Tipping Guidelines – Are There Really Any Rules?

There’s a tricky subject out there that many people fear to talk about with their friends and family. No, I’m not talking about the usual controversial stuff like sex, politics, or religion here. I’m talking about the subject of tips and tipping! Believe me when I tell you it’s a subject that you deal with pretty often and it involves so many different angles for you, your family, and of course to the people with whom you are interacting, the “tippees”. So today I’m going to cover my tipping guidelines.

Tipping can be a very confusing and even controversial subject, so here, along with some tipping history, are my tipping guidelines for all sorts of situations.

I can honestly say that this is a subject that can cause friction and even arguments for some and lots of second guessing and confusion for others. I have to be honest; it has been on more than one occasion for me. If you think about it, tipping adds a chunk of expense to your experience and you want to get the most for your money when you tip. That’s why today, I’m asking out loud this question: “Are there really any rules for tipping?”

If There are Rules, They Seem to be Ever Changing!

During the course of my lifetime, tipping for me has gone from “tipping…WTF is that?” (granted I was a kid when I asked myself that question) to the 21st century approach: “Is that tip enough?” After all, there is the thought that “they work so hard to please and we really have to show them some love”. But the truth is that the art of the tip has been a matter of debate and change for a lot longer than my own experiences.

A Bit of Tipping History

It is not exactly clear when the word “tip” came into the English language but speculation is that the origins of the word came from Samuel Johnson, 18th century English writer and poet. Johnson frequented a coffee shop which had a bowl labeled “To Insure Promptitude”, and Johnson and other guests would put coins into the bowl throughout the evening to receive better service. This event soon was shortened to “T.I.P.” and then simply became tip.

Prior to about 1840, Americans did not tip at all. But after the Civil War, newly rich Americans visited Europe and brought the practice back home to show that they had been abroad and knew such genteel rules. A New York Times editor grumbled that once tipping got hold in the United States, it spread rapidly like “evil insects and weeds”.

The New Normal

By the 1900’s, Americans considered tipping to be the norm and, in fact, were frequently criticized for over-tipping. Englishmen complained that the “liberal but misguided” Americans tipped too much, leading servants to feel shortchanged by the British. There was a view that Americans received poorer service because they did not know how to treat servants and service members appropriately.

The Anti-Tipping Movement

As tipping became more widespread in America, many found it to be against our democracy and the ideals of equality. It was deemed by journalists that a tip was given to someone who is presumed to be inferior in wealth and social position. “Tipping, and the aristocratic idea it exemplifies, is what we left Europe to escape,” William Scott wrote in his 1916 anti-tipping brochure, “The Itching Palm”, in which he argued that tipping was as “un-American” as “slavery”.

In 1904, the Anti-Tipping Society of America sprang up in Georgia, and its 100,000 members signed pledges not to tip anyone for a year. In 1909, Washington became the first of six states to pass an anti-tipping law. But, the new laws rarely were enforced, and by 1926, every anti-tipping law had been repealed.

Tipping in the 1960’s

Tipping again changed in the 1960’s, when Congress agreed that workers could receive a lower minimum wage if a portion of their salary came from tips. The federal minimum wage for tipped workers is $2.13 per hour, which has not changed in almost 60 years, as long as those workers receive at least $7.25 in tips per hour. While the majority of states have increased the wages from slightly to significantly higher, 19 states still haven’t budged on that $2.13 rate (like here in NJ for example).

A minimum wage of only $2.13 means that the full wage goes toward taxes and forces tipped workers to live off their tips.

Why Do We Tip?

Because we are well aware that servers live off their tips, tipping in the United States is more mandatory than voluntary and rarely relates to quality of service. Extensive research on tipping suggests that the history and association with giving money to inferiors may be the reason why we continue to tip today. We may actually feel guilty about having people wait on us. This societal guilt dates as far back as Benjamin Franklin who said, “To over tip is to appear an ass; to under tip is to appear an even greater ass.”

How Much Should You Tip in 2018?

Tipping can be stressful and confusing. It is a significant way to show appreciation for a job well done, but treating the person who has served you with respect is every bit as important. Praising the person or commending them to their supervisor can go a long way toward rewarding them just as much. Here are my quick rules of thumb for tipping in 2018:

  • Carry some extra cash—not every place allows for credit cards (like leaving a tip in your hotel room for housekeeping services)
  • If you aren’t sure if tipping is appropriate, don’t be afraid to ask in advance
  • Tipping on the “pre-tax” total is perfectly alright and that’s the way I do it
  • Be discreet—it’s private, and being flashy with a tip is rude
  • Cash is always preferred, but there are times when a “gift” can be given to someone you know well annually at the holidays that tops off your tipping (like your hair stylist for example)
  • There are some individuals who don’t tip properly because they can’t afford it—if you can’t afford to tip, you can’t afford the service

My Suggested Tip Amounts

In Hotels

Bellman toting your bags: $2 first bag, $1 any additional bag

Room service with gratuity included on the bill: $0, if server sets up the meal in your room $2

Room service without gratuity included: 20% of the charge

Toiletry/towel delivery: $2

Doorman when they hail your cab: $1 to $2 (an extra $1 if snowing or raining)

Concierge after guest’s request: $5 to $25, depending on the difficulty of the task (such as procuring sold-out theater tickets or difficult restaurant reservations), no obligation to tip just for asking a question

Housekeeping: $1 to $2 per person per day with a note marked “Thank you”

Restaurants and Food Delivery

Wait service: 15-20%, pre-tax (if you’ve used a coupon or other discount, tip on the total amount you would have paid)

Wait service at a buffet: 10%, pre-tax

Host or Maitre D: no obligation for greeting you and showing you to your table, $10-$20 for going above and beyond to find you a table on a busy night or on occasion, if you are a regular patron

Takeout: no obligation to tip, but 10% for extra service (curb delivery) or a large, complicated order

Home delivery: 10% of the bill, $2-$3 for pizza delivery (more depending on the size of the order and difficulty of delivery)

Bartender: $1 per drink or 15-20% of the tab

Tipping jars: no obligation to tip, tip occasionally if your server or barista provides a little something extra or if you are a regular customer

Restroom attendant: $0.50-$1, depending on the level of service

Valet: $2 tip when the car is returned to you

One note, many places add a “suggested tip” notation at the bottom of your bill. You should look at it, but not feel compelled to follow it. Your tip should be based on your satisfaction of services and not on any pressure of a suggestion (plus these amounts don’t always take into account your coupon or discount).


Hair salon: 15-20%, ask to be split among those who served you

Men’s barber: 10%, $2 minimum

Manicurist: 15-20%

Facial, waxing, massage: 15-20%

Other Services

Taxi driver: 15-20% of the fare

Skycap at the airport: $2 first bag, $1 per additional bag

Movers: half day move $10 per person, full day move $20 per person

House cleaners: $10 per person for a one-time cleaning, for regular cleanings, an annual tip or gift is appropriate

Home delivery (appliances, furniture): $5-$10 per person

Home delivery (flowers): $2-$5

Grocery baggers: $0.50 a bag when they bag your groceries and carry them out to the car

No Tipping Here Please!

Having given you my “tip rules”, I feel I should also tell you whom I don’t tip and recommend you don’t either. The list is short, but I think it makes sense.

Teachers: For the holidays it’s fine to give a little gift, but money is a problem. The exception: If the entire class decides to collect money and pool it for the teacher.

Doctors and nurses: You want good health care, so you tip your regular doctor, nurse, or other healthcare professional over the holidays, right? Wrong. While a gift may be appropriate, a tip is not. The same goes for a therapist or psychologist.

Mailman: Regular U.S. Postal Service mail carriers aren’t allowed to get cash tips, gift cards, or checks, so tipping them is a no-no. They also can’t accept any gifts valued at more than $20.

Dry cleaners: The dry cleaner does not need a holiday tip, but a small gift, like a candle or a gift certificate to an inexpensive restaurant, for consistent and quality service is a nice thought.

Salesperson: Many stores have policies against their salespeople taking tips. Even if they don’t, many of these people work on commission throughout the year and do not need a holiday tip. Thank you notes will show your appreciation if you have a regular relationship with someone.

Financial advisors or accountants: Not appropriate to give cash. In lieu of cash for financial professionals, you can send a gift basket or even bring in some token gift to the office that can be shared by the staff like cookies.

Home contractors and service people: Professionals like electricians, plumbers, or painters have contracted to do a specific job at a specific price. Tips aren’t necessary unless they go above and beyond.

There has been a growing trend to include tips in the pricing at some restaurants and to ban the custom of tipping. I’m not sure I like that idea, but it’s advisable to make sure you are tipping where it’s allowed and expected so ask if it’s unclear.

What do you do when tipping? Are you torn between the pressure of tipping and the expense involved? Does everyone in your family agree on your tipping practices and if not, how do you handle it?


  1. Great overview! That’s a long list of who to tip and a short of who not too. 🙂 I always tip my sanitation crew and mailman during the Holidays. I didn’t realize postmen, could not accept tips, but they have never turned it down.

  2. Wow – that’s a shockingly low hourly wage many American servers get! I will remember that when I visit the US next time. (Minimum wage in my part of Canada is now $14 per hour – restaurant servers included.) I never knew the history of tips. Fun facts there, Gary!

    1. You’re welcome, Ruth. I agree it is shocking to realize that someone is working at such a low wage. I’m not even sure Americans are aware of it. I have altered my view on tipping over the years to reflect the cost of living and the service that’s given. I’m glad that you are going to consider that when you visit.

  3. I think tipping has changed for the worst. When tipping started it was for good service! It did not start as a wage supplement, Now the restaurant owners make it part or whole of the servers wages which is not fair to me. It makes the owner more money and less money for the servers. I still tip for the type of service I get. If you want a good tip then give good service!! I do not blame the server for the quality of the food or how it is cooked or how long it takes to come out of the kitchen, but if you do not check up on me, keep my drink full and ask if I need thing from time to time it will reflect on your tip!!

    1. Totally agree, James, with your method of determining your tips. Good service is what we all want, and if we get it, we are obligated to reward our servers. There seems to be a trend in our area to have a tip added to the bill automatically and that might hurt the service, even though it may give a few dollars more to the server in the long run. I’m not sure I like that.

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