Who do I have to tip in the US and how much?

  Tipping is my nightmare. I don’t know who expects to be given a bit of extra cash on top of the bill, how much says “you’re lovely” and how little means “this is ridiculous”, or when to offer the money.

It’s a headache that I, as an Australian, was not prepared for or looking forward to when I moved to the US. Tipping introduces too many variables for my tiny mind to handle. I always have to remind myself that it’s necessary and have cash in my wallet to cover those awkward moments when you realise that you’re penniless.

My most embarrassing tipping moment was the first and only time I got a manicure here. I had two nail technicians – one did all the ugly prep work and gave me a 15 minute hand massage, and the other painted my nails.

They both disappeared before I’d paid. Was I supposed to leave a tip for both? One? Neither? There wasn’t even anyone in the salon that I could stealthily watch for tipping protocol. In the end I gave the guy on the register a few extra bills “for the technicians” then scampered out.

I don’t want you to have to live through the same situation so I’ve put together a little list to give you an idea of who to tip and how much to give them.

You’re welcome.
  • Hairdresser: My hair did not cope with the move very well. It’s long, on the frizzy side of wavy and basically a cross between a bird’s and rat’s nest on a good day. I had to sort out a hairdresser pretty quickly. It’s usually a big expense for me – a colour, cut and style does not come cheaply. Add tips to that and..well I baulked a little.
    She chopped and tamed my unruly hair. 10 points! And 25% tip!

    You need to tip the shampooist between $3 and $5 for their services, depending on how much s/he does (apply colour or toner etc.) and you should also tip your stylist even if they are the salon owner. Make it at least 20% extra if you love what they’ve done for your do’.

  • Uber: I’m guilty of not tipping an Uber driver. I’m sorry. In my defense, I wasn’t used to tipping so it didn’t even cross my mind. But etiquette expert Sharon Schweitzer thinks that you should bring cash along and give up an extra 20% of the fare to your driver, even though the official Uber line is that you don’t need to tip.
  • Take Away Delivery: Yeah, I used the Aussie term for this. I miss saying “take away”. Are you crazy? This person has sat in the traffic that you didn’t want to battle, in the rain and cold, to bring you your dinner. Stop being such a tightarse and either give them 20% straight up while you’re ordering online (most restaurants have this option) or have some cash ready for when they arrive. Also, smile at them and say thank you.
  • Bartender: I don’t make the rules, but if I did, I doubt that I’d be tipping the guy who pulled a beer for me. In any case, it seems that’s a thing here so get out your loose change or a $1 bill. If it’s one of those fancy pants cocktails, you may want to part with a little more.
  • Server: Mr M and I went out to breakfast on a holiday of some sort… I think it was just before Thanksgiving last year, and the server said “Happy Holidays” to us about five times with the biggest grin on his face ever. Anyway, these guys get paid a pittance so unless something absolutely horrendous happened during your meal, tipping 20% is customary.
  • Bathroom attendant: Have you ever seen a bathroom attendant in real life? Me neither. But if you happen across one and take a towel or a mint, you should give them at least $1. I mean, they have to hang out in a public restroom for the job.
  • Car Wash: Usually I do it myself but when I’m feeling lazy, I’ll swing past the car wash and give them between $2 and $5 for their trouble. I’m guessing that if you get the deluxe treatment, you should probably part with a little more money.
  • Mani/Pedi/Waxing etc.: Pay attention! If there’s something you don’t like about what they’re doing then tell them while you’re getting your beauty treatment so that they can fix it. Don’t punish them with a bad tip just because they’re not mind readers. Between 15% and 20% is plenty.
  • Movers: This one hurts. If the promise of a slab doesn’t entice your mates to help you out, you’re going to have to tip every single person on the moving crew. Between $25 and $50 each should do it, depending on how many things are broken.

Annual Tipping

We’re coming up to the holiday season, when it’s customary to tip the important people in your life. The people who are there when you need you get locked out of your apartment, or the toilet gets blocked.
  • Super/Building Manager: Last year I baked my building manager a banana cake. I now realise that fiduciary rewards are more commonly expected. This man and/or woman gets you out of some tough binds more often than not. And if they haven’t yet, they probably will in the future. So sling between $50-$100 their way if you can afford it. If not, I’m sure a bit less along with some baked goods wouldn’t go astray.
  • Postal Worker: They can’t accept gifts or cash over $20, but I’m sure they wouldn’t mind a bottle of wine, a cake or some biscuits if you like baking. This is an especially good idea if you’re constantly getting packages and making them haul themselves up the steps to your front door to leave them.
  • Gardener/Housekeeper/Door person: Are you so fancy that you have a gardener, housekeeper or a door person of your very own? Congratulations! You’ve made it in life. Now give them a holiday bonus. They deserve it.

Those are my tips on tipping. Now give me your opinions or tell me if I’ve missed someone. 

Tipping in the US | Tipping | Leaving a tip | Expats and tipping | Aussies and tipping | Aussie | Expat | Aussie Expat in US | expat life
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23 thoughts on “Who do I have to tip in the US and how much?

  1. I've been talking about doing a shopping trip to the US for years, once the boys are older and I can bare to part with them for it. So I'll need to keep this in mind! I agree as an Australian it's such a different strange thing, I'd be sure to get it wrong a couple times at the beginning!

  2. Another one that caught me out earlier this year is tipping the housekeeper when you stay at a hotel. After searching around online, it appears it's customary to leave about $2-5 per day (since it might be a different person tidying up your room every day). The tipping culture here in the US is a minefield!

  3. From what I've read, and have been doing since, is to write a short note (e.g. "Thanks, housekeeper") and put it with the cash in a prominent spot like the desk or in front of the TV so that they know it's specifically for them. I guess hostels don't require as much, but I've also seen that some people tip the front-desk but I just feel really awkward about doing that.

  4. One useful tip I got from my American friends is that if there's a separate line item for sales tax, depending on which state/county/city you're in – I'm in San Francisco so it's 8.75%, you can usually take the amount listed and double it, which should be just under the generally accepted minimum of 18%. Another way is to just take the pre-tax amount on the bill, and double it, move the decimal to the left and round up or down to the nearest dollar (depending on how generous you feel). e.g. for a $45 meal, that's $9 in tips (20%).

  5. We battled with tipping when we were there – thankfully K was with us most of the time and helped us out but I found it got a bit exxie at times when you are converting back to A$. But I do understand that the rates of pay are much lower there and so people do rely on tips to survive.
    Happy Thanksgiving !!!

  6. Such good tips! (Ha, see what I did there?!) When we were on holiday in the US and Canada, I loved how cheap eating out was, until I had to add the tax and the tips! We always tipped 20% at restaurants, unless it explicitly stated that staff were paid proper wages. In the UK, we used to tip the hairdresser and the cabbie, although not so now we're down under. I always try and bake the postie something nice and we give our building manager a gift card. I think that's a good compromise between cash and a gift.

  7. I hate their system and I think it's outrageous that those service workers get taxed on tips (and not their actual tips, what the government decides they get, so if you don't tip, they're truly out of pocket! PAY THEM A PROPER WAGE, AMERICA. One that you don't need 3 jobs to live on). Anyway, I find it very stressful and I like bills that tell me I need to tip and what to give.

  8. Yeah, I try not to think about the extra cost you have to add to all of the bills. Especially when converting it back to AUD. Which is also kind of why I hate doing it, ESPECIALLY at the hairdresser.
    Do you celebrate Thanksgiving at home?

  9. Ah, I can relate to you — and I was BORN HERE! In my opinion, tipping has gotten out of hand, especially if you live in a big city where services are already very expensive w/o tip! Thank you for sharing this post. I think it was helpful to all of us!!

    1. Far out Courtney, I got my nails done last night and miscalculated the tip in my head (because I didn’t want to wreck the nails by getting out my phone to calculate it). Now I feel so bad!

  10. I would never think about tipping my Super. And I think 20+% for services should say they did a pretty great job.

    I had a reverse feeling moving to Europe. No one really tips, or only leaves a little change and it makes me feel guilty!

    1. Thanks for the tips Megan. I still haven’t tipped my super, but I do bake them cakes and cookies every now and then.

  11. Tipping gives me a headache as well…and every country has different tipping etiquette!

    I didn’t know people tipped their Uber driver. I have taken a lot of Uber rides (in Canada) and have never tipped once. One of the reasons why I like Uber is because I don’t have to pay with cash or worry about having to find an ATM.

    1. Yep, I hadn’t tipped my Uber drivers previously, and you don’t have to. I just think that it’s nice, considering how low their rates are.

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