Tipping is a way of life in the United States. Most waiting staff are paid below minimum wage and rely on tips to make a living. This practice is different from many other countries where servers are paid a living wage and where a “service charge” is added to the bill. For most visitors, it can be confusing – and even embarrassing – trying to decipher whether a particular service warrants a tip. Despite having lived for a period of time in the United States previously, I was likewise stuck in situations where I pondered the merits of a tip during a recent visit. Of course, I could have played it safe and just tipped every server that took care of me but it would have been excessive not to mention detrimental to the tipping culture of the United States.
Here, I compile the tipping etiquette for most types of services that tourists would encounter in the USA.
Restaurants and Bars
I would tip 15 to 20% for sit-down restaurants or other eateries that is of a sit-down format where a waiting staff serves me the food. 15% is the bare minimum for acceptable service. In some fine dining restaurants, the tipping percentage ranges from 20 to 25%.
For buffets, it depends on the level of service you’re getting. For higher end buffets where servers clear your plates attentively, a tip of 10% or $1 per server (whichever is higher) is acceptable.
In recent years, there are a growing number of restaurants where you order at the counter, have a waiting staff serve you the food and where after the meal, you’re not expected to clean up yourself. This is more or a grey area and strictly speaking, you’re not required to tip if you don’t wish to though I have seen some customers leaving shy of 10% as tip.
Lastly, if your bill already comes with a gratuity charge (and this usually applies for groups of 6 or more), there is no need to leave a tip.
It is not customary to tip for takeaway orders – even if it’s at some fancy restaurant.
For fast food joints, cafes and food trucks; you’re not expected to tip.
For bartenders, leave a tip of $1 per drink or 15 to 20% (whichever is higher).
For taxis and where a personalized chauffeur service is involved (i.e. if you take a shuttle service from the airport to your address), the tip is similar to restaurant service, at 15% to 20%.
For UBER rides, you are not expected to tip. Even their website says so.
Hotels & Porter Service
For bellhops, leave a tip of $1 to $2 per bag depending on the size. You don’t need to tip the doorman if they simply open the door for you. You tip when they carry your bags.
For left luggage situations (i.e. you leave your bag at the hotel for storage and claim it after some time), you are strictly not expected to tip though again, a tip of $1 per bag is not unheard of.
For housekeeping, leave a tip of $2 to $5 if you’re staying in the hotel for two nights or more. I also leave a tip of at least $1 if I request for extra stuff from housekeeping like additional toiletries or tea bags. For cases where the hotel has left out certain amenities in your room and you call to have these delivered, it’s not expected for you to tip.
In club lounges, I do not tip the staff.
For the concierge, tip when you ask them to do something for you (i.e. book transport service or reserve a table in some restaurant). In this case, a tip of $5 to $10 would suffice. If you merely ask a question like “where’s the nearest restaurant?” or “where to change money?” , there is no need to tip.
What are your tipping habits like?