Tipping is part of American culture, but knowing how much and whom you should tip can be confusing for visitors and even Americans. Although most agree tipping has become an obligatory duty, the amount one should tip remains a topic for debate.
The information below will give you an idea of American norms when it comes to tipping for services. This is not official information and should be used only as a guide.
Restaurants with Table Service
In the United States, gratuity or service charges are not typically included in the bill, so it is generally expected that you, as a customer, will add a tip when you finish your meal. Depending on the city you're visiting, a tip of 15% of the bill is about average. If you receive exceptional service, 20-25% is customary. One way to calculate the amount you should leave is to ignore the sales tax and liquor and tip only on the food bill. If you are dining with a large party (typically 6 or more), be sure to check the bill to see if the tip has already been included. Often restaurants will charge 15-20% for these larger groups. You are not required to tip on top of this unless you feel the service warrants it.
Since buffet restaurants generally offer limited table service, a tip of 10-15% is sufficient.
Counter Service, Fast Food Restaurants, and Coffee Shops
Even though these establishments often have tip jars, you are not required to tip. If you find the food and/or service to be of high quality, tipping is welcome.
If you order a drink directly from the bar, a $1-$2 tip per drink is appropriate or you can tip 15-20% on the total bill.
A tip of 10-20% or $3-$5 is standard for a delivery person. You should tip more for a difficult delivery (i.e. a large order or inclement weather).
Hotel Housekeeping or Maid Service
$2-$5 per night is an average tip for housekeeping service. Leave the tip in an obvious place (like your pillow) with a thank you note. You should leave the tip on a daily basis rather than waiting until the end of your stay in case a different person cleans your room each day.
If you request any extras like pillows or blankets, a tip of $2-$3 for the person who brings the items is appropriate.
Tip $1-$2 per bag.
Airport or Train Porter
$1 per bag is standard, but you should tip more if your luggage is heavy.
Tip 10-15% of the fare. You may want to tip more for heavy bags or extra services.
Hairdressers, Manicurists, Spa Services
15-20% is average for these services. If you are exceptionally pleased with the service, more is appropriate.
$1 per coat or bag. It is not necessary to tip, though, if there is a charge for the service.
There is no federal sales tax in the United States, but the majority of states do impose local sales tax on consumer purchases. Taxes can range from 0% to over 8% of the purchase price. The amount of the sales tax varies widely from state to state and differs based on the type of goods or services being purchased. For example, some states do not have sales tax for food or clothing purchases, while others may have sales tax for both.
To see the amount of sales tax you can expect to pay in your host state or in states you may visit throughout your program, visit the Federation of Tax Administrators website to view a comparison of the sales tax percentages in each state: http://www.taxadmin.org/. For general info regarding sales tax rates and sales tax rates on food, prescription and non-prescription drugs: http://www.taxadmin.org/fta/rate/sales.pdf
A fan of independent cinema and proponent of the Oxford comma, Matthew began his career at a Miami-based tech startup before returning to West Virginia University to pursue his M.A. in Foreign Languages. He has worked at InterExchange since 2006 and currently serves as a Marketing Project Manager.