This article was updated on June 27, 2019.
There’s nothing better than booking an international trip to a foreign land; particularly a country you’ve never been to before.
When it comes to vacationing in the USA, many foreigners have no idea what the ins and outs are regarding how things work here. It is a big country to navigate. There is a lot travellers need to know about this country before they arrive – particularly about the one thing Americans are known for: TIPPING.
Now, this is a valid concern to newcomers, or people who haven’t travelled through there in a while; so it’s one aspect that many travelers often stress over – most of the time because they don’t understand what the ‘rules’ are. Not that there are really rules at all – more recommendations than anything else, because tipping is customary to the US and Canada too.
The good thing is, travelers don’t want to be misinformed, they don’t want to be seen as unrewarding to good service or be classed as a cheapskate. On the flip side, they don’t want to tip more than they should, because sticking to a budget is important to any itinerary. (Besides, tipping too much is quite silly – unless it’s something you actually want to do!)
The stress of tipping is even more of a worry for people who reside in countries that don’t tip – because federal minimum wages are far higher there so they don’t rely on tipping to ensure businesses pay their staff proper wages. Plus if staff are receiving tips, many businesses don’t feel the need to pay more than they need to to meet this minimum anyway, which does make sense. This anti-tipping mentality is especially so in my home country of Australia where the federal minimum wage is $18.29 AUD per hour – so we really don’t enforce tipping. But, people can still do it if they wish to. Though bear in mind that our standard of living is much higher than most – so this minimum won’t really get you very far these days anyway.
So who do you tip? What amount do you tip? And how do you actually tip someone when visiting the USA?
All of this will be covered here so you know everything about tipping in the USA. I’ve travelled there 10 times in the past 9 years, and have spent a total of 18 months inside the country all up as a traveler. I’d like to think I know enough about it to share my knowledge.
If you find all of this helpful, and want more tips or advice – make sure you join my new USA Travel Group to connect with other like-minded travelers (and locals) who can help!
Who Do You Tip – And How Much?
Now this is a good question. You don’t tip everyone. So what constitutes even receiving a tip? Which people work for tips – and what services do they provide?
Ultimately, who you tip comes down to what service they provide you.
Are they driving you somewhere that is NOT a public transport route (bus, train), or long service transport (Greyhound, Amtrak)?
Are they offering you table service at a restaurant? Taking your order, serving food to your table, providing you with a bill?
Are they taking you on a day tour? (city tour, half day experience, walking tour) or a multi-stop tour (globus, contiki, topdeck)?
All of these things constitute a personal “service” and to show your gratitude for this service, you offer a tip in thanks – depending on what tour you are doing. Some tours do not ask for tips anymore because their guides are paid better now.
But it is more than this too. Most of these roles see people being paid as little as $2.13 an hour. Although the federal minimum wage currently sits at $7.25USD an hour – this number actually varies state by state for what their laws actually are, with some states only just meeting this standard and others actually beating it at $10 or more per hour.
Therefore, depending on a worker’s agreement and state, your tip can actually go a long way for that person – far more further than you think. Regardless of who you are tipping, you should always start at the baseline of 15% of your bill total (including tax) – unless you have truly horrible service and don’t wish to tip them at all. If this is the case, you should mention this to the manager on duty on the day of your visit rather than not leaving a tip or posting a negative review online. But remember – 15% is the BASE for tipping. Not the maximum!
This overview on WHO to tip and HOW MUCH to offer them will help you work it all out. Just bear in mind that these are only guidelines. It’s really up to you on what you WANT to tip based on the service you receive.
Tipping At Airports
When it comes to airports, there are different ways to travel to and from the airport. Read more about my recommendations on who to travel with here.
Who do you tip when at an airport?
Uber and Lyft are services everyday people offer to travellers and locals that wish to travel a little more cheaply than standard taxi fares. The understanding since they launched, was once that people don’t tip – although it was then introduced as an option should people wish to, because it is still a service. Which is why people often ask if you need to tip Uber drivers in the USA. Ultimately, it is a judgement call on what you do because these drivers earn more than taxi drivers in many cases because their services are higher. They have nicer cars, are cleaner and work for high ratings more than tips in establishing their ongoing success.
Uber and Lyft Drivers have really upped their game since 2017, in a bid to work for tips – extra income. I have had many drivers offer me water and snacks on multiple occasions. They offer travel advice on places to see, their favourite eateries etc – so they are definitely offering a high level service than any other transport provider. Not everyone does of course, but for those people who do I always leave them a tip because I can see that this ‘job’ is something they take seriously – and they actually try to offer their riders a great experience. Plus, the fare is usually cheaper than a taxi plus tip anyway when you crunch the numbers. If you Uber Pool, it is up to you on whether you tip – but the fare is usually cheaper because you are on a ride share.
My tip: I would generally leave at least 10% in cash or through the app after the ride as long as I feel the driver has interacted with me. These drivers receive 100% of their tips – they don’t give their companies a cut. So it is ultimately up to you for how much you want to leave but 10% is a great place to start. But if the service isn’t good, or you feel ignored – you don’t have to tip. Many people refuse to tip, or only tip those who go above and beyond. If you receive great service, tip. It’s really your call on if you do and how much. But always remember that many of these drivers use this service as their livelihood.
Shared Ride Vans
When it comes to using transport like Supershuttle or Go Airport, I always tip. Drivers work pretty hard shuttling a variety of people to and from airports in the quickest way possible – and usually take on a lot of heavy lifting! The downside to these are you can have 10 other passengers with you. But, I never find this an issue. I completely recommend a shuttle like these when you first arrive into the US because unless you already have a US sim card from somewhere like Sim Corner, you can’t rely on Uber/Lyft to work in all honesty – until you purchase one. Airport wifi really doesn’t cut it for booking anything.
The type of driver and experience I end up with determines how much I tip. Some drivers are silent and get you from A to B. Others are really talkative and friendly and make the ride memorable. I’ve had some awesome shared ride experiences with everything from movies that I must watch (Phoenix shuttle), events to see in the city that weekend (St. Louis shuttle) and I even had one driver get out and search for where my Air Bnb actually was as it was dark out and he wanted to be sure I wasn’t dropped off at the wrong address at 8pm at night! (Santa Monica shuttle).
In all of these cases, I gave a $5-10 tip for a $20 something shuttle, and even wrote a wall post for the Santa Monica driver on Supershuttle’s Facebook page because I was really impressed with that driver going above and beyond for me. You don’t always have to talk with your money. But in these instances you really should!
My Tip: Most shuttles I take are around $15-30 one way. In the event you have an ordinary ride, I would advise you tip the standard of $1-2 a suitcase in cash. Since I always travel with 2 suitcases (small and large sizes) I always tip around $2-4 if I am on my own as a baseline. If I was traveling with someone I would give about $5-10 between us dependent on if we had around 3-4 suitcases that the driver helped us with. But if they go out of their way to make the journey memorable, feel free to tip more than 10% of your fare if you can afford to. They often earn it. But for a base on percentage – a $20 fare would equate to a $2 tip if you stick to 10%.
Taxi’s are still a popular choice for travelers because they are easy to use. They are more expensive than most transport options but how much do you tip if you use a taxi? Some companies will offer default level tipping starting at 20%, but it is always your choice on what you tip.
Bear in mind, some cities will have set pricing for the actual journey which is making taxis more competitive to other transport now, but let’s say your fare is $50 – A 15% tip on this amount is $7.50, making this total $57.50. A 20% tip on this amount is $10, making this total $60.
My Tip: Always pay a minimum of 15% tip on any taxi service and adjust accordingly based on how great the service is. I try and use cash in taxis, so i always pay the tip in cash as well; or I will select my tip based on the functions on the card reader when paying.
If your choice of ground transportation is to hire a car, you won’t have to tip anyone. However, when parking your car at most restaurants or hotels that offer valet parking, you should expect to spend a few dollars on your tip here – as well as paying to park the car.
My Tip: Tip around $5 in cash for the valet to park, but if the establishment is fancy, then expect to tip more.
Airlines and airports do offer a variety of special services to passengers – which are also services you need to tip for. Whether it’s curbside check in, wheelchair/buggy transport or any kind of special assistance that an airline or airport worker does for you; then tip accordingly.
If you use curbside check in, you won’t have to line up inside the check in area – which will be a time saver. If you have mobility issues, or need a wheelchair or buggy service to get you through to your departure gate, then this will also be a service you need to tip for.
My Tip: If you use curbside check in, then you’d ideally tip $2 in cash (minimum) for each bag you are checking. If you use a wheelchair/buggy then tip a minimum of $5 in cash. Both are subject to the service you receive however on what you wish to tip. But these people are transporting your bags – so take that into consideration!
Tipping At Hotels
Staying at a hotel doesn’t mean that a guest has to tip every person they interact with when staying there. If you stay at a low level 2-3 star chain like a Best Western, Holiday Inn or a Choice Hotel (Sleep Inn, Comfort Inn etc) then a tip is rarely necessary for most things unless it’s a higher end version within that company. (Aside from Housekeeping of course, which you should tip for everywhere!) Basically if you carry your own bags and just ask for general information from the concierge/staff, then you don’t need to tip anyone at your accommodation – unless they offer additional things to guests, like booking you tours and so forth; or you require room service, or your room made up.
If you’re staying at a boutique hotel, a Hilton, or anything that sits at 4 stars or higher, then you should definitely expect to tip for everything.
So which services do you have to tip for at a hotel?
Doorman have a variety of duties so it can be hard to work out what they assist you with for free. When it comes to opening the door – that’s always a freebie! If they call a taxi for you, or valet your car during your stay – that you should tip for.
If a porter helps you unload your bags or takes them to your room? That should also be tipped for.
Ultimately, if you want consistent service during your stay, tip accordingly and you’ll be well looked after by the staff. Some hotels won’t have doorman or porter services so you won’t need to worry about tipping for these.
My Tip: When it comes to bags, stick to the $2 a bag in cash rule. When it comes to calling a taxi also stick to $2 in cash. If you use the valet service of a hotel, stick to a minimum of $2-5 when picking up or dropping off your car – but depending on the quality of the hotel, then a minimum of $5 or higher will be expected anytime you use it.
If you ask for general help, this is considered part of the concierge’s job. If you have a concierge book anything for you, then you should tip them for helping you.
My Tip: If you are booking a tour, a tip of $5-$10 in cash is pretty standard. But, base the amount on how much your tour is worth if you need more of an indicator for ‘thanking’ them for assisting you.
Housekeeping is a service which is offered daily in every hotel – high level or not. Housekeepers will assist you with a range of things including making your bed, complimentary turn down service in the evening, changing your sheets (if requested), replacing your towels etc.
I personally don’t require housekeeping everyday, so I only ever use it if I stay longer than 2-3 nights in one place. But if I do want to use it, it’s only to change towels because I can make my own bed and don’t need the sheets changed for only a couple of days sleep – plus I clean up after myself. So I usually place the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door most days. If you want your room made up, then make sure you place the “Make Up My Room” sign on your door so staff know.
Don’t forget to leave a tip at the end of your stay based on the amount you’d normally leave per day. Housekeeping will completely clean your room before the next guest arrives, so it is pretty nice to leave them with at least a few dollars.
My Tip: If you do want housekeeping to service your room, then leave $2-$5 in cash on the bed each time you need it. If you travel solo then stick to $2 each time you use it. When departing a hotel, I would leave at least $2 in cash on the bed.
Some restaurants offer room service which is always handy if you have had a long day or get in late and need a bite to eat.
Before tipping, be sure to check whether a room service charge is added to your bill. Note that this is not a tip, but a charge that the hotel receives. It just may affect the overall total of your bill.
If you receive a pizza delivery or anything from an outside company, then you need to tip the delivery person. If you eat a complimentary breakfast at your hotel, there is usually a tip jar somewhere. It’s your call if you leave anything but $1 can’t hurt – especially if it’s a high quality meal you’re getting for free. What’s $1 in the scheme of all that? They do replace food and clean tables so you can have a decent breakfast.
My Tip: Whether it is the hotel server or a delivery person, tip them 10-20% of the bill total in cash.
Tipping At Restaurants
Depending on the eatery, will determine whether you should tip or not.
Places where you do not need to tip though, include: fast food like McDonald’s or Subway, shopping mall food courts, food trucks or stands, casual dining – where you don’t receive table service, and buffets.
If you are dining at a cafe, sit down restaurant or bar then of course, a tip is in order. Again this will depend on how the service is for what tip you leave them with. If you are ordering coffee at a coffee house or even Starbucks, you can leave a tip in the tip jar, but that’s really your call. If you drink there everyday, a tip would probably help you in gaining the best coffee every time at least.
Do bear in mind that if you are eating with a group of 5-6 or more people, a tip will usually be added on your bill (based around 15-20% of the total you have all spent plus tax.)
My Tip: I always tip 20% of my bill total. I have yet to encounter bad service at a restaurant or cafe; but that’s no doubt because I live in Australia. Our servers earn good wages, so their service isn’t always that amazing here. This is never the case when I travel in the US. If I find myself with exceptional service or eat in a more higher end eatery; I tip around 25%. You can tip in cash or by card depending on how you are paying. But never pay for a meal with a prepaid debit card due to “hold” transactions that can occur when the tip is added.
If you’re eating at a buffet, you should leave at least a 10% tip in cash on the table to the server who takes away your plate/serves you any drinks.
If I drink at a bar, I always tip at least $2 per drink in cash. If you don’t tip, don’t expect great service for the rest of the evening. Consistent tips = good service. If a bartender doesn’t make a drink – but pulls the lid off a beer etc then you don’t have tip them for that. But $1 here and there won’t hurt if you plan to drink there for awhile and what the bartender to prioritise you.
Tipping For Other Services
Tipping isn’t reserved for just eateries and hotels. When taking a paid tour, a free tour, getting a haircut or even a massage…all of these are just a few other services which is expected to receive a tip.
My Tip: All of these would contain at least a 15% tip in cash, but again it is based on your experience, it’s duration and how much it is worth. If I take a free tour, I usually tip $5-10 in cash based on how good the tour guide and the tour actually is – if it’s already free why would you not tip something? This is how that tour guide makes their living.
How Do You Actually “Tip” Someone?
When it comes to tipping, there are a couple of options: cash or card.
When tipping by cash, you can pay for your bill and include a tip in that money as a total, or pay the bill and leave the tip on the table once you have received change.
When tipping by card, the merchant will offer you two options:
One: the server will swipe your card and you will pay the total bill. When you approve the payment, you can select the tip you wish to offer – if you don’t wish to select a tip by percentage, you can enter a numerical value instead. Whatever suits.
Two: you can pay for your bill by having your card swiped (with the amount pending), and filling out the tip you’d like to leave by writing it on the receipt. Be sure to sign the receipt once you have written a tip in and authorised the amount, and take your copy with you. You can leave this receipt on the table, and the server will add the tip value to your purchase once you’re gone. (Always keep your receipt with you in case you find this is entered wrong – though this has never happened to me ever.) Please do not use a pre paid card for this kind of purchase. You will end up with 2 transactions – the initial one which is “pending” and the one which went through with the tip. Your pending transaction can take a week to return to your card! Use cash or a proper fee free debit or credit card for these transactions.
If you’re heading to the states, be sure to read about what to know before you go, as well as reading about clearing customs, connecting flights & the best ground transport options once you land as well.
So there you have it. Everything you need to know about tipping in the USA. I hope it helps you on your next vacation there! If you found any of this helpful, and want more tips or advice – make sure you join my new USA Travel Group to connect with other like-minded travelers (and locals) who can help!
Pin This For Your Next USA Adventure!