Tipping in the United States

One thing is guaranteed to get me flustered… tipping in the United States. It’s hard to know when and how much, but I think I’ve finally got the hang of it, even if I still find it extremely awkward.

Anyone who’s performing a service is expecitng a tip over here, and it’s definitely not optional unless you receive exceptionally bad service.


So when should you tip?

  • Some waiters are only making around $2.50 an hour so they count on tips for the majority of their income. In California it’s closer to $8 an hour but you’re still expected to tip the same amount. So whenever you’re eating at a restaurant, make sure you look at the price of the food, add another 15-20% for a tip, and then around 7-9% for sales tax as well. If you’re at a restaurant with around six people, expect to have a 15-20% tip already added onto the bill. I actually prefer this because it’s easier than getting out our calculators and figuring it out afterwards.


  • Taxi drivers should be tipped 10-15% depending on if they help you with bags, have to wait, or smoke in the car.


  • Anyone who helps you with your bags is expecting 1-$2 per bag. This includes bellhops, skycaps, shuttle drivers, and people at a car rental service. If you’re at an airport and someone offers to help with your bags, they’re not doing it out of the goodness of their heart.

I learned this when I was eighteen and in the US for the first time. I was in Cleveland airport about to fly home, and really stressed with around $5 of US dollars left. A guy came over, took my bags inside for me, and then lectured me on how he relies on tips to feed his family. I gave him my remaining change, and was left feeling embarrassed and even more stressed.

Tipping in the United States


  • If you’re on any kind of guided tour, you’re supposed to tip the tour guide $5-$10, depending on how good the tour is.


  • Maid service. Depending on the kind of hotel you’re staying at, and if you’re a slob or not. You should at least tip a couple of dollars a day.


  • When you’re at the hairdresser, they’ll often leave you an envelope for the tip. I’ve never noticed an envelope at mine, so I usually just hand her a note. It’s not smooth, and I remember once asking how much I was supposed to tip. “Uhh just whatever you want really.” She replied. I inevitably end up overtipping in this situation because I’m scared of being that person who doesn’t tip enough. Plus I don’t want her to mess up my hair in retaliation.


  • It’s expected that you’ll tip the person delivering your food between $2 and $5 depending on the weather, how far away you live etc


  • At bars the general rule is $1 a drink. I prefer to take cash with me, as it’s easier to hand the bartender a couple of notes than do the whole credit card thing in a crowded bar.


  • In clubs there is often a bathroom assistant. She’ll have a bunch of hand lotions, perfumes etc set up and as soon as you wash your hands she’ll hand you a paper towel. There is normally a box where you can leave a couple of dollars if she’s helped you in some way but I generally avoid these people as much as I can. I find it ridiculous to have someone in the bathroom. No matter how drunk I am I’m perfectly capable of washing my hands by myself.


  •  Valet. At least $2 when you pick the car up.


You don’t need to tip when:


  • You’re at a fast food restaurant or coffee shop. Often they’ll have a jar on the counter saying “tips welcome”, but these people are normally earning a higher hourly wage than other people in the service industry.


  • You’re filling your tank. Gas stations in the US are all pre-pay, and you usually need to pump the gas yourself. However it’s nice to tip a couple of dollars if someone checks your oil or water.


  • Stores or supermarkets. The exception to this is if someone at the checkout takes your bags to the car for you.


If you’re traveling in the United States make sure you have a bunch of $1 notes. If you only have $10 or $20 notes, it’s better to ask for change than to not tip at all. Americans take their tipping very seriously, and won’t hesitate to remind you if you forget to tip, which is the most cringe-worthy experience I’ve ever had.

If you have an iphone, I use a great free “tip calculator” app. There’s quite a few of them, and mine let’s you choose how many people are splitting the bill, as well as how good the service was, so it can work out the percentage to tip. It’s quick and easy, and I now use it all the time.

The one good thing about this whole tipping business is the level of service you get over here is normally excelent. I’m not and never will be a fan of tipping, but when in Rome America it’s best to do as the Americans do.


4 comments on “Tipping in the United States

  1. Hann February 29, 2012 @ 12:02 am

    This is real helpful :) you are a lifesaver!

    • onetravelsfar February 29, 2012 @ 10:43 am

      Thanks Hann! I'm glad you found it helpful :) There will be some similar posts coming soon.

  2. Sarah November 29, 2015 @ 1:58 pm

    The whole envelope thing is awkward!
    I finally got used to the whole tipping thing when I was in America until I got my eyebrows done at a brow bar.
    I didn’t even think I had to tip as they cost like $25 to do anyways.. She handed me the envelope for a ‘tip and I barely had any money on me so quickly put $3 in the envelope, closed it and scurried away.
    It’s so embarrassing when you think you’ve under-tipped.
    Sarah recently posted..Why Travel?

    • Stacey April 13, 2016 @ 9:15 am

      Ahahaha I’ve done the same thing! And tipping with change is not acceptable so if you don’t have enough on you you’re kind of screwed. I’m more of an overtipper because I’m so scared of being that person who undertips that I end up overcompensating lol

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