Guide to Tipping: Dos and Don'ts

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If you’ve ever gone out to dinner, hired a cleaning service, or gotten furniture delivered, you’ve had to quickly figure out how much to tip.

But deciding how much to tip, who to tip, or when to skip tipping altogether can be confusing. Read on for our guide to tipping, as well as some do’s and don’ts to keep in mind.

Restaurant Tipping

The recommended tipping amount when you’re dining out at a restaurant is 15-20 percent of the total bill. Keep in mind that servers do not make minimum wage; tipped employees earn a much lower hourly wage since their tips factor into their pay. Even if the service is terrible, it’s still good form to at least leave a small tip.

Similarly, bartenders should be tipped $1-2 per drink, unless they served your entire meal. Then they should receive the standard 15-20 percent of the total.

Your tipping percentage should be calculated on the pre-tax amount and before any coupons or discounts are applied. After all, your server still did the work, and many times, they have no control over coupons issued by their corporate employer. It’s also good to keep in mind that servers likely have bills to pay, financial goals they are working toward, and savings accounts to fund, so you really should leave a tip.

If you order takeout food and pick it up, no tip is required. Same goes with ordering at a fast food counter. However, if you get food delivered, a $5 tip is good form. There are exceptions, however. If your order was extremely large, then you should tip at least 15-20 percent of the entire order. 

When Traveling

If you curb check your bags at the airport, be prepared to fork over $1-2 per bag. Airport shuttle drivers – especially if they help you load and unload your bags– should get $2-3.

Once you've arrived at your vacation destination, be prepared to tip the various service workers you encounter. You should tip the bellhop who transports your bags up to your room – $2-3 per bag or per request is standard. You can also tip your maids $2-5 per day, depending on how nice your hotel is. You should also tip or a hotel worker who brings up extra towels, soaps, or any other items to your room during your stay, (a few dollars is fine), or a concierge who fulfills any sort of special request.

If a doorman hails you a cab, you should also give them a few bucks. Same goes for taxi drivers; I usually tip 15 percent of the fare.

Service Industry Tipping

Depending on the job, you should tip movers $15-$20 per worker. If you have a cleaning service you really love, it’s fine to tip $5 per maid/per visit, but keep in mind that this tip shouldn’t include the owner.

Hairstylists and nail technicians should be tipped 15-20 percent, but if you are a regular customer, 20 percent is probably a good idea. In the mood for some pampering? Be sure you can afford to tip your massage therapist or facialist the expected 15-20 percent of the total cost of the service.

And don’t forget about Fido. Dog groomers should be tipped 20 percent of the bill. If you board your pet and the staff really goes above and beyond, you can send a small gift as a sign of your appreciation. Candy or a food gift basket are good options.

When to Skip the Tip

If the person providing you with services owns the small business, then it’s fine to skip tipping. You should also never tip a hired professional (think doctors, lawyers, or your child’s teacher.) In these cases, a small gift is a more appropriate gesture.

Skilled workers like electricians or plumbers also don’t need to be tipped, since they often earn a high hourly wage. The exception would be for an off-hours or holiday house call.

Also, keep in mind that many businesses have rules against tipping. For example, at my local grocery store, the baggers will help bring your groceries to your car if you have your hands full with a baby or more than one cart.

However, they are not permitted to accept tips, and even wear a pin that says as much. In this case, I don’t even try to tip them (though I normally would), because I don’t want to put them in an awkward position or worse, put their job in jeopardy.