Gratuities guide: A cheat sheet on tipping do’s and don’ts

4 min read
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Knowing when to tip and how much can be bewildering. For example:

  • Do you tip a restaurant server the same amount when you dine in as you do when you pick up takeout?
  • What’s the standard these days: 15 percent? 20 percent?
  • Are there situations when you should tip more — or less?
  • Do you tip the dog groomer? The hotel concierge? The Uber driver?

There are no hard and fast rules for giving gratuities, but they are expected at places where service workers are paid only minimum wage or commissions.

Tipping is important because it shows people who are waiting on you and helping you that you are grateful, says etiquette expert Patricia Rossi of Tampa, Florida, author of the book “Everyday Etiquette.”

“The people who are servicing us are making our lives happier and better,” Rossi says. “Tipping is a small way to honor people right back.”

Here are answers to common tipping questions and guidelines on how much to give.

Expect to pay a variety of tips at hotels, especially if the hotel is a five-star property, where service expectations are greater.

Hotel tipping guidelines:

  • Hotel porter toting your bags: $2 to $3 per bag.
  • Room service with gratuity included on the bill: $2, if server sets up the meal in your room.
  • Room service without gratuity included: 20 percent of the meal price.
  • Toiletry/towel delivery: $2.
  • Doorman if he hails your cab: $2 to $4.
  • Concierge who fulfills guest’s request: $5 to $25, depending on the difficulty of the task. For example, snagging tickets to a sold-out show or event is harder than making dinner reservations.
  • Housekeeping: $2 per day at a budget hotel; $3 to $5 per day at a luxury hotel.

“Don’t leave the maid’s tip on the nightstand as that has sexual connotations,” says etiquette coach Constance Hoffman, of Social & Business Graces Inc. in St. Louis. “Instead, put it on the desk or a counter.”

Also, housekeeping staff rotate, so leave a tip each day to make sure the housekeeper who cleaned your room that day gets the money.

“Most servers make well below minimum wage, thus they need and desire tips to make ends meet,” Hoffman says. “It is still a strong American custom.”

The size of a restaurant gratuity depends on how well you are served, including whether your order is correct and your server checks on you after you receive your food, Hoffman says. Don’t base your tip on the food’s taste. The server has no control over that.

Hoffman says you should always leave a minimal tip, even if the service is bad.

Check your tab carefully, though, as some places add a gratuity to your bill. You may or may not want to supplement that, depending on how much was added.

Restaurant tipping guidelines:

  • Restaurant wait staff: 15 to 20 percent of the pretax bill.
  • Takeout: No tip is necessary when you pick up your own food. But if you receive some service, like a waiter delivering the food to your car, then tip $1 or $2, or up to 10 percent.
  • Tip jars at fast-food counters: Nothing required; it’s your call.

When you’re on a trip, knowing how much to tip can be perplexing. If you’re traveling outside the country, do a little research on tipping customs before you go. Tips are expected in Canada, for example, but not in Japan.

Travel tipping guidelines:

  • Always tip in cash and in the currency of the country you’re visiting.
  • Cruise ships: Tipping policies vary among cruise lines, “but each one tells you when you board what is appropriate,” Rossi says.
  • Airport curbside check-in: $1 to $2 per bag, more for oversized bags.
  • Taxis: 15 percent to 20 percent of the fare.
  • Airport shuttle bus drivers: $2 to $3.
  • Limousine drivers: 10 to 20 percent of the fare.
  • Roadside services for a rental car: “Roadside service is situational, like if someone changes your tire in subzero temps, you should tip them,” says “Mister Manners” Thomas P. Farley, a New York-based etiquette expert for WhatMannersMost.com.
  • Uber and Lyft: Even if apps for ride-hailing services don’t give you an option to leave a gratuity, Rossi advises tipping the driver anyway. “I say always tip, even if they say they don’t require you to. I think it’s the right thing to tip,” she says.

Planning a vacation? Make sure you have a credit card that offers perks when you travel.

Gratuities for weddings and funerals can easily be overlooked. Farley and Rossi offer recommendations.

Tipping guidelines for weddings:

  • Wait staff: $20 to $25 per server.
  • Bartender: $20 to $25 per bartender or 10 percent of the total bar tab.
  • Coat room/bathroom attendants: $1 per guest, paid by the host.
  • DJ: $50 to $100.
  • Minister or other presiding official: Some prefer a donation to their house of worship and others have a suggested honorarium.
  • Altar boys: $10 to $15.
  • Wedding planner: 15 to 20 percent. “If that’s way out of your budget, $100 is nice if it’s smaller wedding,” Rossi says. 

Tipping guidelines for funerals:

  • Presiding official: $50 to $250, if an honorarium is not preset.

“Any tips for funeral home staff are handled by the funeral home,” Farley says. “Sometimes those fees are itemized on the bill (as a gratuity), or they can be included in the overall price that the family pays.”