Tipping Basics

Change and cash tip left on plate on wooden tableTipping etiquette is something that varies from situation to situation and can be an area of confusion for many people. It has been around since before the 1860’s in the United States with unknown origins but it is no longer a common practice in many countries especially in European. Since the pandemic began tipping has become even more difficult to understand by making the line blurrier as to when and how much to tip. Tipping is the custom of giving extra money for a service well done and to show appreciation for their help. It serves as a source of supplemental income in the United States, so it is expected at much more than just restaurants and bars. You might find yourself tipping your delivery driver, hotel staff, at weddings, at hair salons and even funerals.

Is there a general rule for tipping? Yes and no; it is encouraged to tip on the generous side and to tip for the level of service being provided but there is no set rule. Using your best judgement is important when deciding what to tip, it makes sense to tip higher for a valet during a rainstorm rather than when the weather is beautiful out.

Employees who are normally tipped by the public are paid less than regular hourly workers to try and accommodate the difference. For example, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 and the federal minimum wage with tips is $2.13. That is $5.12 an hour, or $204.80 a week that is expected to be covered by tips. In the state of Massachusetts, it is even more significant. The minimum wage in Massachusetts is $13.50 and with tips it is $5.55. That is $7.95 an hour or $318 a week less than the average minimum wage. Fortunately, the law does mandate that tipped worker’s wages and tips must at least be equal to the state’s regular minimum wage, meaning employers must make up any shortfalls. Tipped employees cannot make less than minimum wage but they can try to make more, which means their income can fluctuate frequently.

So where and how much are you expected to tip? Tipping is most commonly thought of for servers and bartenders. For servers, it is expected to tip between 15%-25% of the non-tax bill, where 15% and possibly down to 10% is the low end for extremely bad service, and 25% is for exceptional service. Bartenders are typically tipped $1-$2 per a drink or 15% of a tab. Other common places where a tip can be expected are for hairdressers/barbers, delivery drivers, manicurists/pedicurist, limo/taxi/uber driver, or for a spa treatment specialist like a masseuse where it is typical to tip 10%-20% of the service cost.

Another time when you might tip often is when you go on vacation. How much you should tip on vacation depends not only on the service being provided but also level of service being provided. Here is a list of the main areas you would tip for while on vacation:

  • Help with your bags: $2-$5 per bag
  • Room Service: it is best to tip 10% of the bill with gratuity included and 20% when it is not
  • Room delivery: for anything other than food is $3-$10
  • Doorman: when hailing a cab is $5-$10 depending on weather
  • Concierge: $5 or up depending on request difficulty
  • Housekeeping: $3-$5 per day each day (staff can rotate), and $10 per day when there is over 6 people.
  • Cruise Ships: have different policies so it is best to ask when boarding
  • Shuttle bus driver: $3-$5 if they help you with your bag(s)

A few other areas where tips are sometimes expected are for services such as DJs at your wedding, coat room attendants, wedding planners, service providers at your home (painters, roofers, builders, etc.) depending on the difficulty of the service and timeframe requested. For each of these other areas it is best to use your judgement on the service provided and what you believe is a good tip for the service under the conditions. For religious events such as funerals and weddings it can also be a sign of appreciation for religious officials presiding over the service who do not charge a fee, it is best to tip a donation of what you can afford.

With the pandemic just slowly going to the wayside it is best to air on the side of generous if you feel a tip would appropriate. Always remember that these employees depend on your generosity and if you are unable to afford the tips for a certain service or activity, it the same as being unable to afford that activity or service all together.

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