When I first moved to L.A., I lived in a state of confusion about who to tip and how much. The barista? The mani-pedi lady? The FedEx guy? Tipping is so alien to Australians (and other cultures) that it took a while to get used to it all. And now I'm back home, I've become so used to tipping I had to ask my mum whether I need to tip for a pedicure! So I absolutely felt for the lovely Joy, who sent through this question. Fortunately, we have a born-and-bred American to help clear up the confusion. Over to you, Joy and Rachel...
Recently when I visited the States I was a bit confused by the tipping.
I was on a tour in New York City with 14 other women from Australia and I found myself leaving extra tips because no one could get their head around how much and who exactly to tip. We were told that if we didn't tip the cleaners in the hotel we wouldn't get fresh towels or products. I always thought this was part of the hotel service. The other thing is I think Americans think Australians are stingy and they would have every right to think so but what they don't understand is it is very foreign for us to tip cleaners, hairstylists and manicurists etc. One day I didn't have change for a tip for the hotel concierge so when he asked if I wanted a cab, I told him I would get it, as I didn't have change for a tip as I had left it on the bed for the cleaning staff. He was really nice but I was embarrassed.
Most Australians leave a tip for extra good service in a restaurant but that's basically it. Tipping just isn't something we think about, it's not normal for us. What do you think Rachel?
Thank you for your question Joy! Tipping etiquette can be confusing, especially when you’re traveling away from home. Let’s discuss why tipping is a fundamental part of service industries here in the States and some rules of thumb to guide you the next time you’re visiting.
To understand why we tip here in the States, you can refer to this great info graph from the US Department of Labor.
As you can see, federal law in the U.S. factors in tips as part of a service employee’s minimum wage. Therefore, establishments often set workers’ hourly wage low (sometimes as low is $2.13/hr. in some states, ugh), assuming that the rest of their earnings will be made up in gratuity. As a result of these laws, tipping etiquette is not an actual reflection of the quality of service, but an essential responsibility for the recipient of the service. When you’re in the U.S., build tipping into your budget for dining, travel and hotel staff, thinking of your tip as just part of the whole cost.
The correct tip range is 15-20% of a pre-tax bill, leaning as close to 20% as you can; 25% can be used for extraordinary service (I tip 25% for a hairdresser I’ve seen for 7 years). Also note that in big cities, like New York or Los Angeles due to higher costs of living, you’ll want to lean towards a higher tip, but in rural Tennessee your 15% will be sufficient.
You’re not the only one, Joy, who feels frustrated by this social construct (in fact, correct tipping is discussed in a recent episode of the Awesome Etiquette Podcast by the Emily Post Institute (10:15 mark: Episode 20 ‘My Friends Tip Too Much’). People often say, ‘Shouldn’t my tip be a reflection of the actual service that I receive?’ Unfortunately, no, this is simply not how it works. As the Posts put it, ‘you do not use your money to send a message about the service you received.’ If you are unhappy with the service, your option is to speak to a manager and explain why you’re disappointed, leaving your tip unaffected.
One last note, Joy. You mentioned you were embarrassed because you didn’t have a tip and you weren’t sure if you were in a tipping situation. Next time you’re traveling, stop first thing at the front desk of your hotel and let them walk you through proper tipping etiquette for their region and their hotel staff. There is no shame in asking for help with a particular city’s customs.
Joy, I hope this helps you to travel with more confidence! Best of luck!
Thanks, Rachel - and thanks for writing in, Joy! Maybe you could try hanging on to this little graphic that helps clear up some of the most common tipping amounts the next time you come over to the States.