From salons to the wedding industry: tipping 101 I talked to everyone from valets to etiquette experts about the largely unspoken guidelines surrounding tipping.

UPDATE: This guide was written in 2008. To account for inflation, add roughly a third to the amounts below; $1 in 2008 is worth $1.27 in 2021.

Lately it seems like I can’t go anywhere without encountering that awkward tipping moment—a prolonged handshake with a bellhop at a hotel, a lingering stare across the coffee shop counter as the “Tips Please” box looms between me and the barista, or wondering whether the five dollars I tack on to my total at the nail salon is as generous as I intended it to be. (Or too generous?) Throw some less common situations into the mix, like weddings or casinos, and I’ve absolutely no idea whether my tip—or lack thereof—makes me totally rude or ignorantly generous.

So I set out to squash the awkward tipping moment, asking everyone from valets to etiquette experts to talk about what are largely unspoken guidelines. When do we tip? How much? What’s too little, too much, insulting? The good news: they’ve generously provided us with some tangible guidelines. The bad news: now we have no excuse.

Transportation

From the airport shuttle driver to the late-night taxi ride home, my tips to these folks don’t follow any pattern—they usually consist of whatever I can scrounge out of my pockets between balancing my bags, juggling my keys, and searching for my plane tickets. Do you tip more if they help you with bags? Are taxis tipped on percentages, like restaurants? And what about valets? Bryan Silverman, a former valet at Del Mar Racetrack near San Diego, filled me in.

  • Valet: $2 minimum, to be increased depending on service and how classy the location is. “I see none of what you pay to valet your car,” says Silverman. “All I see is your tip—whatever you decide to give me.” He calls $2 a bare minimum, and says everything above that will earn you a little something extra, like help with directions.
  • Cab: 15 percent, plus an extra $1 to $2 if he or she helped with bags
  • Airport Skycaps: $2 for the first bag and another $1 per additional bag
  • Long-term parking shuttle driver: $1 to $2 per bag, if the driver assists you with your bags

Salons

You know you have to treat your stylist well. She is, after all, wielding full power of the shape and color of your hair and allows you to leave the salon feeling like those women in the shampoo commercials. But what about the shampooer? Should I be tipping more for things like massages and facials? And am I seriously supposed to tip every person that helps me at one of those fancy spas? The etiquette queen, Emily Post, provides some tips on her Web site:

  • Hair stylist: 15 to 20 percent of the bill
  • Hair washer: $1 to $2
  • Nail technician: 15 to 20 percent of bill
  • Spa treatments: 10 to 20 percent per service
  • Spa Attendants: At a resort spa, tip the spa attendants about 5 percent of your total at the front desk. If any particular attendant went above and beyond for you, tip that attendant individually. At day spas, it is not customary to tip the attendants. However, if the day spa is one that you frequent regularly and the attendants go the extra mile for you, you may want to tip here, as well.

Hotels

I feel like every step in a hotel brings me to another situation where somebody expects a tip. My money is far from unlimited, so I want to make sure I’m shelling it out where I should be, and saving it for the mini bar wherever I can. Rose gave me some more insight into the workings and expectations of a hotel:

  • Doorman: $1 to $2 for hailing a cab, and $1 to $4 for going beyond your expectations
  • Bellhop: $2 for first bag carried to your room, $1 per additional bag
  • Housekeeper: It’s nice to leave $5 or so at the end of your stay. “Chances are, the same staff has been cleaning up your mess the whole time you’ve been there,” Rose says.
  • Concierge: Post specifies that a concierge should be tipped $5 for tickets or reservations ($10 if they’re especially hard to get), but that there’s no need to tip for answering questions.
  • Front desk: Nothing
  • Room service: 10 to 15 percent of total. Many hotels add the gratuity to your bill automatically, so be sure to check your bill.

Food and drink

One tipping situation that I am totally confident in is restaurants: I know it’s 15 to 20 percent. But, of course, there are grey areas even when dining out. There are the fancy spots—with extra staff to help you pick out your wine, store your coat, and even wash your hands. Then there are the partial-service spots, where you do most of the work. Michelle James, a former coffee shop and partial-service restaurant employee, chatted with me about it—from takeout to the mysterious tip jar.

  • Barista: “As a barista you don’t expect much,” she says. “It’s definitely not considered cheap to toss your change into the tip jar.” But, if you’re a regular who the barista takes special care of, James says you’ve gotta show the love sometimes. “You don’t have to every time, but a little something every once in a while is definitely noticed and appreciated.”
  • Restaurant host: Nothing, unless they’ve done you a special favor, like saved you that awesome table by the window, in which case the tip should reflect the trouble they took to perform the favor.
  • Busser: Nothing. In most places, waiters are expected to pool their tips with the bussers. Anything you leave on the table will be assumed to be for the waiter, who will then (hopefully) share the wealth at the end of the night.
  • Sommelier: 15 to 20 percent of wine expenditure
  • Bartender: If we’re talking a few drinks, $1 to $2 per drink will work. If you’ve racked up a whole tab, go with 15 to 20 percent of that pre-tax total.
  • Coat check: $1 per coat
  • Washroom attendant: $0.50 to $3, depending on service
  • Partial service restaurant: “Don’t leave 10 to 15 percent,” says James. “It just goes into a pool, split by everyone working there. Just leave whatever the service is worth to you—anything from a few bucks to 10 percent is good.”
  • Home food delivery: 10 to 15 percent, at your discretion
  • Take-out: Emily Post says there’s no obligation, unless the person who prepared your meal went above normal service expectations. If so, anywhere up to 10 percent is appropriate.

Wedding industry

If I’m already paying a caterer thousands to wow my guests with salmon and garlic mashed potatoes, should I also tip her a percentage of what I’m paying? What about wedding planners and officiators? Amber Rose, a senior hospitality and tourism major with an emphasis in event planning at San Diego State University, helped enlighten me. “Even though people planning big events, like weddings, are always thinking of that huge total cost, you have to remember that each vendor is providing special service,” she says. “This means they usually expect, and hopefully deserve, a tip.”

  • Caterer and wedding planner: “It’s optional, but I’d recommend it,” says Rose. Unless they’re the owner of an event planning firm or hotel, they’re not seeing much, or any, of the fee you’re paying. So 15 to 20 percent is a way to thank him or her for making your day so special.”
  • Night-of-the-event service (makeup artist, bartender, DJ, waiters, bartenders): Again, if a service charge isn’t included in the contract—it’s sometimes included with the venue charges—10 to 20 percent of the service provided is appropriate.
  • Florist: No tip is expected, but if the employees delivering and setting up your arrangements do a particularly nice job, a few bucks each is appreciated. Same goes for your cake baker.
  • Officiator: Depends on the type. “Don’t tip a priest,” laughs Rose. “That would be a situation where tipping is a no-no.” A judge, on the other hand, usually accepts a tip in place of a fee, and a Justice of the Peace is only legally allowed to accept tips after court hours. (So if it’s before five on a Friday, you’re in luck.)

Rare encounters

These are the strange situations we sometimes wind up in on vacation (who knew you were supposed to tip your black jack dealer?), at a tattoo shop, or even after getting flowers delivered to your house. Hint: You are supposed to tip in all of these situations. Sarah Gwerder, a former flower delivery girl, says she regularly received tips based on the size of the arrangement: “I think people felt bad for me when I trekked all the way up their stairs with a huge bouquet of flowers for them,” she says. “And it was hard work, so the tips were nice.” As for those other situations:

  • Casino drink server: $1 to $2 per drink (c’mon they’re free anyway)
  • Dealer: $5 chip per gambling session, and if you win big, tip a little extra
  • Flower delivery person: $1 to $10, depending on the size of the arrangement
  • Furniture delivery: $5 per item per delivery person
  • Dog groomer: $5 to $15, depending on the size of your dog (larger dogs require more work)
  • Car wash attendant: $2 per car for a standard wash, $3 to $5 for an SUV, 15 percent for detailing
  • Tattoo Artist: 10 to 20 percent, depending on the complexity of the work and whether the artist helped you design it
  • Piercing Technician: 10 percent

What it boils down to is that a tip is a way of showing your appreciation for a service—so if you love what you got, show the love with a little extra; and, if not, use a smaller tip as a way to give some constructive feedback. Whenever I’m in doubt, I’ve found that using the 15 to 20 percent rule is usually a safe bet. But if you get an eye roll or an open mouth, you might want to double-check your references before you tip again.

P.S. Protect yourself from the coming data-powered panopticon by getting a VPN.

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[…] Here’s a list of the dialog that should be immediately eliminated from eateries everywhere, before hungry customers toss their collective cookies (or just don’t tip). […]

Kenneth
Guest
Kenneth

I think that the government screwed any workers who they passed legislation to make tipping an expected part of their income. They should get @ least minimum wage plus whatever tips that they EARN. What they have done is immoral & should be changed. It makes servers arrogant and assume that they deserve a high tip regardless of how they did, and also makes them want to try to rush people out the door as soon as they are finished. I only tip 20% if I receive superior service, otherwise they get progressively less. I tip 15% for average service, 10% for mediocre service, and if I get horrible service, then they don’t get a tip at all. I’m not going to apologize for the way that I tip; they get the tip that they earn and no more.

LadyCarolina
Guest
LadyCarolina

Don’t forget to consider how much control the person you are tipping, or not tipping, has. As a front desk clerk, I am surprised when I receive a tip, but I also recognize how smart tippers are. I control upgrades, early check ins, late check outs, volume and value of information, and many aspects of service outside of the front desk, such as tee times. I also have the freedom to adjust rates or add amenities. The last guy who tipped me $10 at check in got a complimentary upgrade, a reduced room rate with added meals, an early check in, chilled wine and chocolate covered strawberries, better tee times, a nicer dinner table with a better server, and speedier service from the bellhop. He also got breakfast packed up and ready for him when he left at 5am before the restaurant opened, at no additional cost. I also pay attention to his future reservations and make sure he gets special treatment for those. Now you tell me where else he would have gotten more bang for his buck!

Stephen P
Guest
Stephen P

OMG! This drives me nuts. What’s next, a tip jar at Wendy’s? Tipping a Barista? puhleeeze! Tipping a wedding planner? What?!?! Even flower delivery – we now have to pay when someone else buys something for us? What’s next, tipping someone when they give us a birthday present? If someone is giving you extra service (like at a restuarant, or if a shuttle or cab driver handles your bags for you, or a conceirge arranging tickets, etc.), give them a tip – but if you paid someone to do a job, and they did it – what you paid them should be fair and no tip is needed.

ImAStud wishyouknew
Guest
ImAStud wishyouknew

So, the Wedding Planner says he/she will charge you $1,000 to plan the wedding – and now they expect a tip when they do what you just paid them to do? RIDICULOUS! Here’s the general rule – if someone is doing something for you for free, then tip them, but if you are paying for that service, you don’t have to tip them. You buy a cooked meal – you’re not really paying the server to keep refilling your drink cup, so tip them! You take a cab and pay for the ride – YOU DON’T NEED TO TIP THEM, you just paid for the ride. You buy furniture and pay for delivery, DON’T TIP THE DELIVERY MEN! You pay for flowers TO BE DELIVERED SOMEWHERE – DON’T TIP FOR THE DELIVERY! It is getting out of control. Again, a free service – you ask a hotel conceirge to get you tickets because you don’t have time to do it yourself – then tip them, darn it! You buy a meal and someone brings it to your table, while filling your glass, and cleaning up after you – then tip them darn it!

one last rant on this: what is next? The cable repair man comes to your house and you are expected to tip him for fixing your cable? The final plea: Please do NOT tip airport shuttle drivers who don’t handle your bags. They’re paid to drive the short bus shuttle – you don’t have to pay them. However, if they are one of the dying breed of classy drivers who actually get up off their butts to carry your bags onto the shuttle – then tip them at least $1 per bag. They earned it! Tip the hard worker, don’t tip the lazy bum. And PLEASE OH PLEASE – don’t tip the barista – PLEASE. Let’s restore class and value to the tip!

amanda
Guest
amanda

I am personally a server at a restaurant. I make 2.50 and hour plus my tips. I believe one thing that people do not consider is that I have to tip people too. The place I work has bussers to clear our tables, foodrunners for delivering food, a hostess to seat people, and of course bartenders to make alcoholic drinks. I tip all of these people out of my tips. I automatically have to tip out 3.5 percent of my total sales to all of these people. Then I also have to tip out an additional 5 percent of my bar sales. Just thought I would put that out there. When you tip your server you are actually tipping many more at the same time. I personally will tip a server more when ordering alcohol or making special requests. Maybe it is just because I know how it really is. But, I hope everyone realizes that while serving is not brain surgery, we work hard for our money. When someone does a good job whether it be food, hair, or whatever, reward those that go that extra mile.

Wally
Guest
Wally

Tipping has gotten out of hand. It’s now an obligation, instead of a sign of appreciation. The US leaves larger tips, than anywhere else in the world. http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/showthread.php?t=738653 A tip is for when I feel they wen’t above and beyond the service that I would expect. If I pay for a meal, I expect someone to cook it, someone to bring it to me, and someone to clean the table. This isn’t going above and beyond. Now, if I was at a buffet, and they brought my food to the table, that certainly would be above and beyond, and deserve a coresponding tip. If people stopped just blindly leaving a tip, the restaurants would be forced to pay a decent wage. Perhaps they should pay them an additional 5% from each person they handle, like a car salesman would get. Service industry workers shouldn’t have to beg for the kindness of strangers to pay their salary. That’s what their paycheck is for. Any tip I decide to leave, is simply a gratuitous gift.

Georgia Merrick
Guest
Georgia Merrick

Wally you have obviously never been a server. I just recently went back to serving on the side to help pay for renivations on my home and I can tell you 2.50 an hour is all they make. Your tip helps to get them to minimum wage at least.

Brenda R
Guest
Brenda R

my hairdresser i always tip well she does magic for me even if i get a bad server i leave something and if real bad talk to the manager bee is right! people think they keep it i was mad when i found out after i won in casino that the tip i gave the attendant wouldnt be for him but he had to put in the jar for whole shift this is wrong!! he said they do that esp if a shift is slow and no tip money comes in! theres some staff i wouldnt give a dime!!! if you hustle you should have to split the tips you earned!!!!

let me correct that you should not have to split with the staff!!!! i see some staff hustle and work hard while others set on their butts all shift knowing joe blow will bring in the tips i say wrong!!! shame on management!!!

i have a sister that over tips to impress people she thinks she sis mrs gotx rocks!! some deserve it but not all you need to keep a perspective and be realistic.