Heading to the States soon but experiencing a bit of tipping anxiety? If you’re from a country where tipping isn’t customary (Australia or Korea for example), America’s complex tipping culture can be quite intimidating! Instead of feeling sweaty every time you reach for your wallet, let our guide to tipping in the USA help you figure out exactly who you need to tip and how much. From restaurants to bars, transport to hotels, we’ve got you covered!
Tipping in the USA: When to tip and how much?
The tipping culture
Tipping has been deeply ingrained in the American culture for a long time. The vast majority of those in the service industry earn a very low minimum wage (we’re talking just a few dollars an hour) and depend on tips to survive. Instead of supporting their staff, restaurants essentially outsource their payroll to the customer, shrugging off all responsibility to pay staff a living wage. Since they can’t rely on their employers to support them, servers need to rely on tips. While this might seem unfair and wrong, it’s unfortunately just the way it is.
It might be tempting to refuse to tip on principle but doing so won’t actually affect any change. The poor server will just be the one that suffers. So no matter what the tipping custom is where you’re from, if you’re not prepared to tip, you shouldn’t be travelling to the USA.
How to tip
There’s no one-size-fits-all rule when it comes to tipping in the USA. Generally though, your tip should reflect the level of service you’ve received. Because they’re working for your tips, you’ll most likely find that people go above and beyond to look after you. Make your life easier and be sure to carry around a stack of small bills with you. In a lot of cases, you’ll need to tip in cash so it pays (literally) to be prepared!
If you head out for a meal and you get served by a waiter, expect to tip them. The general rule for restaurants is to tip 15-20% of the total of the bill. If you’re dining in quite a high-end restaurant though, be prepared to tip between 20-25%. If your mental maths skills are challenging you, most restaurants include a suggested tip at the bottom of the bill to help you along.
You only have to tip at restaurants with table service, however, so don’t feel like you need to tip at In-N-Out Burger or other takeaway or fast-food joints. There will always be a little tip jar at the counter though so if you’re feeling generous, leave a little something extra.
Hotels can be intimidating for travellers confused about tipping. With so many services provided, it can be really confusing to know who to tip and who not to. It’s also easy to get carried away and feel like you have to tip for every common courtesy but that’s actually not the case.
So let’s lay it out and start with who you don’t need to tip. Don’t worry about tipping the front desk clerks or the doorman for opening the door for you. You also don’t need to tip the concierge for basic help, such as providing directions or information on transport or tourist attractions. If they go above and beyond for you, however (e.g. securing a difficult restaurant reservation), tip them $5-$10 as a thank you.
If you have the porter bring your bags up to your room, tip a few dollars per bag. You should tip the housekeeper between $2-$5 daily depending on the size of your room (the bigger the room, the bigger the tip should be). If your hotel offers a turn-down service, you should add an extra $1-$2 per day. Put the cash inside an envelope and leave it somewhere visible, clearly marking it as ‘housekeeping tip’.
If you grab a cab in the USA, your driver will be expecting a tip, usually around 10% of the total fare. However, definitely tip according to the experience you have and feel free to tip less if you don’t have a good one. Similarly, there’s the option to include a tip inside the Uber and Lyft apps. If you use a valet service, tip $4 or $5 once your car is returned to you.
Ordering drinks at a bar? Give the bartender an extra dollar for every drink you order. Most bars in America have table service, however, so if this is the case and you’re being served at your table, leave 10% of the total bill at the end of the night.
Tour guides, beauty therapists and food delivery drivers will all expect a tip for their services. Generally, the greater the level service provided to you, the more you should tip. Use your judgement but a safe bet is always around 15% of the total.
And there you have our traveller’s guide to tipping in the USA!
Planning a trip to the USA soon? Check out our other travel guides:
- The Ultimate 2-Week California Road Trip: An Itinerary
- See the Best of San Francisco in 24 Hours
- A Beginner’s Guide to LA: 20 Things to Know Before You Go
Or looking for more helpful tips on managing money when travelling? Read these next:
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What is your experience with tipping in the USA? Tell us in the comments below!