Tipping in America: How To Do It and What To Expect If You Don’t

Waiting tables can be a balancing act! (Photo via AP)

Don’t want to be reviled by every waiter in town? Heed our tips on tipping, U.S. style.

1. Am I legally required to tip anywhere in the U.S.?
No. Service charge is always voluntary, even when it’s added to your bill. But if you deduct gratuity from the check, don’t expect it to go down well.

2. Why should I tip?
Each of the 50 states has a different minimum wage, usually around eight dollars an hour. But under federal law, the minimum wage for tipped employees like bartenders and waitresses is just $2.13 per hour. Your generous tips will help make up for their low pay.

3. How much should I tip in restaurants?
Fifteen to 25 percent of the total bill is normal. In high-end establishments, they hope you’ll leave nearer 25 – and possibly tip the maitre d’ five or ten bucks.

4. Do I need to leave an extra tip if my bill says, “gratuity included”?
No, although this only usually happens if you’re a party of eight or more. Some tourist joints also add on service charge, presumably because they know foreigners are shoddy tippers.

5. Why do waiters always ask, “Do you need change?”
If you pay in cash, your chirpy server will almost always deliver this line as they snatch up your check. You might feel affronted if you put down a fifty for your 15-dollar lunch but, in all likelihood, your waiter isn’t trying to squeeze you for a huge tip. He simply hasn’t registered the amount. That’s why servers tend not to growl or cry if your answer is, “Yes please.”

6. What should I tip in bars?
You’ll want to add a dollar a drink when you’re buying at the bar. Keep the tips flowing and you might well get your fifth or sixth drink free. Joints with table service will expect at least a 10 percent bonus at the end of the night.

7. What about tipping taxi drivers, hairdressers and porters?
If a driver helps with your bags and takes you a good route, 20 percent is reasonable. Likewise, you’ll want to tip your hairdresser 20 percent, and leave a few dollars for the person who washed your hair. Bellhops expect a dollar for every bag delivered, plus a few bucks for helping you in the room.

8. Do I have to tip when I queue to get my lunch or morning coffee?
No. Buying over the counter is gratuity free, although you will see cheeky tip jars nuzzled up against the cash register. And if the person in front of you drops in a dollar, you may feel obligated to do the same.

9. What’s likely to happen if I don’t tip?
This depends. Explain to the manager why you’re not tipping and, so long as your reason is their poor service and not your moral objection to tipping, you’ll probably get a gracious response. They may even take money off your bill. If, however, you skulk off without tipping, don’t be surprised if wait staff chase after you and demand an explanation.  

10. When shouldn’t I tip?
If the service is bad, you should never feel obliged to pay extra. But if you’re not brave enough to withhold the entire tip and trash your waiter to his superior, leaving 10 percent is code for, “The service was awful.”

What are your tips on tipping?

Ruth Margolis

Ruth Margolis

Ruth is a British freelance journalist who recently swapped east London for Brooklyn. She writes about TV for Radio Times and is working on her first novel.

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