One thing about America that tends to impress visitors is the level of service you get. It’s got nothing to do with native hospitality or the protestant work ethic; it’s all about the Benjamins. Aporcyphally, tips stands for ‘To Insure Prompt Service’ setting aside whether or not that’s true (and the misuse of the word ‘insure’) tipping is the reason for the great service in America. For Aussies visiting the states, tipping is like buying underwear for a new girlfriend – you know it’s something you’re supposed to do; get it right and you’ll reap the benefits, get it wrong and it’ll be awkward for everyone involved. So here’s a quick guide to gratuities.
Most of the time when you’re tipping it will be at restaurants and bars. The first thing to remember is that it’s not really optional. Servers in the US make a pittance hourly (in some states, less than the minimum wage) because it’s expected that they’ll make most of their money in tips. They even pay taxes based on the assumption that they will be tipped on every bill so by not tipping, you’re actually costing them money. 15% of the total bill is the standard for good service. If they’ve done a great job, then 20% is welcome and if they were barely adequate, 10% is sufficient. On the other hand, if you get someone who is genuinely rude (a rarity but it does happen) then leave a nickel (a 5 cent piece) rather than nothing at all – it’s considered an insult.
In bars when you’re paying as you go, it’s a little different. One dollar per drink is pretty standard, regardless of how much the drink cost. However, on your first drink it’s usually a good idea to tip extra – 5 bucks should do it – to ensure that the bartender remembers your face. You’ll see the dividends when they skip three-deep queue to serve you first. Also, if you order anything particularly complicated its nice to kick in an extra buck.
Other people you should tip include bellmen/porters ($1-2 per bag), hairdressers (10-15% of the bill), Taxi drivers (10-15%), valet parkers ($2-3 per car), hotel maids ($2-3 dollars per night, left on the pillow each day) and casino dealers (place a bet for the dealer every five games or so, ask them what they want to bet on).