For a lot of American consumers, the tipping game is often more a matter of guilt or guesswork than exactitude. Even the savviest folks who anticipate exact charges might stumble when it comes to offering up an appropriate tip. And sometimes it only takes a sideways glance from a waiter or barista to shame the lot of us into forking over some dough — even if the person doesn't necessarily deserve it. In fact, according to a recent CNN Money article, most of us are ashamed not to tip, even if we've been treated rudely.
In the words of New York-based super concierge Michael Fazio, a few simple rules of thumb should apply when deciding whether to tip: "Does the employee take pride in his service? Does he look engaged? Being nice is just one ingredient of many, and a tip is showing respect and appreciation financially for a job well done."
Tipping etiquette: how much to tip for various services
Even if you've decided that your server has done a great job and has rightfully earned the customary tip, there's still the issue of how much to leave. After all, no one wants to cluelessly leave far too much or offensively too little. The amount depends on the service, so be sure to consult our tipping guide below to discern how much you should tip.
Waiters and waitresses: 15 to 20 percent
The same CNN Money article that suggests many Americans tip out of fear of "social disapproval" references the Emily Post Institute's tipping guidelines for determining just how much of a tip a person should give in daily life, travel, and dining situations. On average, for exemplary dining service on a special occasion, such as an anniversary or a birthday, don't be afraid to drop the server 30 percent or even more. But you should never leave less than 10 percent of the bill before tax ... unless, as Jeanne Sahadi suggests, the waiter does a "horrid job [and] not because of a slow kitchen, but rather a bad attitude or neglect." Little or no tip might provide recognition of such service and a civil-yet-firm comment to the manager may also be in order.
For folks who are as coupon and deal-savvy as we are, it's important to remember that when using a gift certificate, Groupon, or other dining credit, to tip on the full amount of the bill before the discount, not after.
On the other hand, if you perch at the bar for an hour and only nurse a soft drink, you may still want to tip at least a few bucks; you're possibly supplanting the space of a big spender who could otherwise fatten the bartender's wallet.
Skycaps: At least $1 per bag
Curbside check-in pros, or skycaps, can make quite a bit in tips; pulling down $70,000 or more in tips alone is common. But these guys work hard for the money, unloading all manner of bulky bags in all sorts of travel conditions. They're also taking a financial hit in recent years, as some passengers now tip less because of the baggage fees most airlines charge. A $1-per-bag tip is a safe bet to reward courteous service, but $10 to $20 — the tipping range for any seriously stressed flyer trying to make a plane — can really help rush luggage onto the flight. As a general rule, if you're packing golf clubs or other heavy, clumsy gear, be sure to tip at least $5 or more per bag.
Cabbies: 15 percent
The New York Times cites 15 percent as a standard tip percentage for cab fares, up from 12.5 percent back in 1947. It's also important to consider the economy and customs of where you're riding. And any gratuity here is far from automatic: Ask yourself if the cabbie is taking the best route, or if he's maneuvering traffic to get you out of slow lanes. Some cabbies also like to drive with two feet (one on the brake, one on the gas). Done improperly, that's a sure bet to make you nauseated at every sudden stop, and reason enough for a low tip. That said, a cabbie who knows you're in a rush and helps you arrive on time could be rewarded with at least 20 percent.
Hairdressers, barbers, manicurists: 15 to 20 percent
At the salon, it's customary to tip between 15 percent and 20 percent, and divide the gratuity up between the stylists who handle your color, wash, cut, and 'do. At the nail salon, too, it's customary to determine gratuity based on services rendered: the manicurist should receive a tip separate from the pedicurist and the waxer. For men, your lifelong barber should receive about a 15 percent to 20 percent tip, too.
Hotel staff: lots of dollar bills
According to Oprah's tipping guide, guests who receive help from the bellhop should offer up $1 per bag. For the doorman who hails you a cab, a $1 tip is also customary.
When it comes to staying multiple nights in a hotel, guests tend to overlook housekeeping staff because they have rare or fleeting interactions with them. Oprah recommends leaving $2 a day for the housekeeping staff when they freshen up your room and change your towels. Presently that's up from the average $1 per day tip from a generation ago.
Food Delivery: 10 to 20 percent, depending on difficulty
While tipping for service at a restaurant is fairly clear cut, the issue of food delivery seems to vary depending on opinion and certain factors. CNN Money advises tipping at least 10 percent of the bill, while Tip the Pizza Guy suggests 15 percent for normal service. It's also important to consider other factors like weather, distance, and overall difficulty; is the reason you ordered food because there's a monsoon-like downpour outside? Then consider upping the tip to 20%.
Another growing segment of food delivery includes grocery services like FreshDirect, and again, the amount here varies. FreshDirect already charges a delivery fee and explicitly states that a tip above that isn't required, but is optional if "you feel that you've received exceptional service." In that case, users seem to agree that $1 per box, plus a few dollars extra for extremely heavy items or delivery in bad weather, will suffice.
Traveling Abroad: Inquire
In the U.S. and Canada, tips are expected, but in other countries it's different. In Australia, you only tip 10 percent at restaurants, and that's only when dining in a very posh place. The tip for taxi drivers in Japan and China? Nothing at all. And speaking of tips in Japan and China, dolling out a few extra bucks at dinner "can be construed as rude."
Back in my waiter days, I used to equate my tips with the motto — and acronym — "To Insure Promptness." Grammatical correctness aside, the "gratuity" and "gratitude" are inextricably related.
So what say you, dealnews readers? Do you always tip a certain amount while out at dinner? How often do you tip the Starbucks barista? On the other hand, perhaps you can remember a time where you left little or no tip?
Lou Carlozo is a contributing writer for DealNews.com, where this article first appeared: http://dealnews.com/features/Tips-for-Tipping-Etiquette-How-to-Express-Your-Gratitude-in-Gratuity/701003.html