To tip or not to tip? Unfortunately, that is not the question when visiting the U.S.
Because, on the other side of the Atlantic, it’s simply a matter of how much to cough up.
What makes it worse is that it’s now par for the course to have a card-reader shoved under your nose asking if you want to add 10 per cent, 20 per cent, 25 per cent or even 30 per cent after almost any purchase.
Not just for a meal at a restaurant, but for a coffee at a kiosk, a drink in a bar, or sometimes (shockingly) at self-service counters and convenience stores.
Even Americans are finding it too much, coining a word for the widespread tipping culture: ‘tipflation’.
U.S.-based tipping expert Diane Gottsman’s golden rule is to be distinctly un-British and — when in doubt — simply ask about the usual procedure
And a recent survey by LendingTree, an online finance company, revealed that some 60 per cent of people in the U.S. were tipping more than ever. So, with locals struggling to deal with the phenomenon, what on earth should we do when travelling across the pond?
U.S.-based tipping expert Diane Gottsman’s golden rule is to be distinctly un-British and — when in doubt — simply ask about the usual procedure. She also recommends avoiding card machine add-ons and tipping in cash instead.
Much depends on where you go: expect to tip more in New York or LA than in, for example, St Louis, Missouri or rural Oklahoma . Here’s our guide:
RESTAURANTS: DISH OUT THE DOUGH
When Jayden or Lily-Anne flashes a pearly white smile and introduces themselves in a flourish of friendliness, it may — to the uninitiated British visitor — feel overwhelming. Why are they being so charming? Isn’t it just too familiar? Can they really be so pleasant all the time?
The answer is: yes. And the reason is simple — they need to make a good impression to encourage you to leave a tip to supplement what can be meagre wages. The minimum wage in the U.S. is $7.25 (£5.67). However, for positions where employees receive tips, this is a mere $2.13 (£1.66) — although it does vary state by state.
Not everyone, of course, is on this lowest of low rate, but it gives a pointer to what salaries may be like.
So tip a minimum of 15 per cent to 20 per cent, or more if the service is especially good. If you don’t, expect to be chased down the street.
PORTERS: BAGGING THE DOLLARS
It’s important to tip the correct percentage in the U.S. whether it’s a restaurant or bar
It’s that awkward moment, if you’re not a big tipper — when the bellboy/porter asks: ‘Can I help you with your bags?’
The unspoken etiquette is that if you answer ‘yes’, then a tip is due — and by the time you’ve reached your room, you may well have already shelled out $15.
The general rule of thumb is to tip the doorman carrying your bags from the street to reception $5, and the bellboy taking luggage to your room another $5-$10, especially if you have more than a couple of bags.
Remember, though, there is no obligation to do so and many Americans take their own bags these days to avoid tipping. Make sure you change currency into small denominations before you go — plenty of five and one-dollar bills are essential for your trip.
CONCIERGES: JUST SAY ‘THANK YOU’
No need to tip the concierge if he or she has simply provided directions to the nearest pharmacy or cafe.
For theatre tickets or restaurant reservations, however, $5 to $20 is the going rate, depending on how tricky the booking is — and don’t be stingy (they’ll remember next time you ask for help with something).
HOTELS: TO LEAVE BUCKS OR NOT?
Give $3 to $5 per room per night. But don’t do it all in one big go at the end of a stay. The reason for this is that housekeepers often change day by day.
So leave tips daily — even if you don’t in the UK. ‘Housekeepers are paid an hourly wage, but they’re doing a tough job, so a tip is a nice gesture,’ says Gottsman.
BARS: DOUBLE MEASURES
In the U.S. you should expect to tip the bartender at least $1 for a standard drink. For cocktails, you may wish to pay more
It may go against the grain — not being the norm back home — but in the U.S. it’s commonplace to shell out $1 per drink. This is an absolute minimum in a run-of-the-mill bar.
In a fancy cocktail joint you may wish to double it or even pay more, especially if you hope to be served quickly next time.
If you have opened a tab, a tip of 15-20 per cent of the bill is standard.
Meanwhile, if you eat food at the bar, tip the bartender like a restaurant waiter — 15-20 per cent.
HOT DRINKS: COUGH UP
When buying a takeaway coffee/tea, you may be asked if you’d like to add up to a 20 per cent tip on the card-reader.
Outrageous! Don’t feel embarrassed to decline, even with people queuing behind.
The difference between this situation and a bar is that these employees ought to be paid a reasonable hourly wage, although some people do tip $1 for a latte in cities like New York.
TAXIS: DRIVING A HARD BARGAIN
Taxi drivers should get tipped a minimum of 15 per cent of the fare (same for Ubers)
Do tip in cash, 15-20 per cent is usual with standard cabs (another reason to make sure you’ve got a pocket full of smaller notes). Tick the boxes for tips when using apps such as Uber and Lyft.
TAKEAWAYS: IT’S UP TO YOU
When picking up a takeaway, a tip is not, strictly speaking, required — and will seem extremely odd to most of us over here.
However, over there, if the server has bagged your order, added utensils or carried the food to your car, then a tip is a nice gesture: maybe a dollar or two. Let’s hope it doesn’t catch on here.
BREAKFASTS: BUFFET ETIQUETTE
During breakfasts where you serve yourself (or at any buffet), tip attendants refilling water glasses or clearing dishes $1 to $2.
TOUR GUIDES: DOLE OUT THE DOLLARS
On short walking tours of less than two hours, tip $5–$10 per tour guide. For tours of up to six hours, the tip should be at least $10-$20, or more if it’s been especially good. These guys really do rely on their tips to make a living.
SALONS: PAY TO BE PAMPERED
Some salons do not allow gratuity. Others may include it in the bill. If a salon does allow it and it is not already included, tip between 15 and 20 per cent.
WHEN IS A TIP NOT CLASSED AS A TIP?
When it’s a ‘service fee/charge’. In both bars and restaurants, a ‘service fee/charge’ may be added to your bill. While this may look as though it’s a tip for the waiter, it’s not.
The fee/charge goes towards the wages of the front-of-house staff, kitchen workers and managers. So do tip your waiter as per usual (see above).