When do you tip?

There is definitely a learning curve to a lot of aspects of business travel: packing enough but not too much; getting through airport security with a minimum of fuss; maintaining patience with delayed flights and canceled itineraries, just to name a few. Tipping certainly falls under this list. Who do you tip? How much? What about internationally? It can be just one more detail in an overwhelming list of new skills to learn.

I worked as a waitress for two years in college, and pride myself on being a good restaurant tipper. But figuring else where else to tip can be baffling. Here are the generally accepted tipping guidelines for the US:

  • Waiters—15-20% of the bill;
  • Room Service—$5 minimum, unless gratuity is included on the bill;
  • Valet—$2-$3 when your car is retrieved, although some sites suggest a small tip when your car is parked as well.
  • Hotel housekeeping—$1-2 per day
  • Hotel shuttle drivers—$1-2
  • Concierge—$0-$20, depending on how big the favor
  • Bellhop—Don’t worry about the random person who takes your bag from your car. Tip the person who takes your bag to your room $1-$2 per bag, $5 minimum.

Internationally, things can get trickier. In Europe people tend to tip minimally, and in parts of Asia tipping is seen as rude. The app GlobeTipping was recommended repeatedly, so I will certainly download it for my next trip abroad.

While I fully support recognizing those who give good service, it is so hard for me to remember to bring cash on trips. I never have it in day to day life, and I often forget I need it until I am heading to the airport. I have vowed to do better in 2014! Luckily, technology is coming to the rescue of chronic no-cash people like me: the Starbucks app now allows for digital tipping. Hopefully other companies will follow!

Readers, are you regular tippers? Do you agree with this list?

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  1. I tend to follow your guidelines as well but just like you, I barely bring cash on me. However, one thing I always do is tip well at places that I frequent a lot (i.e. neighborhood bar, local barber, my favorite restaurants, etc.) since the employees there will remember you.

  2. I never tip, or when I do I tip minimally. Call me cheap as I sit in F for 100K+ BIS annually but the principle is terrible but great for owners who can now afford to pay employees less — great business model!

    Do you tip your plumber, garbage collector, cashier at , or a number of other service industry employees? Oh but then then famous argument that they are not paid as much so they are dependent on tips to make their living wages. Well a better approach would be to argue that management should be paying them a fair wage and not pass the cost onto the customer.

    If someone has provide truly above and beyond service sure tipping is fine, but do not come to me feeling entitled for a tip bc all you will receive is a blank stare and a look of resentment.

    End rant.

  3. No rant for me because I understand the reality of underpaid service personnel working for minimum wage or lower.*

    I generally follow the guidelines that you wrote, but try to tip hotel housekeeping more (up to $5/day).

    *One must direct one’s disgruntlement against management to the guilty party and not to the powerless worker.

  4. I think I tip well. I agree with your list for the USA. I usually tip valet parking people better than $2 because I want my car taken care of. I usually tip when I drop off and when I pick it up.

    My son is a pizza delivery driver. I argue with him that traditional tips are $1 per pizza but he says $5 minimum is the norm.

    Oh and I used to feel like Matt but then I figured out that it’s just money. I can’t take it with me and I’ve learned to enjoy tipping. I even tip bartenders on cruise ships which most people don’t. Of course they all give me much better service than average and seem to really appreciate even a small gesture. Many service people work for very low wages or even free so they depend on tips.

  5. I tip where it is customary. I try to learn what is normal when I travel and abide to that. Some of my family members feel differently and feel that we should tip even when it is not the norm. I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, we are blessed to have extra money, but I dont being treated like a piggy bank. I asked a airport worker in beijing for directions to a gate. He asked me if I was from America and then asked for a tip. It still makes me angry and its almost a year later!

  6. Matt — I’m sure your principles are duly noted and appreciated by the waitstaff who make $2.35 per hour, and I bet your personal stand is motivating their management to realize the error of their ways.

    Otherwise, I think it just makes you a horrible person. You can argue against the system all you want — and I agree with you that it’s awful — but it’s not fair to take it out on the victims of the system who rely on those tips for a living wage.

    P.S. It’s very impressive that you spend so much time in the front cabin; I want to be just like you when I grow up, just with a smaller ego and a greater appreciation of the world outside that front seat.

  7. i was a waiter for 10 yrs & yes we had the memory of an elephant. that said, the tipping culture is going extreme. you see a tip jar everywhere, everywhere people are asking for $. even at grocery checkout they ask you if you can donate? in this bad economy, gov heads ask you to donate (“the majority of your wealth”) to charity while themselves dont.

  8. My tipping matches your except I tend to be more generous with low end staff (i.e. diner waitress makes minimum wage) and less at high end restaurants and bars. Same with taxis – more at low end (i.e. Thailand) and less in London.

    interesting you don’t address starbucks, jamba and all the other places with annoying tip jars. i leave nothing there.

    what do you recommend for a restaurant takeout meal where i pickup food at least 1x per month?

  9. +1 Matt.
    The single most abused and absurd system. If you are paying less than minimum wage – its a crime.
    Tipping is being in collusion with the syndicate. Why am I asked to pay for someone else’s flawed payment system.

    This post is a great example of a poorly thought out take on supposed mannerisms. Sorry – but propagating this kind of behavior is not the way to go.

  10. I had no idea tipping was such a controversial subject!

    @CUPMAX and Matt–I can see what you are saying. But the fact remains, the lady who just served me breakfast makes $2.50 an hour. If you’re truly trying to teach the business owner a lesson, is it not better to refrain from going there in the first place? And another thought–what would then be the incentive for a server to give good service? There is a restaurant in my hometown where they pay the staff a living wage, and don’t allow tips. It sounds great, but in practice it’s tough to get silverware, water refills, or anything else you need. Just curious as to what your take on that is.

    And @CUPMAX, you may think that a list of when it is socially appropriate to tip is “propagating this kind of behavior”, but I get questions *all the time* from new business travelers who want help with tipping. The point of this post is to give those who wish to tip some guidelines. Obviously if you don’t believe in tipping, the list was not intended to convince you otherwise.

  11. I try to tip the housekeeper daily instead of at the end of my stay, which I used to do. I stay at Hilton family properties regularly and the gratuity is included in the bill. I tend to add a dollar or two in cash since this way they don’t have to pay taxes on it.

    I never tip shuttle drivers, and I tip a buck a bag – no minimum for me.

    I worked in the Food & Beverage industry as a youth, so always tip well. However after reading something by Franciscan friar Fr.Benedict Groeschel, I have deepened my thinking on it. He said that if we feel frustrated that we cannot change the world to be the way it should be, that justice cannot be attained, then make sure you tip well the low earners who depend on the extra to survive and perhaps even thrive. I’m a devout Christian – I can’t take it with me and it all comes from God anyway, so now I’ve added cab drivers to those I try to tip well.

  12. Before you tip, check if there are any service charges. Many hotels charge a premium for room service (check the hotel restaurant menu vs the in-room menu) AND a mandatory tip.

    In foreign countries, it is simply not part of the culture. In many places in Europe, you will see a line item for “Service”. Either way, the prices are much higher over there a 1 EUR does NOT equal $1 (it is closer to $1.40). The premium prices typically include service.

    I lived in China for a year (before the 2008 Olympics). Tips were an *ANNUAL* thing (handed out at the Lunar New Year), and if you offered them it was almost an insult.

    Unfortunately, after the Olympics, the culture has changed to the point where tips are aggressively expected. I have had people try to lead me to airline check in counters and expect a $10 tip for doing absolutely nothing; not even offering to take luggage and simply leading you to a counter. Had the same thing happen in India as well.

    So, when travelling internationally, it is best to study what the cultural norms are.

  13. I would also add that at some really (5 star or above) nice places in Europe (no experience elsewhere) it’s seen as rude or unnecessary to tip the hotel staff, except waitresses and bartenders. I don’t know why, and it’s only happened to me in smaller places, but I always kind of look for body/context clues!

  14. Yes on all – ‘principled’ behavior is so much easier when it means you keep money in your pocket, benefitting from the system you rant against.

    I keep a smalll compartment in my carry-on stocked with $1s & $2s, along with a handfull of Starbucks and Visa gift cards for flight attendants who provide good service, and refill it after every trip.

  15. Ii don’t understand ho waiters/waitressses only make $2.50 an hour, min wage in this country is $10 explain to me how this occurs and why we should be tipping 20+% seems unreasonable.

  16. I used to wait tables in college so I understand how nice it felt to get a good tip. I tend to tip 20% at restaurants for service, more if it was above my expectations, 10% if below. I leave a couple of dollars for take out, it’s definitely appreciated.

    Now that I travel often for business and was staying at the same hotel for an extended period, I started leaving a tip for housekeeping of $2-$5/day, depending on how much cash I had on hand. I have been in situations while traveling of going to a business that had issues with their credit card payment system and I had no cash on me. Since then I make sure to have cash with me when I’m traveling just in case.

    Foreign travel, I read up on what is customary. Most European countries pay their hospitality staff a higher hourly wage and while tipping isn’t necessary, if service was exceptional I will leave a few euros. Who doesn’t appreciate that gesture?

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