The conversation about tipping in the U.S. has been in the news more than ever recently, with stories of miserly and generous restaurant patrons alike taking stands on the subject. The restaurant industry is beginning to experiment with alternative tipping, revenue, and pricing models in an effort to iron out many of the wrinkles in an industry where a living wage often depends on the non-requisite kindness of strangers. And for travelers, the tipping question goes well beyond restaurants. In the U.S. industries including transportation and hospitality also rely on tipping to various degrees, so it’s worth a deeper dive into how tips make a difference to the people working to make your stay, travel, or meal that much better.
Taxi drivers who work for a taxi company (as opposed to owning their own vehicle) take home, on average, 33% of their total shift fares. This often works out to $8-$9 an hour after 12-hour shifts filled with stresses like urban traffic, rude/drunk patrons, and minimal bathroom breaks. Acceptable tips for cabbies can start around 10% (or a $1 minimum), but typically range upwards of 30%, depending on a number of factors: efficiency, safety, cleanliness, friendliness, traffic, destination, etc. Around 15% is standard, though most people tip 20 – 25% (in NYC anyway). If the driver help with bags, add an additional $1 – $2 per item is customary, especially if they’re heavy.
Much like the food-service industry, a valet’s base-pay is minimal and assumes tips will compensate. As valets are in charge of making sure the second-most expensive thing most people own (after a house) is navigated cleanly through tight spaces, the pressure is on for them to perform, and they should be tipped accordingly. Around $2 – $5 is standard, and the money should change hands when the vehicle is (safely) delivered. Many people choose to tip when dropping the car off as well to ensure quality service, though it’s not necessary. If there is a flat parking/valet fee, tips are still still expected.
Hotels employ in a wide range of rolls, many of whom are paid around the state’s minimum wage. Bellhops make, on average, $8.73 an hour, with a porter’s hourly wage leaning only slightly better. A standard $1 – $2 tip for each bag every time a bag is handled may not seem like a lot, but it adds up day-to-day. Add in an extra dollar or two if bags are heavy, and a $5 minimum is a good idea if they also escort you to your room. This generally applies to anyone who handles your luggage anywhere, be it a cab, a train, a hotel, or a cruise ship. If someone calls you a cab, another dollar or two is in order. They appreciate it!
The concierge exists solely to serve guests’ special requests. Their base pay isn’t much more than a porter’s, but the standard tipping range compensates them for their unique set of skills. No need to tip if you only get directions from them, but the more difficult the task, and the more time it takes (e.g. securing tickets to a sold-out Broadway show), the more they should be compensated. Tips for the concierge typically run $5 – $20.
Housekeeping, while they don’t often interact with hotel patrons, ensure a spick-and-span experience. Try and tip $2 – $3 per night, left daily in an obvious place. If your room is host to more than three people, or you make more than three-people’s worth of a mess, add a dollar or two for the extra effort. A brief thank-you note clears up any confusion as to if the money was left on accident, and it may make someone’s day a little brighter.
As the industry currently stands, server hourly pay is usually well below minimum wage, in some states as low as $2.13 an hour. It is assumed tips will bring their wage up to a liveable minimum. The front-of-house staff (whom patrons interact with) often pool and evenly distribute their tips, but the kitchen staff rarely receives anything more than their base-pay. The system is imperfect, but restaurant owners are beginning to find more equitable ways to pay front-of-house and kitchen staff alike (though these systems aren’t without their controversies). Until the system is changed, and unless you’re eating in one of the few establishments trying out a new model, you should be tipping your server a minimum of 15%. If the service is exceptionally bad, and you are positive it’s the servers fault, speak to the manager before you get stingy.
A bartenders hourly base-pay is generally better than their table-serving counterparts, but a large portion of their take-home pay (which is likely underreported, and therefore difficult to track) comes down to tips. If all they do is transfer a beverage from a container to your glass (e.g. from a bottle or a tap), $1 per drink is standard. If the drink is a little more complicated, start at $2, and depending on how cute and/or chatty they are, tip to your heart’s content.
Tipping may be a controversial subject, but basic human decency is something we should all be able to agree on. If you’re lucky enough to travel, spread the wealth!