Tipping is like blockchain and Brexit—important, but super confusing. When and how much to tip can depend on any number of factors, including the specific situation, service, or even the location. Tipping used to be about showing appreciation for good service, but as the minimum wage has plateaued (the federal minimum wage has been $7.25 since 2009), workers have come to depend on it. What's more, only seven states require tipped workers to be paid minimum wage before tips; in other states, their wages start at $2.13 an hour.
So how do you make sure people are properly compensated, especially when most service-industry workers depend on gratuity? Consider this your go-to tipping handbook for knowing exactly when, whom, and how much to give at any given time. (You're on your own with blockchain, though.)
Times and Places Where You Always Need to Tip
How Much to Tip at a Restaurant
When deciding what to tip at a restaurant, tipping between 15 percent (for average service) and 20 percent (for very good service) is suggested, says Robin DiPietro, Ph.D., professor and program director at the University of South Carolina's College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management. Regardless of the level of service, gratuity at a restaurant is non-negotiable.
Dining in a Group? Here's How to Handle Tipping
Some restaurants don't allow separate checks. Make sure people leaving cash include a tip in addition to what they owe for their meal. Anyone paying with a credit card should tip on their portion of the total bill, not the lesser amount shown on their credit card receipt, which has the cash portion taken out, says Nicolas Graf, Ph.D., associate dean at the Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality at New York University.
Should You Factor Restaurant Tax Into Your Tip?
Etiquette experts say tipping pre-tax on a restaurant check is usually fine—there's no point in tipping on the part of the bill that's not going to the server or restaurant, right? Then again, says Graf, servers could see it as a cheapskate move. If you can afford it, it's kind to tip on the total with tax.
How Much to Tip at a Bar
Hanging at the bar? If you're only ordering drinks, go for flat amounts rather than percentages. Leave $1 for a beer and $2 for a cocktail, advises Salvatore Tafuri, bar director of the Times Square Edition Hotel in New York City. However, if you order a bar snack or the service was especially good, tip 20 percent.
How Much to Tip for a Taxi or Rideshare
The general rule for tipping in cabs is 15 to 20 percent per taxi ride, which usually equates to a dollar or two. For rideshares like Uber and Lyft, tip at least $2 per ride, says Jonathan Cousar, a former Uber driver and the director of outreach at Ridester, an online resource for rideshare drivers.
Here's How Much You Should Be Tipping for Food Delivery
How Much to Tip at a Hotel
Instead of giving a large amount at the end of your stay, leave about $2 or $3 a day for housekeeping, suggests Graf. "In most hotels, the housekeeper who cleans your room one day is not necessarily the same one the following day," he says. "To be fair, tip every day." Traveling with kids or pets? Consider leaving a couple of extra dollars.
How Much to Tip at a Hair or Nail Salon
A 15 percent tip is the going rate at most salons. Keep in mind that many require you to tip in cash. If you're low on bills or need to tip multiple people (like at a hair salon, where the shampoo person and blowout stylist also expect a few dollars), ask if you can send your tips over a money-sharing app, like Venmo.
Here's Exactly How Much to Tip for a Massage (or Other Spa Treatment)
How Much to Tip a Babysitter or Nanny
Even though you've probably agreed on an hourly rate with your sitter, rounding up the total (say, from $45 to a solid $50) is a nice gesture, especially on hectic days or on nights that involve cooking for your crew. For a regular nanny, show your appreciation at the end of the year with a bonus equal to one or two weeks of pay or a gift equivalent to that amount.
How Much to Tip at Coat Check
The general rule is $1 per coat and $2 for a larger bag. Some venues charge for checked items, but you should still tip, says DiPietro. If you're stuck without cash, Graf suggests apologizing to the coat check person, then making up for it the next time you're there.
Tipping Etiquette for Gray-Area Situations
How Much to Tip for Food Delivery
Most delivery apps let you tip within the app, so you can add your 15 to 20 percent that way, says Graf. (Just remember that a delivery fee is not the same as a tip!) Some apps, like Postmates, which uses a cashless tipping system, give you the option to add more gratuity after your delivery arrives. That said, a lot of drivers prefer cold, hard, untaxable cash.
A fair amount is $3 to $5 per delivery, says Julia Esteve Boyd, an etiquette consultant in Lausanne, Switzerland. Stash an envelope of bills near your front door so you're always ready when the food arrives. Raining or snowing? Consider tipping a few extra dollars. Bigger orders, like for an office get-together or a family party, will often include gratuity. Check the receipt before you hand anything more to the delivery person.
How Much to Tip at a Coffee Shop
Rounding up to the nearest dollar on your coffee run is not necessary, but it's a nice gesture, especially if you're a regular or a barista has gone out of their way to make your visit special. "If they've really splashed out on the latte art or given you a great recommendation for walking around the neighborhood, go ahead and make it at least 20 percent," says Emilio Baltodano, founder of Eleva Coffee in Brooklyn, New York.
5 People You Should Never Tip
Cash from individual students or parents is typically not allowed, but check with the school for guidelines on a class gift—like a gift card to a restaurant or spa—says Boyd. Also, ask about rules on value. In Massachusetts, for instance, public employees can't accept gifts worth over $50.
The Most Thoughtful and Useful Teacher Gift Ideas, According to Actual Teachers
Medical Professionals (Nurses, Doctors, Therapists)
Many healthcare professionals are prohibited from accepting money and gifts. Show your appreciation verbally, or write a heartfelt card to express what their care meant to you.
No need to tip when they drop off your package. There's only one situation in which you might: "If it's regularly the same person and you see that person often, I think it's a nice gesture to tip something around the holidays," Graf says.
Camp Counselors and Sports Coaches
Joining with the other parents to give one big gift—like a personalized jersey or trophy—is a perfectly acceptable gesture at the end of the season. Just make sure that every player's or camper's parents are asked to contribute and that it's clear the gift is from everyone.
Giving cash is inappropriate in a workplace, says Boyd. Thank employees for their hard work with a small present or a thoughtful gift card.
Common Tipping Dilemmas—and How to Handle Them
You're not satisfied with the service.
Maybe your stylist cut a few more inches than you asked for or your server brought out the wrong entrée (twice). Speak up—but don't stiff them on a tip. "Let them know you're not happy, but remember that anybody can make a mistake," says Boyd. It's fine to tip less than you normally would, even as little as 10 percent (but no less).
The server is hovering over the bill.
It's OK to ask for a little privacy before you punch in any numbers. "Just say, 'Thank you. I'll give it back to you shortly,'" says Boyd.
A restaurant has a 'no-tipping' policy.
Pay in compliments. Ask to see a manager and share what you loved most about your server. In the service industry, repeated positive feedback can often lead to preferable shifts or a promotion into management.
The person you're with tips poorly.
The sad truth is that not everyone is a fair tipper. Speak up by saying, "I'm happy to contribute a little extra to the tip—our server was so on top of it." If speaking up isn't an option (say, you're with your boss) and you want to make sure your server gets paid fairly, excuse yourself to the restroom and discreetly hand the server your cash.
5 Tips for Tipping at Restaurants