Every time I get my hair cut, I’m faced with a dilemma — should I tip the barber or not? I usually get my hair cut at Essel Salon & Spa. I tip $10 on a $35 haircut. If I get to hear stories about personal experiences with women or sports rants, I tip $15, even if I don’t agree with the barber’s viewpoints (Which is rare). I tip because I’ve been entertained. Sometimes, if I don’t have enough cash, I don’t leave a anything at all. Are these tips appropriate?
What about when I pick up Chinese takeout? What about a hotel bellhop? A parking valet? What about when you're on a date. How much should you tip the waiter/waitress? Out of curiosity, I did some research on tipping practices in the United States. There’s actually significant disagreement about how much to tip for even common services.
For example, you know you should tip your waitress. But how much should you leave? Some people claim that 10% is adequate. Others claim that 20% is standard. But I suspect that most of us learned to tip 15%, and to give more for exceptional service. (The Wikipedia entry on tipping currently contains the bizarre claim that “18% is generally accepted as a standard tip for good service”.) Which amount is correct?
After browsing dozens of pages, I drafted the following guide. The amounts listed are based on averages or on consensus, when possible.
- No tip required, though many suggest throwing coins into the tip jar.
- $1/drink (or 15% of total bill). Pre-tip for better service.
- Delivery person (including pizza)
- 10%, $2 minimum
- Maitre d’
- $5-$25 for special efforts
- No tip required unless something special is done
- 15% for adequate service, 20% for exceptional service. For poor service, leave 10% or less. It’s okay to leave nothing for exceptionally poor service, but only if you’re sure it’s the waiter’s fault.
- $1 to $2 per bag, $5 minimum. (Or, just as many places say $1 bag, $2 minimum.)
- $5-$20 depending on the service. $20 if he does something exceptional. Nothing for directions.
- $2 to $5 per night, paid daily or as a lump sum at checkout. (Most sites suggest you tip daily.)
- Parking Valet
- A wide range of opinions. Everyone agrees that you should pay when your car is retrieved. Some say to pay when it’s parked, too. Most sites say to tip $2, though some suggest $5.
- Room service
- $5 minimum (unless gratuity is included in check)
- Bus driver (not mass transit)
- $1 to $2, if she handles luggage
- Cab driver
- 10%, $2-$5 minimum
- Gas station attendant
- Nothing. Or $2-$4. There’s no agreement. (I’ve never seen anyone tip a gas station attendant ever.)
- $1 per bag. $2 for heavy items, or if porter brings luggage to counter.
- Again, little agreement: 10-15%, 15-20%, etc. One person recommends $5 to each individual who shampoos or blow-dries your hair!
- Spa service
- $2 or $3
- Building superintendent
- Coat checker
- Most sites recommend $1 per coat, though one said $2 to $5 upon retrieval.
- Furniture deliverer
- It depends. Most of the time $5-$20. Some recommend simply offering cold drinks.
- Grocery store bagger
- One site recommended $1-$3, though I’ve never seen one tipped in my life.
- $10-$25 per person
What about tipping at holidays? Tipping service people with whom you have regular contact can build goodwill. I found these recommendations:
- Babysitter: one week’s pay
- Doorman: bottle of wine or box of chocolates
- Garbage collector: $15 to $25
- Gardener: one week’s pay
- Housekeeper: one week’s pay
- Janitor: $15 to $25
- Mail carrier: $15 to $20 (up to $20 non-cash)
- Nanny: one week’s pay
- Newspaper delivery person: $15 to $25
- Parking attendant: $15 to $25
- Personal trainer: $20 to $50 (tip discreetly)
Some points regarding tipping etiquette:
- If you use a coupon or gift certificate, calculate your tip based on the total before discount.
- Tip above the norm if:
- Service is exceptional,
- You’ve been a burden, or
- You are a regular client.
- Don’t tip if it’s not deserved. Poor service should not be rewarded.
- In some circumstances, if you offer an initial tip — especially a large initial tip — you’ll get better service.
- If you take up a restaurant table for a long time, tip extra.
- Tip discreetly.
- When in doubt, tip.
What about public officials? When is a tip a tip, and when is a tip a bribe? Kris and I tipped the judge who married us, but even then we had trouble deciding how much to give him. (We gave him $50.)
I suspect that tipping practices vary widely from region-to-region and, especially based upon the size of the city. As always, do what works for you.