.

Am I Required to Give a Tip?

No. If you receive bad service (we’re talking about dreadful or even insulting service), then you don’t need to pay a cent. If your server, assistant, etc. at least makes an effort but does a poor job, give them less than the standard tipping rate. If your server does a satisfactory job, give them the standard rate. If they provide excellent service, be generous. The best part is that you get to decide what defines dreadful, poor, satisfactory, or excellent service.

How Much Should I Tip?

When in doubt, tip 15% or $1 ($2 for excellent service), whichever is more.

(Note: Unless the server has a tip jar and is serving you lattes or ice cream, don’t give coins. Always carry a handful of one dollar bills with you.)

WhoHow Much
Bags Anyone who helps you with your bags, groceries, etc. gets their standard tip plus a tip for each bag.$1.00 / bag
$2.00 / heavy bag
Delivery Messenger, Mover, Parcel / Package Delivery, Furniture Delivery$2 for small items
$5 for large items
$10 for very large items
$20 – $50 for extremely difficult items
Driver Shuttle Driver, Taxi Driver, Limousine Driver, Tour Guide, etc.15% or $2, whichever is more
Food Server15%
Catering servers split the 15% among them but get a minimum of $10 each
Personal Care Provider Stylist, Barber, Manicurist, Massage Therapist, etc.15%
Attendant Concierge, Bellhop, Doorman, Valet, Parking Attendant, Restroom Attendant, Shoe Shine, Coat Check, etc.$1-2 for anything that takes less than a minute
$5 for anything that takes a few minutes
up to $50 for anything that takes over 10 minutes
Cleaners Housekeeper, Cabin Steward, Train Sleeper Car Attendant, etc.$3 – $5 / day
$10 / day for luxury
Vehicle Assistance Gas Station Attendant, Tow Truck Driver / Roadside Assistance$0 for self-service
$1-2 for gas only or small services
$5 for full-service
more for extra service
Performers Street Performers, Musicians, Clowns, etc.15%
$2 if performance is free
$5 per special request (such as when requesting a song)
Artists Artists, Florists, Decorators, etc.15%
Pets Pet Groomer, Dog Walker$2 per pet or 15% of bill, whichever is more

Figuring Out the Math

Many of us have a hard time figuring out how to calculate percentages in our heads. Get a small calculator (you can use the one on your cell phone or PDA) for precise calculations. You can also use a tip card, a small reference card that fits in your wallet. My favorite method, though is fast and makes lots of service workers happy: be a big tipper (20%)!

I rarely give 15%. For me, anytime somebody truly makes an effort, even if it’s not the greatest service, I give them 20%. If the service is poor, I give them 10% (I refuse to reward bad service by giving the standard rate).

Divide by 10.
Move the decimal place one spot to the left. $17.50 / 10 = $1.75
rounding up
the change
Divide by 10.
Round up the change, if necessary.
Divide by 2.
Round up the change, if necessary.
Add them together. $17.50 / 10 = $1.75, round to $2.00
$2.00 / 2 = $1.00
rounding up
the change
Divide by 10.
Round up the change, if necessary.
Multiply by 2. $17.50 / 10 = $1.75, round up to $2.00
$2.00 * 2 = $4.00