Tipping in the US: How Much and When?

Nadia Nadia

Written by Nadia

US Travel tips
Tipping in the US

Tipping in the United States can be complex as it has become deeply embedded into American culture, with many small businesses relying on tips to supplement their employees’ wages (which are often lower than the minimum wage).

Here are the tipping basics for the US:

  • If you want to make a budget for your trip to the USA, remember to take tips into account.
  • It is expected to tip servers and valets. When dining/sitting in a restaurant, tipping 15-20% is a must. A common saying in the US is, “If you cannot afford to tip, you should not be eating out.”
  • It is expected to tip taxi drivers (including Uber drivers), hair stylists, hotel service personnel, hotel porters, and housekeeping.
  • Tipping $1 for each drink at a bar is normal, even if the drink is $3.
  • Tipping is not obligatory when visiting or driving through a fast-food establishment.
  • You are not expected to tip when you pick up a food order.
Tipping serves as an act of goodwill and appreciation for the time and effort of the staff. 

Tipping in a US restaurant

If you are sitting in a restaurant, you will have to pay 15-20% tips at the end of the service. Just accept that.

It may seem unreasonable, but this is how things are done in America. Even if you only drink a glass of wine, you are obliged to tip 15-20%.

To many non-Americans, the system feels terribly wrong and ridiculous when employers do not pay their employees enough to live on. Establishments often push tipping to supplement their employees’ salaries since they cannot adequately pay them. And most people agree restaurants should pay staff a living wage.

However, it will not change if you do not tip the wait staff. I am not defending the system; I am merely pointing out that if you choose not to tip in the US, consequently, the wait staff will be underpaid.

As shows recent investigation by NYT, many restaurant workers unknowingly supported their low wages.

Many restaurant workers in the US are required by law to take a food safety course provided by ServSafe, which is owned and operated by the National Restaurant Association (NRA), one of the largest lobbying groups for minimum wage. The NRA has used revenue generated from these courses, over $25 million since 2010, to fund its lobbying efforts against wage increases. Tax-law experts state that this arrangement appears legal. Still, activists and some restaurant owners argue it’s hidden from those who have to pay for it: Leaving them unaware that they are helping support organizations working against their interests.

Tipping etiqute in the US

How does tipping work in the US?

As I already mentioned, tipping in the US is customary for services such as dining at a restaurant, taking a taxi or ride-share, getting your haircut, or other personal services. 

A good way to think about leaving a gratuity is: Has the employee done something that is worthy of additional payment? If the answer is yes, it only makes sense that they be paid for the work. Therefore, when dining in a restaurant, the check at the end of the meal is only for the food that is now in the pit of your stomach. All the effort that went into getting that food to its destination must be compensated.

The amount of tip given varies depending on the service provided:

  • Restaurants: mostly 15%
  • Spas: 20%
  • Valet and room services: $2-$5 per night
  • Bellmen in nicer hotels: give a handshake tip of $2-$3
  • Hotel porters: $2-$3
  • Taxis: 5-10% (can also be made via credit cards or apps like Uber)
  • Food delivery person: $2-$5
  • 20-25% gratuity for groups of 6 or more or fancy restaurants automatically added. You can only choose to increase.
  • 0% at counter service (e.g., when shopping for goods). The tipping system is just there because it is built into the POS software.

It is common to leave higher tips for exceptional service. Sometimes, tipping may be included in the bill (for example, if you are part of a large group). 

In contrast, other businesses do not accept gratuities (like fast food establishments). For example, suppose you tip a McDonald’s staff member. In that case, they must place the money into the Ronald McDonald donation box as it is the company’s policy.

Tipping at hotels and B&Bs in the US

  • Hotel porters: $2-$3
  • Bellmen (if any): a handshake tip of $2-$3
  • Valet, housekeepers: $3-$5 per night, leave on a pillow/bed.
  • Breakfast & Bed: up to the customer.

Does tipping in the US always need to be cash?

You can tip in cash or by card, but cash is preferred. 

When paying tips with a credit card, expect a pre-authorization procedure – the merchant captures and verifies your payment information. This way, the restaurant determines that your card is valid and will not be rejected.

Helpful tip: If you are short on cash, write the desired tip on the merchant copy and add this to your bill total. Sign under that line and note that your initial payment (before adding a tip) will be taken from your account immediately, while any additional money for tipping will be debited later.

Frequent questions

What is the tipping rate in New York?

The standard tipping rate in New York is 15-20% of the pre-tax bill, and for exceptional service, 20% or more may be appropriate. This rate is the same across the US.

Do I calculate my tips using the pre-tax or post-tax total?

You are not obligated to tip for the included tax. Still, some restaurants provide tipping guides on the receipt or a credit card machine that computes post-tax tips. Or you can tip somewhere in between the pre-tax and post-tax total. If you ask me, I would leave a pre-tax tip only.

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