How to tip in every situation — and when to break the rules on tipping

How to tip in every situation — and when to break the rules on tipping
How much to tip depends on the situation — and sometimes you should break the “rules.”
Source: Rido/Shutterstock
How much to tip depends on the situation — and sometimes you should break the “rules.”
Source: Rido/Shutterstock

Sure, you’re careful to always tip the staff at a nice restaurant — but there are plenty of tipping gray areas. What do you do when you swipe your credit card and you’re prompted to tip after buying a bottle of juice at the store? How much should you be tipping your Uber driver, exactly, or your movers or delivery boy (or girl)? And is tip etiquette changing now that many restaurants are including tips in meal prices?

You probably want to be generous: Anyone who has slung burgers, made beds, driven a cab or served drinks in the United States knows that tips are a vital part of the livelihood of service workers. Some estimates suggest 15% of servers live in poverty, as compared to roughly 7% of the overall workforce — which makes tips vital to surviving in the service industry.

Federal law lets employers pay tipped workers as little as $2.13 per hour, with the expectation that tips will make up the difference to reach minimum wage. In fact, tips make up so much of a server’s salary, it takes serving six customers per hour just to make minimum wage as a server in Washington, D.C., per FiveThirtyEight. And that’s as long as every customer leaves at least a 15% tip.

Still, if you are a consumer who is trying to keep your budget under control, it’s hard to strike a balance between leaving too big and too small of a tip. Although tipping has traditionally been considered an optional nod to good service, many people disagree with that, and there are no hard and fast rules for how much you should tip or whether you should tip at all.

If you’ve worked in the service industry yourself, you know the drill: “Customers expect good service,” Matt Schulz of CreditCards.com said in an email to Mic. “Smile, be attentive, be professional, be proactive. If you do your job well, most Americans will be generous when it is time to leave the tip.”

Yet good service is sometimes subjective: “No, you don’t have to tip,” the Bitchy Waiter wrote in a recent blog post. “It is not required by law to leave your server any money. However, in this country, when you go out to eat in a restaurant where someone is serving you, there is a social contract and obligation that implies you will be providing some sort of financial compensation ... If you don’t want to tip, then you can be counted among the small group of people who choose to be assholes.”

So how do you decide how much to tip? Here’s a guide to tipping like the class act you’d like to be — in every major situation — without overpaying.

Here’s how much most Americans tip

Very broadly, people in the U.S. tip from 15% to 20%, according to a new report by CreditCards.com. Men, Republicans and people living in the northeast tend to tip around 20%, CreditCards.com found; meanwhile, women, Democrats, people who pay with cash and those living in the south tip a little less.

One server who works at an upscale restaurant told CreditCards.com she believes men may tip more when they are trying to impress someone, but Michael Lynn, a Cornell University professor, said other studies suggest there really is no difference between how men and women tip.

Regardless of your sex, political affiliation and geographic location, tipping typically comes down to one factor: “Your tipping tendencies largely come down to income,” Schulz said. “That’s certainly not the only factor, but generally, the more money you have, the more likely you are to leave a little extra on the table at the end of the night. After all, it’s easier to tip a few extra bucks when you’ve got the money to spare.”

Indeed, those who make at least $75,000 a year tip more frequently and more generously, the survey found. Also, those who pay with plastic are more inclined to tip, because “when you pay with a card, your brain doesn’t see it as real money, so it’s not as painful,” Michael McCall, a Michigan State University consumer behavior professor, told CreditCards.com.

Need more specifics for how much you should tip, exactly? Read on.

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How much to tip in different situations

Although most restaurant patrons know you should tip your server for good service when you dine out, when using other services, confusion sets in about not only how much to tip, but who should be tipped.

From the CreditCards.com study, 67% of respondents said they tip their hair stylist, 29% tip coffee shop baristas and 27% tip housekeeping staff. Additional insight showed older people are less likely to tip their hair stylist and people who don’t have children are more likely to tip their barista.

Here are some suggestions on what amount of money (and whom) you should tip, according to tipping.org:

Bartender: 10% to 15% of the bar bill, or at least $1 for inexpensive drinks.

Bellhop: $10 for delivering luggage; $5 for opening and showing you the room.

Cab (taxi or ride-sharing) driver: 15% of fare.

Concierge: Up to $10.

Contractors: $30 for staff; $50 for the lead worker.

Counter servers: 15% of the bill, or at least $1 for very small orders.

Food servers: 15% to 20% of the bill.

Furniture delivery: From $5 to $20 per person, depending on the job.

Gas station attendant: $1 to $2 for pumping gas and $5 for other services.

Hair stylist: 15% of bill.

Hotel maid: Up to $10 per day, depending upon your stay.

Manicurist: $1 or more (depending on cost); $5 to $10 for a pricier job.

Massage therapist: 10% to 20%.

Movers: $10 to $20 per person for a small move; $20 to $50 for a bigger job.

Pizza delivery: Up to $5 depending upon order and distance.

Shampooer in hair salon: $1 to $2.

Tattoo artist: No tip is required, but some leave up to $50 or more, depending upon the complexity of the work and cost of the tattoo.

Looking for tipping suggestions for a service you don’t see listed? Check out the tips landing page on tipping.org to find the job you’re seeking; you could also check out this helpful graphic from Real Simple.

Keep in mind that the “rules” for tipping often change. For example, new to tipping is ride-share service Uber; Lyft has offered tipping since 2012. Some consumers actually worry Uber’s customer rating system could be compromised as a result: Drivers could give customers leaving a small tip a lower rating, which may dissuade other drivers from picking up that rider in the future. But while experts say you should tip a ride-share driver the same as you would a taxi driver, as tipping expert Constance Hoffman told MarketWatch, leaving a $1 or $2 tip, or more given more traffic or riding time, could be an appropriate rule of thumb. (Ditto food delivery servicers, like those working for UberEATS.)

When should you break the tipping “rules”?

Sometimes service is lacking or your servicer is downright rude. In those instances, tipping a little less can send a different kind of message one that lets the server know their behavior added a negative element to the experience and that their bad customer service should not be rewarded.

In general, it’s a bad look to tip nothing at all. More effective? Bad service that is definitively the server’s fault could mean that — while you don’t pay 20% — you still pay the customary 15% or 10% tip, etiquette expert Lizzie Post from the Emily Post Institute suggested to Smarter Travel. But you could then also notify management of poor service and say you may not return as a result.

After all, if your food or drinks take forever to arrive, that might not be your waiter’s fault: It could be the kitchen, the bar, or the staffing manager who is to blame. So what kind of behavior does warrant a reduced tip? Consider some of these — all legitimate reasons to leave a lower tip.

• Taxi or Uber: Wrong route, rudeness, bad odor or driving recklessly

• Pizza delivery: Bad attitude from driver; cold pizza or slow delivery with no explanation or apology

• Hair stylist: Bad haircut or color, being inattentive when delivering service (like texting while styling) or being rude

• Hotel housekeeper: If the room remains dirty or unkempt

• Wait staff: If the server was aggressive or rude toward you, it is okay to not tip, Maggie Oldham, etiquette coach told People. For subpar or basic service at a sit-down restaurant you can tip around 10% or 15% of your bill.

Should you ever leave no tip at all? Service industry professionals generally depend upon tips as part of their salary, so bad service doesn’t necessarily mean you should tip 0%, Restaurant Engine argues. If you are really unhappy, it’s still best to leave a minimal tip, of about 10%. For service workers in other industries, trust your gut. If there’s any chance the error is innocent, you probably want to give the worker the benefit of the doubt.

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