Tipping is a custom everyone is expected to instinctively understand. If you don't know how much to tip in a given situation, you might feel too awkward to ask. Around the holidays, it's important to remember that holiday tipping is really about saying "thank you."
Some might argue that tipping is going extinct — especially as some businesses and restaurants adopt no-tip policies — but this practice hasn't disappeared yet. If you always have a hard time figuring out how much to tip, 'tis the season to review these tipping guidelines so you can give the best tip during this season of giving.
Tipping Basics No. 1: Always Be Prepared (and Carry Cash)
The first rule of tipping etiquette is to be prepared. "Cash is king" is an expression sometimes applied to investments and real estate transactions — but it applies to the service industry as well.
The fact is that cash reigns supreme above any tipping amount left on a credit card receipt. That money won't be seen for days — if not weeks. Keep cash on hand and in proper amounts — asking for change for a $20 when you want to leave $2 can be awkward.
Tipping Basics No. 2: Consider the Weather
Although people are in better moods during sunny weather, you should tip more during snow, rain and storms. Research shows that people do, although not by much. A 20 percent tip or more is not inappropriate if someone is bringing you soup in a blizzard.
For places where you might not normally tip, like full-service gas stations, a few bucks will be appreciated by the gas station attendant who is forced to get soaked if he fuels your car in the rain.
Tipping Basics No. 3: Location, Location, Location
Those three words are not just a real estate mantra. Tips are higher in big cities — think New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Philadelphia. In major cities, good service commands a 15 percent minimum tip. During the holidays, tip a little more for exceptional service.
Tipping Basics No. 4: Take a Name
In addition to a cash tip or holiday gift, there are other ways to express your appreciation, such as naming an individual in a Yelp or Facebook review or writing a note to management at a restaurant chain or airline. Always get the individual's name, the location and date you received great service — the more detailed, the better for them.
Although you might have grown up with the notion of the "20 percent rule" — thinking that 20 percent was the baseline tip amount-- certain circumstances dictate different tips. Read on to learn the right tips for the right people, in all areas of your life.
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Tipping at the Spa
After you treat yourself to a service at the spa, it's good practice to tip the service provider. Mindy Terry, vice president of spa and wellness at the Carillon Miami Beach, gave advice on how much to tip at the spa or salon.
"Before you dip into your pocketbook to show your appreciation, check with your spa to ensure the gratuity is not already included in the cost of service," she said. "Many spas include a technician gratuity in the final bill. If they don't, it is customary to leave an 18 to 20 percent tip for a massage, facial or hair or nail service that met or exceeded your expectations."
Tipping at the Hair Salon
At higher-end hair salons, it's "common for an assistant to provide the shampoo and/or blow dry," Terry said. "Tipping $2 to $5 is appropriate for a shampoo — toward the higher-end for longer shampoos with massage, depending on the length and thickness of hair. A $5 to $10 tip for a blow dry is always appreciated."
Terry also offered tipping advice for when you are dissatisfied with a service, saying that instead of forgoing the tip altogether, consider a 10 percent tip as a courtesy. "But, be sure to speak with the manager or owner," she said. "They don't want you to leave dissatisfied. If your experience is completely terrible, no tip is necessary."
Bargain hunters, take note: If you are using a coupon, promotion or online discount toward your service, "it is standard to tip on the full cost of service," Terry said.
Tipping at the Hotel
When you visit a hotel, there seems to be an endless stream of people helping make your stay as effortless as possible. Professor and hospitality expert William Frye of Niagara University's College of Hospitality & Tourism Management broke down how much to tip when staying at a hotel.
Tipping at the Hotel: Doorperson
"No tip is necessary to open the car or taxi door," he said. "But a few dollars is appropriate if they load or unload luggage, or hail a taxi for you on a rainy day when taxis are hard to come by."
Tipping at the Hotel: Bellhop
Frye recommended tipping the bellhop $5 for the first bag and a few more dollars for each additional bag. For a full bell cart, tip $20.
"The higher the room rate and the more luxurious the hotel, the greater the tip amount, generally," he said.
Tipping at the Hotel: Housekeeping
According to Frye, $2 to $5 per standard guestroom per night is an appropriate amount to tip housekeeping.
"Double this for suites," he said. "Always tip each morning and not just at the end of your stay, as you might have a different room attendant cleaning your guestroom each day."
Tipping at the Hotel: Concierge
"No gratuity is expected," said Frye. "But if they secure a dinner reservation or prime theater or sporting event tickets for you that you cannot secure on your own, a generous gratuity equal to at least 15 percent of the item market value — not face value — is in order."
Tipping at the Hotel: Front Desk Personnel
There's "no need to tip them, except if they provide an unexpected upgrade," said Frye. "Then, a $10 to $20 tip would be greatly appreciated."
Tipping at the Airport
When you're wrangling luggage or rushing to make a connection, a well-placed tip can make a big difference. Here's who is expecting a tip to make your travel experience better.
Tipping at the Airport: Pilots
Airline pilots aren't typically tipped, but if you are fortunate enough to fly privately on a private charter, you might consider tipping your pilots. Some jet card companies have no tipping policies, but persistent passengers are usually successful with flight crews.
During the holiday season, Christmas tips are much appreciated for pilots who are spending the holidays away from family and loved ones to fly other people to see theirs.
Tipping at the Airport: Flight Attendants
Tipping is never expected or necessary, but is always appreciated. Some airline flight attendants are expected to initially refuse tips, but if a passenger insists, they are allowed to gratefully accept.
If you're flying on Christmas and want to give special recognition, consider packing a few small gift cards for national chains like Starbucks or McDonalds to pass along with a napkin note of gratitude.
Tipping at the Airport: Skycaps
"Tip between $3 and $5 for the first bag and a few dollars for each additional bag to skycaps that assist with checking your luggage curbside or retrieving your luggage from baggage claim," Frye said. Although skycaps might be dressed similarly as airline employees, most of them are not — and they work for tips.
As a general rule, if you don't have cash on you to tip, be sure to check your bags inside.
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Tipping at the Airport: Electric Cart Drivers
"For electric cart drivers who drive you to or from a gate, tip $2 to $3 per person," Frye said. Follow the same rule of thumb as with Skycaps: Don't make the mistake of using this service if you do not have a few dollars to tip.
Tipping at the Airport: Other Airport Assistance
If you receive airport assistance such as help with pushing a wheelchair or loading a passenger on a plane, "tip $5 to $10 per person, depending on the distance, time spent waiting for the passenger and amount of carry-on luggage involved," said Frye.
Tipping on a Cruise
If it's your first time taking a cruise, you're probably unaware of the secrets only cruise experts know. For example, Frye said most cruise lines will charge a flat gratuity per day per passenger — generally $3 to $5 — for cabin attendants, restaurant service personnel, culinary workers, maintenance personnel and more.
"For bartenders and cocktail servers, usually a 15 percent gratuity is added automatically to the check," he said. "Bring plenty of $1 bills, and always leave one inside each drink check to receive the most attentive service."
Do note: It's unnecessary to tip the ship's officers, entertainment personnel or security personnel.
Tipping at the Restaurant
These days, your food or bar bill might include the calculations for several tipping options — but which option is the right one? The better the service, the more you should tip, advised Richie Frieman, aka Modern Manners Guy. Naturally, the more expensive the restaurant, the more you'll be spending on tipping — even when it's a five-star restaurant worth every penny.
The best tip you can give is one that fits well within your budget, though. "You shouldn't go broke trying to impress your waiter or your guests by going over the top," he said.
Tipping at the Restaurant: Servers
When you dine out, you should always leave something for your server.
"Never humiliate the waiter for poor service by leaving nothing," said Frieman. "But surely let the manager know [if you are unhappy]. It's proper to always tip 15 to 20 percent, with 15 percent being on the lower end of service. And yes — it's proper to [tip below 15 percent] for terrible service."
Tipping at the Restaurant: Host or Hostess
Many wonder if it's necessary to tip the host or hostess — and the short answer is that it's not required, but definitely allowed.
April Masini, etiquette and relationship expert, said tipping hosts or hostesses is not necessary — unless they "get you a table when you wouldn't otherwise be able to get one, and you're grateful."
Tipping at the Restaurant: Bartenders
Masini also suggested bartenders should be tipped $1 to $2 per drink. If you're fetching drinks at the bar, it's acceptable to pay cash as you get your drinks — this also keeps the quality of the service up.
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Tipping for Transportation
Our cars don't just take us from place to place, they're a haven from the hustle and bustle outside — especially during the holiday season. Whether someone is taking care of your precious ride or you've left your car home for the night and someone else is doing the driving, here's how much to tip.
Tipping at the Restaurant: Delivery Orders
Tipping the person who delivers food to your home can be a little tricky.
"This always comes down to the type of delivery and what they had to do," said Frieman. "For example, if your local pizza place is right around the corner, and your pizza is at your door even before the driver has time to finish a song on the radio, you know there is not much effort in the drive."
Frieman added that "10 percent of the meal is good, but no less than $3" is usually his rule of thumb. Keep in mind, if you're tipping on Christmas Day, you might want to tip a little extra.
Tipping for Transportation: The Valets
Tipping your valet might be tricky — especially if you have regular, frequent interaction with your valets, depending on where you live or work. Tipping shouldn't make you feel like you'll go broke every time — but do acknowledge good service regularly.
For occasional valet parking, $2 to $5 is standard for the drop off and pickup. For better service — or to keep your car in a more premium spot — tip more when dropping off your vehicle.
Tipping for Transportation: At the Car Wash
Assuming that a normal car wash costs you around $20, "you can end up offering an arm and a leg to the crew, which can be many," said Frieman. "And with that, always tip for the crew and not each person."
"I say a $3 minimum is proper, and if you have a high bill — like with waxing, cleaning, tire work — and the bill is around $50 or higher, then up it to around 10 percent," he added. During the holidays, especially for regular patrons — an extra few dollars will be appreciated.
Tipping for Transportation: Taxi Drivers
Tips should be determined on the quality and cleanliness of the vehicle, your driver's level of professionalism and ability to get you to your destination quickly and safely. Remember: It's always a good bet to round up during the holidays.
Tipping for Transportation: Uber and Lyft Drivers
If you're an Uber or Lyft customer, you might think you don't need to tip. Using a ride-sharing app can be easier than hailing a taxi, but tipping is the right thing to do. Now, both apps prompt riders to give a tip after a ride is complete.
"You should tip based on the quality of service and length of ride," Teajai Kimsey, who blogs about Uber in Kansas, said. "In the Midwest, $5 seems to be the normal tipping amount."
Tipping at the Tattoo Parlor
Much like a trusted hair stylist, your tattoo artist is not only providing you a very specific and permanent service, but also builds a rapport with you as a client throughout the years.
Artists often devote six to 12 hours per piece, depending on the complexity. Often times, a large chunk of what you pay them goes directly to the shop — for supplies, overhead, and to pay the shop's owners and manager.
It's standard to tip an artist a minimum of 20 percent per session, so if your dream is a half-sleeve, be prepared to factor in an extra 20 percent each time you're in the artist's chair.
When to Gift Instead of Tip
Typically, people who are paid a full, non-tip-dependent salary — or an agreed-upon fee to provide a service — are the people you don't necessarily have to tip. During the holidays, a gift or gift card might be an excellent idea, depending on the relationship you have with the individual. Read on to see some instances where gifting is better than tipping.
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Gifts for Tutors
Masini said academic tutors do not need to be tipped. But, "if your child does well in a class or on an SAT test as a result of the tutor's hard work, give them a bonus," she said. "One hundred dollars is usually a good amount. If the tutor works for a company, make the gift cash."
Gifts for Teachers
Masini also advised against tipping school teachers. "It looks like you're trying to buy your kids' grades," she said. But, gift-giving at the end of the semester or school year is acceptable.
Gifts for Coaches
Like with teachers, giving your child's coach a gift at the end of the season is appropriate — but tipping is not necessary. "A typical amount for each parent to chip into a collective gift is $25," said Masini. "If your kid's coach made a difference, give him a personal gift of $50 or $100 with a nice note."
Gifts for Other Professionals
Other people who, in most cases, don't require a tip include nannies, personal housekeepers, dog-walkers and gardeners. During the holidays, thank these hard-working individuals for their good service by giving a generous bonus, gift card to a store like Target, or a thoughtful gift of appreciation.