We all know about tipping in the United States, and almost everyone has something to say about it.
You want to visit the United States but you think tipping is a silly idea.
Hear me out…
It is unfortunately not as black and white of an issue as it might first appear.
Of course, you always have the right to not tip. No one is going to make you, although you might be followed out of a restaurant by a sad server wanting to know what went wrong (fair warning).
Tipping was not always a way of life in the United States (thanks Prohibition!) It is different in each state, but most states only pay the federal minimum for tipped employees at $2.13 an hour. This hasn’t changed since 1991.
The issue is that neither the server nor the customer benefit in the end.
Most servers and bartenders would prefer a livable wage that didn’t depend on stressing about their every move. Most customers would prefer not to feel uncomfortable or forced into paying someone’s wages.
For the time being though, this is the culture of the United States. If you like to go out to eat, it is considered polite and good manners to budget an extra 15-20% of the check to ensure the staff can continue to work there.
Every country has cultural practice that we don’t understand or maybe think is backwards. And I agree that tipping culture in the United States does not benefit anyone but the businesses that get to unburden their costs to their own customers.
just like you would be sure to learn a few phrases in the language of the country you are visiting, or what clothes to wear to be polite in public, tipping is a part of the United States culture.
Protesting against it by not tipping is not going to change that, but could very directly affect someone’s livelihood.
It is also important to keep in mind that not all of the tip goes to the server. They are still required to report them for taxes. Most restaurants also encourage the serving staff to “tip out” the bussers, bartenders and kitchen. If you give your server an extra $10 dollars, they might only take home half of that.
I have seen many times the suggestion of 10% for bad service, and the general outrage that follows.
But remember you are tipping everyone, from the dishwasher, to the kitchen, to the person who cleans the table when you leave. You are tipping all of the staff that helps the restaurant function.
Also consider that you are not paying more in the United States simply due to our tipping practices.
In most other countries, the cost of service is built into the price of food.
It is also not just restaurants where tipping is standard, although this is usually the focus of any conversations about it in the USA. Many other jobs depend on a few extra dollars to make ends meet. Knowing this before you visit is considerate.
Here’s how tipping works in the United States:
- 15-25% of the entire check, for acceptable to excellent service. You may choose to tip before or after taxes.
- For poor service, 10% of the check.
- If it is was truly a miserable experience, speak to the manager so that they can improve. Explain why you are not leaving a tip.
- Understand that some places have gratuity included. It is common for larger tables (more than 6-8 people) and in some places for any size table. It is always listed on the menu or check. Ask if you have questions or wish to adjust the gratuity.
- If you pay with cash, many servers will say, “Do you need change?” This is not considered rude in many establishments, only efficient. They are doing many things at once, and probably have not noticed the amount on the table.
- General rule is $1 per drink, or 15-20% of the entire tab when you finish.
- Some people tip bigger up front, maybe $5, in the hopes of faster service.
- In some bars, if you continue to tip, you may get the fifth or sixth drink “on the house”.
For counter service:
- There is usually a tip jar. It is good practice to leave a dollar or two depending on your order.
- If you are picking up a ‘to go’ order, a few dollars on the check is also considered thoughtful for the kitchen staff, but not required.
For taxi drivers and hotel staff:
- There are a variety of thoughts on this, but 10% is generally considered fair for taxi drivers. Tip more for great service or a fast route.
- Anyone who helps with bags, $1-2 per bag is standard.
- Leaving $1-2 dollars a night for the cleaning staff of a hotel is a good practice if you stay for a few days. Simply leave it on the desk or side table with a note that says thank you.
Hopefully in the future, there will be a change in the way the United States pays and treats its restaurant and minimum wage staff. Until that time, remember that tipping does not exist to frustrate you. Please just know that it is part of our culture and consider participating 🙂
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