We Finally Got to the Bottom of Tipping Etiquette—Here's What We Learned
Raise your hand if you've ever wondered whether your tip was polite or rude, unfairly low or insultingly high (there's no such thing)… We'll be the first to admit that those iced macchiatos add up quickly while laundry machine quarters disappear even faster. Sometimes we don't even think about the tip until we see the final bill and remember to add one. With changing wages, different expectations in varying establishments, industries, and cultures, and our own budgets to consider, tipping can be a complicated and awkward task. And that's before you even get to the mentally taxing calculation phase...
Though financial conversations can be uncomfortable to address directly, we felt it was the best way to get to the bottom of tipping etiquette. So we decided to speak with professionals from a variety of backgrounds to hear their thoughts on the issue. To gain a little insight into the perspective of those who work in the service and hospitality industries, scroll through our five major tipping etiquette takeaways below.
Tipping Etiquette With Takeout
When you've called in an order for pickup or you're at a restaurant where you pay at the counter, you have entered some tricky tipping territory. According to a waiter I spoke to at a casual, hip eatery, "5% or 10% of any amount is simply a nice gesture." So while it's not as expected or essential to tip under these circumstances, it's considered polite. I mentioned that I tend to feel awkward if I don't tip, even if I'm just running into the restaurant to pick something up quickly, and he let me know that "it's the hospitality industry, so if they're working there to be bitter, they're in the wrong industry."
Gone are the days when one dollar per drink is an acceptable form of tipping.
However, according to another person in the hospitality industry, "No matter the service, bill, or establishment, if you go through those doors, you should be prepared to tip." So it kind of just depends on your own cash flow at the moment and the person who's ringing you up. Pickup and take out seem to the be the most lenient when it comes to tipping etiquette.
Tipping Etiquette at the Bar
When you're out drinking with friends in a crowded bar, doing the precise math to figure out how much you want to tip probably isn't going to happen. It's easier to just throw down a couple of dollars. But "gone are the days when one dollar per drink is an acceptable form of tipping in the adult beverage industry," a bartender at a high-end establishment recently told me. He then went to say that you should tip a bartender at least 20% if you're satisfied with your beverage and the service.
As someone who has been upholding the unspoken rule of dollar-per-drink for years, I was pretty surprised, if not a little defensive. I was also under the impression that a 15% tip was the acceptable baseline at bars and restaurants. When I asked why this unspoken rule was no longer a respectable default, he explains that he'd gone years at a time getting $0 paychecks because of the way profits are divvied up, so those tips were his livelihood. With this in mind, it makes sense that tipping at least 20% should be the rule of thumb.
Tipping Etiquette at a Coffee Shop
Similar to the scenario above, I'm not always sure if I should tip at coffee shops. When I go somewhere frequently enough to develop a friendly relationship with the staff, I usually tip a dollar (or leave the change if I'm paying in cash). You can already feel out of pocket spending $6 on a coffee, so leaving an extra dollar or two can really hurt your wallet. One barista from a hip L.A. café says you should "always tip a dollar," and if the price of your drink order is what's preventing you from tipping, opt for the cheapest coffee option on the menu instead. This way, you can give the difference as the tip, which seems like a fair enough adjustment to make.
Tipping Etiquette at the Beauty Salon
If you're happy with the service and want to maintain a good running relationship with your hairdresser, manicurist, or esthetician, then 20% is a good baseline tip, and cash is preferred. Since this type of exchange is usually more personal and requires more direct interaction, a generous tip is a kind gesture that acknowledges their mastery of the craft. Another good practice is tipping each individual separately if more than one person is providing you with service. For example, if you go to a hair salon for highlights and a cut, make sure to leave a tip for the colorist as well as the person who cut your hair. If a third person shampooed you, they should also get a few dollars for their work.
Tipping Etiquette for Delivery Service
The rule of thumb for tipping your delivery person is pretty standard; 20% should always be the starting number, especially if a delivery fee isn't already figured into the bill. My friend used to make food deliveries in New York, and he shared an anecdote with me: "Back when I was delivering cookies in New York on West Eighth Street in the Village, I always knew when I wouldn't get a tip," he began. I asked him what the giveaway was, to which he responded, "If I was delivering to a dorm."
No matter the service, bill, or establishment, if you go through those doors, you should be prepared to tip.
That makes sense. Students are usually on super-tight budgets, with minimal cash in their savings accounts from summer or campus jobs. So I wondered if they can be excused from the tipping etiquette principles that the rest of us should be held accountable for. Thomas had a different perspective though, offering up a rhetorical question: "If they're on a budget, why are they ordering delivery?" Touché.
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What are your rules of thumb for tipping? Share them below.