TypewriterFrom The Urbach Letter May 2009

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The Tip Jar

A Guide to Tipping in the Modern Age (Part 2)

When it comes to tipping, most people want to do the right thing. We recognize that a lot of workers hold "service jobs" and their livelihoods depend upon receiving appropriate gratuities. We therefore want to know what's appropriate. We want to tip the right amount at the right time, in the right way. Last month's issue covered tipping in bars and restaurants and clubs. If you missed it, you can retrieve Part 1 from the archives here.

This month we'll cover travel, hotel, and resort gratuities. But before we get to that, I want to respond to some of the many questions I received about restaurant/bar/club tipping.

Tipping Q&A

Question: I don't understand why tip percentages have increased. What's up with that?

Answer: Get comfortable with the concept of "tip creep." It's a sad fact of life that not only are the costs of food and services going way up, so are norms for tip percentages -- a double whammy. To wit: for many years 15% of the dinner bill at a regular (not 3-star) restaurant was considered a good tip for good service rendered. No longer. The 15% "baseline" became 18%, and now it's probably 20%. Get used to it. If you live in America, and want others to prepare food and serve it to you, get comfortable with this new reality. Otherwise, stay home and cook your own food.

Question: should you base your tip on a check before or after tax is added?

Answer: Historically, tips were calculated on the pretax amount; largely, they still are. However, nowadays, many folks use the after tax figure either for computational simplicity or to be extra generous.

Question: Is it OK to include a tip on your credit card?

Answer: Some servers prefer to receive their tips in cash to avoid tax reporting (although you should know that the IRS estimates tips and expects appropriate remittances based on the service/food price; I've heard it's 12% of the restaurant check). Therefore I say it is absolutely fine to include tips on your credit card and become irritated by those "cash tips requested" stickers in the check folder.

Question: What if the food is bad?

Answer: Servers have little control over the taste of your food and therefore (in general), shouldn't be punished with a bad tip. Send it back or complain to the manager/owner. Servers' tip amounts should be based upon the quality of their service. However, if the service was so horrifically bad that you're tempted to leave nothing, I'd say that also calls for a conversation with the manager.

Question: When am I expected to put something in the tip jar?

Answer: Tip jars have sprung up at seemingly every coffee shop and deli in the country. However, people who work behind the counter are not subject to the $2.13/hour minimum wage and their livelihood isn't dependent upon tips. In my opinion, the tip jar therefore doesn't belong. If I owned one of these places, I wouldn't allow it. Having one on the counter might telegraph the negative message to my customers that, "I don't pay my employees enough, so they have to beg for your spare change." Maybe I'm being a bit harsh, but if you want to toss your coins in the jar, it's perfectly OK with me. By the way, did you ever see one of these jars without at least a dollar bill in it? It's called "seeding" the jar and sends a not-so-subtle message that coins are less preferred.

Question: Are there special rules for tipping when on a first date?

Answer: Somewhat. Guys, while you shouldn't disregard what I said last month about not being a show off, please be aware that your tipping behavior is being noticed by your new lady friend. First dates are all about first impressions, and your date will be noting (subtly) whether you're a parsimonious cheapskate or a munificent gentleman. (However, please know that how you act is MUCH more important than how you spend. Treat everyone with kindness and respect, even the busboy.)

Question: What if I pick up some "to-go" food?

Answer: If it's a take-out joint, no tip is necessary. However, if you've ordered a to-go meal from a regular restaurant, one of the wait staff will have to prep it for you: wrapping the food, pouring sauces into containers, getting the plastic silverware and napkins, doing the ring-up, etc. This is all time away from his or her regular tables and does call for a gratuity. Most people leave 15% in this situation.

Note: I'll cover pizza and other food delivery in the June issue.

2009 Tipping Norms for Travel, Hotel, and Resorts


How Much



Taxi Driver 15% to 20% but not less than $1 15% is still the norm in most places, although 20% is commonly given in New York and other major cities. Add $1 to $2 per bag if the driver handles them. More if you're transporting a heavy or bulky item.
Limo Driver or Luxury (Limo) Bus Driver 15% to 20% (or more) Gratuities are often included in the limo fee. Be sure to ask. Even when a standard gratuity is billed, many clients "bump the tip" and give the driver something extra ($5 to $100 depending upon trip length and type of outing). Always bump the driver if you puke in his limo. If another party has arranged (paid) for limo service for you, they are also responsible for the gratuity. You may bump the tip ($10-$20 typically), but that's totally up to you. It should not be expected. It's OK for you to ask the driver whether his or her gratuity has already been included.
Courtesy Shuttle Bus Driver $1 or $2 per bag Only tip if the driver actually helps load and unload your bags. This applies to car rental shuttle buses, hotel shuttles, etc.
Porter or Skycap $1 or $2 per bag $1 has been standard for a long time and is being replaced by $2 per bag, particularly if they are big/heavy. FYI: Curbside check-in skycaps earn a VERY good living. These are coveted jobs. (Especially now with the outrageous overweight charges being imposed by airlines. The expected gratuity for letting you slide by a couple of pounds is $5-$10.)
Airport (Electric) Cart Driver $2 - $3 per person The gratuity is customary whether you are disabled or just need to get to a connecting flight in a hurry. Wheelchair pushers sometimes get tipped as well, although typically not just for taking you from the gate down to the plane. If they run you from one terminal to another or help with heavy bags, consider a $10 to $20 gratuity.
Flight Attendants Nothing Never tip flight attendants or any other in-flight personnel on commercial airliners. If you fly private/charter, then it is sometimes appropriate to tip the flight crew if they've gone above and beyond -- but amounts vary widely and there are no norms to follow.
Train Attendants $1/bag for porters, $5/night for sleeping car attendants In the dining car, tip 15% for the waiter. Same thing in the bar car for the stewards or bar car waiters. Sometimes meals are included in your ticket price. In this case, estimate the meal cost and tip 15% of that.
Bellman $1 to $2 per bag This tip is for the bell hop who actually lugs the bags to your rooms. If they just unload bags from your car and bring to the front desk, then give a dollar or two total. If you’re staying at a fine hotel, and the bellman also shows you the room setup, etc., you should probably bump the tip to $4-5 per bag (max of $20 total).
Doorman A dollar (two maximum) ONLY if he provides a service beyond just opening the door for you. If the doorman actually hails you a cab (rather than just signaling a driver from the hotel queue), tip him. Otherwise not. If he steers you to the best places to eat or visit, a tip is appropriate but not mandatory. You can also provide a gratuity at the end of your stay if you prefer.


At least $2/day. More if you live like a pig. Leave a tip each morning of your stay. There can be different housekeepers on different days so don’t leave it to the end. Don’t leave loose bills on the nightstand. Make very sure the housekeeper can tell it’s a gratuity. I usually write “Thank You Housekeeping” on a note or envelope containing the gratuity.
Tour $1 to $5 per person depending upon tour length/cost. As you exit the coach or depart from the tour. The $1-$5/pp guideline is if you’re part of a fairly large tour group on a day or night excursion. If you have a personal guide/driver, that’s different and calls for 15% to 20% of the tour cost.
Front Desk Usually nothing Sometimes a dollar or two. For business as usual, a tip isn't expected. However, if the person has been especially helpful, a small gratuity can be appropriate. "Especially helpful" means accommodating a special room request, assisting with early or late check-in/out, etc.
Room Service Gratuity almost always included. If the gratuity is included, you can give an extra dollar if you wish. If it's not, then the normal 15% to 20% guideline applies.
Delivery of Something $2 (minimum) or $1 per item If you request something like a disposable razor, extra pillows, blankets, clothes iron, tip the person who hands it to you. If you call and request an item that should be in the room but isn't (like the TV remote control), you're not obligated to tip, but most people do anyway.
Maintenance Person Nothing to $20 It's a big range because you typically don't tip someone to fix something that's broken in the room (TV, A/C, toilet, etc.), but if you've created an "issue," that's different... If you need help with your computer, or have clogged the toilet, or done something bad/gross in the room, then tip accordingly...
Hotel Lounge Musician $1 to $5 Anytime, in the snifter. A dollar or two is sufficient to show your approval/appreciation. $5 is appropriate if you make a song request (and it's played).
Resort Pool/Beach Attendant Nothing, up to $5 If the guy or gal just hands you a towel, no gratuity is expected. However, if you want the same deck chairs each day, then tip two or three dollars (for each chair) each day, beginning on the first day. A fiver is appropriate if you make a special request of the attendant, like inflating a pool toy for you.
Bed & Breakfast Usually nothing Most B&B's are family owned and run. Many have a "no-tipping" policy. Ask. If there is non-family housekeeping staff, tip them the same as a regular hotel.
Cruise Ship Nothing, up to $20/day per person Many cruise lines now include the gratuity in the package cost or collect it for distribution. If not included, give it at the end of the cruise. A 15% gratuity is automatically added to all beverage tabs. Gratuities for room service, spa, casino and other staff are at your discretion. Guidelines are always furnished. As an example, Royal Caribbean suggests a per person per day gratuity of $3.50 for the stateroom attendant ($5.75 for those in suites); $3.50 for the waiter; $2.50 for the Assistant Waiter; and .75 for the Head Waiter.

Next month, we'll continue on with a guide to appropriate gratuities for deliveries, home services, and personal services.


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