TypewriterFrom The Urbach Letter June 2009

Return to Archive

The Tip Jar

A Guide to Tipping in the Modern Age (Part 3)

This is the third installment in the how/where/when series on tipping etiquette. If you missed Part 1 or Part 2 you can catch up using those links. Part one covered tipping at eating and entertainment venues while Part two covered hotel and travel-related gratuities. In this issue, we'll take a look at the gratuities associated with deliveries, home services, and personal services.

Now, tipping protocol for the people who bring things to us or do things for us.

2009 Tipping Norms for Deliveries, Home Services, and Personal Services


How Much


Dry Cleaning / Laundry Delivery
Nothing Most cleaners don't permit their drivers to accept gratuities.
Federal Express / UPS Delivery Nothing Only at holiday time, and then with restrictions. Even more so for USPS letter carriers. (Send me a note if you want an article later in the year on holiday tipping etiquette).
Flower Delivery
$2 minimum Strangely, gratuities are never prepaid on flower deliveries. At home, whomever answers the door should tip the driver. At the office, the person who ultimately accepts the flowers should tip. For really big or elaborate/expensive flower deliveries, to an event for example, a larger ($5 to $10) tip may be appropriate.
Furniture / Appliance Delivery $5 to $20 per delivery person For a simple "Here it is" delivery, $5 to $10 per person is appropriate. If they also do the appliance hookup and cart the dead one away, or if it's a huge/difficult delivery, then $10 to $20 each is the right amount.
Grocery Delivery Varies Some people tip on a per bag basis (minimum $1). Others tip a percentage (about 10%) of the order, often with a cap of $10-20.Most delivery companies and Fresh Direct have strict no tipping policies. Most supermarkets do as well. Peapod says "Tipping is Optional" but we know what that means...
Liquor Store Delivery 10% to 15% If you get a very expensive case of wine delivered, it's OK to cap the gratuity at a reasonable number, $20 perhaps.
Pharmacy Delivery Usually nothing While often not expected, a $2-3 tip will be appreciated by the delivery person.
Pizza, Chinese, etc. Delivery 15% or more, with a $3 minimum. If it's raining, snowing, etc., be extra generous. Many people are surprised to hear all this. They figure a "couple of bucks" on a $50 order is sufficient. It's not. Tip as you would a server in the restaurant.
Barber $2 to $4 The suggested tip range is for a classic men's barbershop "shave and a haircut two bits" place.
Hairstylist or Colorist 10% - 25% After you settle the bill, come back with the tip. If the person is busy or has wet hands, it's OK to place the gratuity on the counter. I've seen people stuff the bills in the stylist's pocket or apron, but I don't feel comfortable doing that. After the cut is done, I usually say, "I'll see you in a few minutes," and then return with tips for both the stylist and shampoo person, and say goodbye. By the way, if they screwed up your cut or color and you must return for a "re-do," no tip is necessary on that.
Manicure 15% Same as above.
Massage Therapist 10% to 20%, 15% of massage cost is most common You can hand it to the therapist, or leave in an envelope at the reception desk. It's also fine to ask the desk person to include the gratuity when he or she runs the credit card charge. At resorts, a service fee is often included, which covers the tip. If in doubt, ask. Note: If you get the massage in a medical office, no tip is expected.
Salon Shampooer $1 to $4 It's a big range. Men with short hair typically give a dollar or two, women with long hair tip sometimes tip higher. If you only get a "wet down" rather than a full rinse and repeat plus conditioner plus scalp massage, a dollar tip is plenty.
Shoe Shine $2 to $4 For a basic shoe shine that costs $3, a two buck tip is good. Tip more for boots, or if the shoe shine person installs new laces, etc.
Spa Technician 15%-18% If you receive the treatment in your hotel room, and it was arranged through the hotel or resort, a "booking fee" of $20 to $40 may be added to the service. If so, base your tip on the "grossed up" total amount. Many hotel spas automatically include a "service charge" of about 18%. If so, no additional tip is necessary. Ask if you're unsure.
Tattoos/Piercing 15% and up Disclaimer: I don't have any tats or piercings so I'm probably not a good advisor on this subject. However, if you experience an Epic Tattoo Failure like This One, no gratuity is required.
Bringing a big/heavy box to your car at a store Nothing Most electronics and appliances stores don't permit their employees to accept gratuities. Slip 'em a buck discreetly if you wish.
Car Detailer Nothing to 15% I've never tipped a detailer but have heard that others sometimes do.
Car Wash Personnel 20% to 25% of wash cost, minimum of $2 for exterior towel-off only or $3 for full service. Some places have one or more tip buckets. Others request that you give the gratuity to the guy or gal who waves the towel at you when finished. I prefer the latter. If there is a bucket at the entrance and it states "For the vacuum guys" or some such, you can divide the tip, but this can be awkward. Car wash tips should be pooled and divided fairly among all workers.
Fast food drive-through window person Nothing Never feel obligated to tip at any fast food place, even if there's a "tip jar" on the counter.
Full service gas station attendant $1 to $5 depending... A buck or two for a thorough windshield cleaning, up to five for cleaning plus checking all fluids, tire air pressure, etc. However, no need to tip if there's a big ($0.75+ per gallon) difference between self-serve and full service prices. In that case, it's included, more or less.
Grocery Bagger Usually nothing Most supermarkets have no tipping policies (and signs stating so). However if the bagger helps you out to the car, and nobody is watching, discreetly slip him or her a buck. Don't push it if he/she refuses the gratuity.
Movers $10 to $100 per mover You can tip each mover individually or, if there is a supervisor, you can give the combined tip to him/her for distribution. For a simple move (a few hours, nothing too heavy, few stairs, etc.), tip $10-30 per man. For a difficult multi-hour move, tip $30-50. For a 12-hour or longer/whole house move, tip $50-100 per man.
Pet Groomer Greater of 15% or $2/dog If your dog is a biter or otherwise difficult, tip more. If they make your dog look stupid, tip less.
Pet Sitter 15% Not usually expected but always appreciated.
Stripper ??? I have no idea... Party entertainers who come to your house (clowns, magicians, etc.) are usually provided with a gratuity of about $20. Use your own good judgment...
Tow Truck Driver $5 and up Whether they jump your engine, change a tire, or tow you to a service station, the recommended gratuity is $5 to $10 depending upon the degree of danger/difficulty. Of course, if you're being towed away for improper parking, no tip...

Who Doesn't Get Tipped?

I know it seems like everyone expects a gratuity these days but under normal circumstances, the following people don't expect or receive tips:

  • Accountants
  • Alarm system installers
  • Appliance repairmen
  • Attorneys
  • Auto mechanics
  • Cable guys
  • Carpet cleaners
  • Contractors and remodelers
  • Doctors
  • Electricians and plumbers
  • Electrologists
  • Financial planners
  • Funeral directors
  • Graphic designers
  • Internet service technicians
  • Interior designers
  • Mortgage brokers
  • Nurses or medical technicians
  • Painters
  • Phone installers
  • Physical therapists
  • Piano tuners
  • Real estate agents
  • Title company closers
  • Travel agents
  • Tree surgeons
  • Window washers

Recognize there's a difference between gifting and tipping. The surgeon who just removed your tumor, the attorney who kept you out of jail, and the accountant who saved you a bundle on your taxes do not (at least not yet), expect a cash gratuity. But a thoughtfully-selected gift is always appreciated. No gift cards or cash-denominated gift certificates please.

Some Final Thoughts:

Regarding workers in your home: You'll notice that the majority of people who come to do work in your home are not ordinarily tipped. However, the offer of some coffee in the morning or a cold drink on a hot day is always appreciated by workers. If you do want to give a gratuity to someone who doesn't ordinarily accept them, be sure to do it in a way that's not embarrassing to him or her (or to you!). Don't just shove some bills at them. In this situation, I usually say something like, "You've done a great job here, let me buy you some lunch" when offering the money.

Regarding personal (e.g. spa) services: The price of the service is irrelevant. Some services at certain places are outrageously expensive. That's no excuse for cheaping out on the gratuity. If you're at a resort and the menu price for a one hour massage is $200, that's the going rate, and unless you plan to give the masseuse or masseur a $30 to $50 tip (depending on how good it is), don't book the session. Go down to the pool instead (but don't forget to tip the cabana boy…).

Tipping & gender: This article was written from a male perspective (the only one I've got…). The norms for tipping don't vary by gender. However, ladies, you should know that – in general – you are viewed as worse tippers by those in the service industry. True or not, you may therefore sometimes receive less preferred treatment than a man…

Instead of a tip: If someone has truly gone above and beyond for you, and especially if that person is not allowed to accept gratuities, consider writing a letter of commendation to that person's boss. I can tell you from personal experience that a well-crafted letter to my UPS driver's boss directly led to a promotion. Letters of appreciation and comment cards are examined carefully and valued highly.


Return to Archive

(c) Copyright 2002-2010 Victor Urbach
This article
may be reprinted with permission and attribution