Tipping in USA – A Guide on How Much to Tip in USA and When

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Ugh. Tipping in USA. It’s quite the unexpected travel expense on your USA trip.

It can feel complicated and frustrating. As a foreigner, you might not understand it, nor like it.

Tipping in America is the cultural norm and is done as an expression of gratitude for service provided. Unfortunately, those in the service industry are paid terrible wages (the minimum wage for tipped positions according to the Fair Labor Standards Act is $2.13) so they rely on tips to get by.

I’ve been living and traveling in the United States on and off since 2004 and am constantly bewildered and frustrated with it, especially how much to tip and when.

Tipping in USA guide
Dinner at a cool brewery in Boise, Idaho

I wish  they would abolish this antiquated way of doing things that only serves businesses and restaurant owners to continue to underpay their staff so they can collect more profit.

But they won’t, so let’s not get into an unhelpful discussion about it. It is what it is.

When we make the decision to travel to foreign lands, it’s important to respect their cultural ways, whether you like it or not.

So keep your wallet filled with extra one dollar bills, you’ll be using them.

This USA tipping guide will help you to understand how much to tip, when to tip, and how to tip. As well as giving you a few insights on how to avoid tipping!

Pros for Tipping in USA

Our tour guide in Monument Valley
Our tour guide in Monument Valley, Arizona

One positive thing about tipping in the US is that you will receive good service.

I recognize how much I enjoy this every time I go back to Australia, and am greeted with grunts and eye rolls by the wait staff and have to play a game of hide and seek to get a water refill.

That’s when I start to think that maybe tipping in the USA is not so bad.

I’m sure you’re wondering if the happy service in the US is contrived just to get your tips.

Yes and no. It’s rarely feels ingenuine to me.

Americans have a unique way of connecting and engaging with you. Generally, they love chatting with you and are well mannered and curious. So it makes sense the service you receive reflects your gratuity.

Being Australian, they will adore you and want to talk to you all day.

I rarely experience anything but friendly, helpful and exceptional service. We get a lot of local advice from those who serve us, but we do make an effort to chat to them. It can really enhance your USA trip.

I am happy to tip in the US, but I still do believe the business owners should step up to the plate and pay their staff what they are worth.

About Tipping in USA

Cheers - drinks with friends in Las Vegas!
Cheers – drinks with friends in Las Vegas!

Knowing how much to tip in USA, when to tip, and who to tip can be as complex as finding the Holy Grail. Let’s dive into it.

Tipping Etiquette

If you look at tipping as being a “service charge” then you’ll be tipping every single person that serves you, not just in the hospitality sector, but my banker, my personal trainer, my realtor. You get the drift.

Where do you draw the line at who you tip?

It can be confusing and a little embarrassing when you’re receiving service from someone and you’re awkwardly standing there thinking, “Am I supposed to tip them? And How much would I tip?”

You want to run away and not have anyone serve you again.

When we first arrived in the US, somone was packing our groceries, and I was so confused and uncomfortable about what to do so I leant back to whisper to the person behind me, “Am I meant to tip them? “ She just laughed and said no.

Don’t be afraid to ask. Americans are very good at explaining and helping you feel comfortable about it.

Basically, tip anyone who serves you within hospitality and the tourism industry. This includes tour guides, wait staff, bar staff, hotel housekeeping, valet drivers, taxi drivers and bell boys.

Although it’s expected to tip hair stylists and barbers, go figure.

These are the people who are generally receiving low wages. You definitely dont have to leave a tip for business owners!

If the service you receive is terrible, you do have the right to not tip at all, but tipping etiquette says to instead tip at the lower end of the suggested scale and then complain to the manager.

Important Note About Tipping Amounts

I only recently learned this, and I wish I knew I had read a tipping guide like this years ago so I’d know.

You DO NOT have to tip on the TOTAL AMOUNT of your bill. The total amount includes SALES TAX.

Sales tax goes to the government as an extra cost. It is not associated with the business at all.

Look at the TOTAL BEFORE SALES TAX IS ADDED ON. It should be itemized on every receipt. Tip your 15 –20% on that amount.

Tipping in USA

This will save you a few dollars here and there, depending on the price of your bill. It all adds up!

Plus, I don’t think it’s a good idea to go over the tipping amounts as this raises the base line which makes it worse for everyone. Customers end up the worse off.

Don’t forget to save for sales tax as well. It’s a hidden cost of traveling the US as it’s not included in the original price, it gets added on when you go to pay.

Every state has a different amount of sales tax, but as a general rule, it’s around 8- 10%.

How Much to Tip in USA?

INNSIDE New York Nomad
Waiting for a taxi outside our INNSIDE New York Nomad NYC hotel

What is the tipping rate in the USA?

As a general rule, tipping amounts vary from 10% to 20%. I’ve seen it go as high as 25%  for extraordinary service.

Even though tipping in America is not required, it is pretty much expected, even if the service is poor.

If the service is poor, most people will tip 10% which is basically code for “the service was awful.”

Although I will admit, service is rarely that bad, so budget for a range from 15 to 20 percent for restaurant tips.

How much to tip is judged differently depending on what the service is you are paying for. So let’s look at each different sector.

NOTE:

Receipts will often have a suggested tip percentage calculated for you with the percentages written as dollar amounts in relation to your bill total. I find this helpful for a quick gauge.

You’ll often find some of them start at 18% tip suggestion, which I think is cheeky. I had a local brewery once put on a suggested 30% tip, which I felt was beyond cheeky and totally annoyed me – I haven’t been back to that brewery since!

Your phone might also have a USA tip calculator.

How Much Should You Tip Restaurant Staff?

Lunch at an Italian Restaurant in North Beach, San Francisco
Lunch at an Italian Restaurant in North Beach, San Francisco

When eating at sit down restaurants or cafes with table service, the expected tip amount is usually in the 15-20 percent range.

You don’t have to tip maître d’s, cooks runners, or dishwashers. I think wait staff will give a percentage of their tips to go in a pool for these people. I hope so at least.

For good service, I’ll tip 15-18%%, and for extraordinary service, I’ll tip 20%. I’ve only tipped 10% once. The service was really bad and the food pretty terrible.

If you order wine from a sommelier, you tip the sommelier not the waitstaff.

Sometimes gratuity will be automatically added to your bill, especially if you have a large table or on holidays. Be sure to always check your bill to see if it has been added. You don’t want to add another 15 –20% on after it’s already been added on!

How Much to Tip at a Buffet?

Many travelers to the US will experience buffets during their stay, especially for hotel breakfasts, or at places like Las Vegas casinos.

As it’s not complete table service, you can leave a few dollars on the table in appreciation for their basic service.

How Much to Tip Bar Staff?

Enjoying a drink at our favorite bar in Raleigh, North Carolina - Brewery Bhavana
Enjoying a drink at our favorite bar in Raleigh, North Carolina – Brewery Bhavana

Typically you tip $1 for a round of drinks. If there is only 1 drink in a round, this can make your drinks pretty darn expensive.

If you are staying in a bar for a few rounds of drinks, open a tab and put your card behind the bar. This will save you tipping a $1 every time for your round, which, depending on what you are buying, can end up expensive.

Leave it to the end and then add on your tip. It may save you money.

You don’t have to give 20% tip for bar service. I usually do 10 -15%.

Sometimes you may sit at the bar and have a few drinks before moving to your table. You can often pool your account for these, but be sure to tip the bartender before you leave, as when you finalize the bill after dinner, that tip will go to the waiter.

Make sure you close out your tab before leaving the bar, otherwise they will automatically add 20 per cent tip on and close it out for you. The card will be ready waiting for you when you remember to come back and get it!

This is a new thing we’re seeing more of.

I used to be someone who often left the bar without my tab and closing out my account – not on purpose though!! The bartender would have a stack of cards waiting when I returned in the morning to pick it up and close out.

How Much to Tip Fast Food and Coffee Baristas?

I struggle with tipping in these situations as I feel the service is minimal. I may just add an extra dollar on sometimes.

But, if you’re paying $5 for one coffee and then you add a $1, that’s an expensive cup of coffee.

Figure out what is worth it to you. I don’t think many people tip in these situations, but you’ll always see a tip jar present with a few dollars in it.

What About Pizza Delivery Guys?

It’s common to sometimes order pizza delivery when you are traveling (or Uber eats).

Be sure to tip the delivery guy a couple of dollars when they drop it off. You can add this onto your credit card when they drop off your food, which is handy if you don’t have cash.

Hotel Tipping Guide

Loved our hotel room at the Kimpton Sir Francis Frake in San Francisco
Loved our hotel room at the Kimpton Sir Francis Frake in San Francisco

How Much Should You Tip Housekeeping?

When staying at a hotel, it’s expected to tip housekeeping each morning they clean your room.

For hotel housekeeping tips I leave a $3- $5 for our family of four, depending on how messy we have left the room. A rule of thumb is a dollar for every person.

What About Tipping Bellhops?

This is where tipping in USA gets really confusing.

Often when you pull up at a hotel, a bellhop will rush over to help you take your luggage out of the car. They then load it onto a luggage cart and pass that to another bellhop who brings it up to the room.

So do you tip the first person who got the luggage out, or the second one who takes it up to your room, or both?

Apparently, they often pool the tips, so you can give it to the last person who deals with the luggage and hope he pools it, or you can divide it up yourself.

The general rule is $1 per bag.

If the Bellhop is storing luggage for you after you check-out of your room and you are waiting for a later flight, tip $1 a bag when he brings them back out to you.

Do You Tip the Concierge?

We’ve never tipped a concierge before but I’m not sure we ever use them.

I think if you stay in a high end hotel and you appreciate the help the concierge has given then you can tip what you feel is appropriate.

$5 to $25 is a good estimate depending on what they’ve been able to do for you.

If they’ve managed to score you a reservation in the hottest place in town, then a tip to show your gratitude would be appreciated.

How Much to Tip for Valet Parking?

This is a hard one to gauge.

It depends on how happy you are with the service. It doesn’t take them long to get your car, so I don’t think it’s a great service worth tipping a lot for.

I think $1-2 every time they park your car and bring it to you is fine.

Tipping Guide for Other Travel Services

Braoken Arrow Pink Jeep Tour, Sedona
Our tour guide in Sedona, Arizona

How Much to Tip Tour Guides?

Tipping tour guides is a hard one to gauge also.

Tours are generally expensive, and vary in length of time.

So if you add an extra 20% for tip at the end this can really add up. Many people don’t tip tour guides, and sometimes we haven’t. (often because we’ve forgotten to carry cash (which can be embarrassing).

A lot of tour guides appreciate a TripAdvisor review for them if you can’t tip.

Often tour guides will mention that tips are appreciated at the end of their tour.

I think you can make a judgement call based upon how well you liked the tour and how good your tour guide was. I think 5-10% is a good starting point.

Consider how many people are in the group. You can tip less for large groups, and more for small groups.

Often we’ll hand over $5- $10 for all of us and don’t forget $1-2 for the bus driver. If it’s an all day tour, you might want to consider $5- $10 for the bus driver, and up to $25 for the guide.

You don’t tip tour guides at national parks or government sites.

Do You Tip Airport Shuttle Bus Drivers?

It’s a good idea to tip $1 per bag if the shuttle driver is helping you load the luggage on and off the bus.

What About Taxi and Uber Drivers?

I usually 1ip 10 –15 % for taxi and Uber drivers. It depends on length of ride and how good the ride was and if they got me to where I wanted to go quickly.

I usually give $5 for an airport taxi.

Uber was attractive to many people at the beginning as tipping wasn’t expected, but it kind of is now. The app asks if you want to add a tip on after every ride. So determine what that is based upon the ride. You can also leave cash.

What about luxury services? How much do you tip massage and beauty therapists?

Yes! You will be tipping those in the health and beauty services industry as well.

Again, as a general rule, tip 15-20%. This includes massage therapists, hairdressers, and beauty therapists. As these are luxury services and higher prices, it will add a fair bit extra on.

But, you know how wonderful it is to treat yourself. It’s usually much needed on a vacation and truly one of the most memorable parts to it. So don’t forget to tip the person who has helped you feel a little extraordinary. Work it into your budget.

How Much to Tip Entertainers in Bars?

We loved watching bands in bars in Nashville
We loved watching bands in bars in Nashville

When you go to live music venues, especially like places in Nashville, it’s expected to tip the musicians.

Don’t worry, they’ll let you know. I was pretty horrified in Tootsie’s when the lead singer harassed a group of guys to tip her $100 for one song request. It was outrageous how she treated him.

They will often say $20 for a song request. Here’s what you can do with that $20, go buy an album from your favorite musician rather than streaming it on Spotify.

Or, throw in a couple of bucks into the tip jar for musicians you enjoyed. Even $5 or more if they rocked your socks off.

But $20 for them to play your favorite cover song. You’ve been drinking too much and they know it!

Tipping Cheat Sheet

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Join the tribe and receive a free handy cheat sheet.

It’s a one page PDF you can print off if you like and carry with you so you know how much to tip to who and when! No more travel angst for you.

How to Tip

Person putting money into a tip jar at a cafe restaurant

  • Tip jar – just throw money in it.
  • Housekeeping – leave the money where they can easily see it: on the pillow or the bedside table (watch your children don’t swipe it). Be sure to tip each day rather than one lump amount at the end as the housekeeper can change each day.
  • Bell boys and valets – hand them the cash at the end of the service.
  • Tour guides – fold the money in your hand and discreetly pass it to them as you shake their hand and say thank you and goodbye. Kinda weird how secret it feels. American Tipping style is confusing!
  • Restaurants – leave cash on the table or add it onto the bill.

A caution about using credit cards to pay your bill at restaurants

I’d forgotten how this confused me as well in the beginning, until my Mum and Dad recently visited the US.

They had no idea what was happening to the receipt and the tip when we aled our witer for the check at the end of our meals. Mum swore it was not secure and stressed every time they were going to steal more money.

Step-by-Step Tipping Process

  1. You ask the waiter, or the waiter will ask you if you are ready for your check/bill?
  2. You will receive the bill/check usually in a folder that you can look over to make sure the cost and items you ate are correct.
  3. Hand over your credit card to pay or pop it into the folder with the card sticking out so they know you are ready to pay.
  4.  The waiter will swipe your credit card details onto your account in their system. But they will not completely close it out yet.
  5. The waiter will return with a final sign off recipt. There will be a merchant copy and one for you to take. On the merchant copy will be a space for you to add on your tip amount and place to sign. Fill this in and the final total and sign your name. Even if you don’t tip, add a stroke or a zero on this line and a final total. If not, they could add a tip amount in after you leave.
  6. Sign it and either hand it back or leave it on the table. You are free to leave.
  7. They will then add in the tip amount you wrote down and close out the account.

It’s totally secure and safe, as long as you add in the amount and total on your receipt. Keep that copy of your receipt just in case.

How to Avoid Tipping in USA

Staying in apartments helps to avoid paying hotel tips

Like you, I often want to avoid tipping. It is an extra cost and a pain.

We often don’t have cash in our wallets, which creates another hassle of running around to find an ATM so we can get some extra dollars to tip the bellboys or valet attendants etc.

Here are a few ways you can avoid tipping in America:

  1. Stay in apartment rentals. You won’t have a housekeeper coming in and so no need to tip every day. Some will leave envelopes for you to tip the cleaners who come in. It’s up to you if you want to do that. Look at the rate they charge you for cleaning fees (Airbnb is getting ridiculous on cleaning fees, and then they ask you to strip the beds, put the dishwasher on, do the laundry, take the trash out etc). We never leave tio in Airbnb’s. I see the service being more towards the apartment owner than myself.
  2. Camp: You don’t owe anything but the sun a “Thank you for rising yet again!”
  3. Put a sign on your hotel door saying you don’t want housekeeping for the day.
  4. Take your own luggage in and out of the car and up to your hotel room. You can use the luggage cart to take your luggage up yourself. If we only have a bag each then we’ll take it up ourselves. Often lower starred hotels don’t offer this service anyway.
  5. Cook and eat in your apartments. Or eat at supermarket buffets, or what we’d call take away stores i.e. small eateries and fast food places that don’t do table service.
  6. Self park your car. This will avoid shelling out a few dollars each time you want to get your car or then park it again. Valet parking can sometimes be the easier, or more cost effective parking option, but the tipping will add up and it’s a giant pain when you just want to grab something quickly out of your car.
  7. Support businesses that pay their staff fair wages. This eliminates the need for tipping. I’m starting to notice this is happening more. Businesses will advertise that they pay their staff living wages. This is a sign tipping is not expected. They may even tell you straight out you don’t have to tip staff as they are paid well.

Cocoa Cinnamon, a café we love in Durham, North Carolina which we wrote about here, does it. I recently discovered our favorite Cider House in Boston, also says it on their website, and I’ve heard of a few cafes in New York City now doing it.

Hopefully this tipping guide has made tipping in USA a little clearer for you?

As you’re researching, preparing, planning and budgeting for your USA trip be sure to add in tipping costs.

It can add up to be several hundred dollars more to your travel budget. It could impact the way you choose to sleep, play and eat.

Final Note on USA Tipping Culture

When you find yourself starting to complain and grumble about tipping in America (I get it, I do the same) instead of letting it ruin your visit, accept it’s part of the cultural experience.

Focus on how wonderful it feels to know you can spread money around in appreciation for good service, and to those who are terribly underpaid and undervalued.

It really is good karma to spread abundance, kindness and gratitude around.

I promise you, if you send it out with love, it will return to you in greater amounts with love.

More USA Travel Tips

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