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The Shocking Truth About Tipping in America
Tipping is one of the many things that usually shock first-time visitors to America. Back in Europe where I grew up, tipping was a reward for good service. It also was optional, not mandatory! Besides, it was never greater than 5%–10% in restaurants, or just some small change for cab drivers, porters, barbers and hairdressers.
But the tipping system in America is a totally different ball game than in Europe. First of all, because it’s not considered a “reward,” but rather a humanitarian act intended improve the welfare of low paid workers! That may come as a big shock to visitors from other countries, where tipping is not customary.
The practice of tipping has become so embedded in the American culture, that certain workers take gratuity for granted. So much so, that they will show outrage if they are not tipped. If you are a foreigner who “dared” not to tip at some point, you probably know what I’m talking about!
Is Tipping in America Getting Out of Hand?
Americans don’t think twice about handing over 15% – 20% of their bill after eating out in a restaurant. In the US you are expected to cough up a tip any time you receive a service. From bartenders, waiters, bellmen, and valets to delivery people, parking attendants, hairdressers, and manicurists, more and more people are getting in line for your wallet. Lately even baby-sitters, mailmen, massage therapists, and acupuncturists expect a tip!
Tipping in America is No Longer Voluntary
If you live in the USA you should expect to be asked for money contributions quite often. Fundraisings, church donations, charities, cancer research, boy scouts, the list goes on and on. But what most of us never expected is being asked to leave a tip.
If you used your credit card in a small business location lately, you might have noticed a mobile-payment system that prompts you to a screen asking you to leave a tip of 15%, 20%, or 25% of your total. It looks something like this:
Of course, you may choose to leave no tip, but the scrutinizing eye of the clerk behind the register will surely make you feel like a jerk.
And did you also notice the omnipresent tipping jars that sprang up like mushrooms after the rain in almost every store? They are clearly marked: TIPS. So as not to be mistaken for trash cans! From bakeries, to coffee shops, to delis and pizzerias, the word has spread that if you put them out, they will be filled. And indeed they are, because most people feel ashamed to simply ignore them.
Way back when, tipping used to be about appreciation and generosity and at the customer’s discretion, but not anymore. Like many other things in America, tipping is also becoming an entitlement!
To Tip or Not to Tip, That Is the Question
After such a rant you probably think that I am against tipping, but you’d be wrong. I always considers the tipping etiquette of each country I travel to. However, I believe in tipping as an incentive or a reward, not as a substitute for poor wages. Nor do I believe that every service I receive should be tipped. Where would we get if we start tipping all those who work in public service?
Unfortunately these days tipping is motivated mainly by the desire to conform with the social norms, or to avoid future bad service. And that’s not right!
Let’s Get to the Point
America’s tipping system is obviously headed in the wrong direction. Leaving a gratuity is no longer optional, it’s now pretty much mandatory. We are constantly reminded that we have to tip our servers because they make half of the minimum wage, so their livelihood depends on us.
First of all, that’s not always true. In California for instance, the tipped minimum wage is just a few cents below the standard minimum wage. And even if it were true, why should that be the customer’s concern?
If restaurants paid their servers correctly, maybe we could start tipping for the good reasons, rather than for guilt and shame. And if the servers had a decent wage, maybe we could hire some professional waiters who know their job and do it with passion, rather than a bunch of college students looking to make an extra buck in their spare time!
And please don’t tell me that good service means asking how my food is just as I am swallowing my first bite. Or hit me with the check and the candid “whenever you are ready” phrase, while I still have half a glass of wine on the table. And in case you are curios what a good waiter is, read this post!
Whom Should You Tip in America and How Much
The Waiters and Bartenders
I don’t think twice about tipping the waitstaff in a restaurant. Unless the service was terrible, I’ll add 15% tip to the bill, BEFORE the tax. Yes, that’s right, you DON’T have to pay tip on the tax.
If the service was unacceptably bad, don’t pay any tip. I had a couple of incidents over the years when the service was unacceptably bad, so I didn’t want to tip. However, I called the waiter and explained to him why he wasn’t going to receive a tip from me. I believe it’s fair to tip according to the service I receive, not according to some arbitrary guidelines imposed by the restaurants.
It’s fair to leave a 10% -15% tip to a hairdresser who works on commission at a hair salon. However, if the hairdresser is the owner of the salon she shouldn’t be tipped at all. As the owner she can charge whatever she considers right for her services. Nonetheless, all salon owners in California or New York expect a tip of minimum of 20%.
Porters and Vallets
I always tip the porter who helps me carry a big cart to my room and unloads my ski equipment. But tipping the valet who jumps to take my small carry on out of the trunk and then drops it next to me on the sidewalk, it’s not necessary.
Other Services I Tip
As a rule, I always tip someone who does something special, or extra for me. For instance, if the FedEx guy helps me carry a heavy package inside, he deserves a tip. But if he just drops it on my porch, he only did his job. Or if the mailman returns to deliver a package that requires a signature because he just saw me coming home, he deserves a tip.
Services for Which You Shouldn’t Tip
People LOVE those who give them money, especially when they didn’t do anything to deserve it. But that doesn’t mean that you should do it. Not everyone who thinks they deserve a tip should receive one. Here is a list of services that don’t require a tip:
- cable guys
- independent tour guides
- travel agents
- Uber drivers f
- flight attendants
- boat captains and pilots
- FedEx and UPS delivery guys
- airport shuttle drivers
All these service are fairly well compensated, so you don’t need to tip these people unless they did something special for you, something outside their duty or job description.
Also, don’t feel ashamed to ignore the tip jar at the deli store, pizzeria, Starbucks, or other places. The fact that someone would welcome your tip doesn’t mean that you are expected to pay it.
So what happens if you don’t tip in America? In most cases you’ll just get a disapproving look, like you are a scum. But I heard stories about waiters who chase their customers to the door and yelled at them for not giving him a tip.
Tipping is about doing what you think it’s fair, not about what others think it’s right. But if you feel compelled to tip just anybody for friendliness and personal service, by all means do it! And you can start with me, because I believe I deserve a tip for opening your eyes about tipping in America. How about that?