America is a nation of tippers. We tip at restaurants, airports, and parking lots. Many of us tip babysitters, gardeners, and delivery people. Dollar bills slide out of our palms into waiting hands with frequency, especially when we travel or entertain.
But, as often as we tip, just as often it makes us anxious.
When should you tip, and when is it not necessary? Certainly there are guidelines to help you figure out how to tip, but keep in mind, there are always going to be grey areas where you will have to rely on your own best judgement and common sense.
While tipping should not be mandatory, it is expected in many instances of daily life. If you get exceptional service, tip generously. On the other hand, if service is surly, sloppy, and slow, feel no obligation to tip beyond the bare minimum, or even to tip at all.
Who Gets Tipped?
Just about everyone knows to tip their waiter, taxi driver, or skycap at the airport. But what about your child's camp counselor or tennis coach?
Keep in mind that very few people ever turn down money, if offered in the right spirit. While it's not necessary to tip the camp counselor, if he or she has spent the summer nurturing your child, an envelope with cash and short note is always appreciated. On the other hand, you are paying the tennis coach or swimming instructor directly and do not need to tip them.
The people who need to be tipped include:
Airport personnel who provide services such as pushing wheelchairs
Taxi and limosine drivers
Hotel housekeeping staff
Bartenders (if you sit at the bar)
Pool attendents at resorts
Recreational guides (raft trips, fishing trips, tour guides - all depending on the compay's policies)
Golf caddies (depending on the club's policies)
Who Does Not Get Tipped?
For the most part babysitters and nannies don't need or expect tips. If your babysitter stays very late on some nights or if you call her at the last minute, a tip is appropriate. And it will surely keep her coming back.
Nannies who take care of your children day after day don't expect tips but you might offer her extra money for a special service, or give her a small gift from time to time, or when her tenure with your family is over.
Teachers don't get tips. You can give them end-of-year gifts, but keep these small. Most teachers are happy with a heartfelt note of appreciation.
You do not need to tip lifeguards or golf pros at a club or resort. If they perform an extra duty for you, a tip is appropriate. By the same token, there is no need to tip the front desk staff at a hotel unless someone at the desk acts as a concierge.
How Much to Tip?
This is the sticky question. Most of us know to tip 15 to 20 percent in restaurants, figured on the pre-tax total. Most of us also know to give the skycap or bellhop one or two dollars per suitcase.
How much do we leave the housekeeping staff at the hotel? How about our gardener?
Following are some guidelines to tipping. Amounts may vary from region to region. Chances are tips are higher in big cities such as New York and Los Angeles than in small towns. Again, use your common sense to decide the amount that is right for your needs.
When in doubt about amounts, figuring a tip based on 15 percent of a pre-tax total is always safe.
Waitstaff: 15 to 20 percent before taxes
Sommelier: 20 percent of wine bill before taxes
Bartender: $1 per drink or 15 to 20 percent before taxes
Hotels and resorts:
Bellhops and doormen: $1 or $2 per bag or $2 to $3 for hailing cabs
Concierge: $3 to $5 for dinner reservations; $15 to 20 for booking tours and plays
Housekeeping: $2 to $5 per night
Pool and beach attendants: $2 to $5 per personalized service
Golf caddy: $10 to $25
Taxi and limo drivers: 10 to 15 percent
Airport shuttle drivers: $1 to $2 per bag
Parking attendants and valets: $2
At and near home:
Gardener: $20 to $50 at end of season
Lawn mower: $15 at end of season
Hair stylist: 15 percent of bill
Deliveries: $5 to $10 for furniture delivery, per person
$2 to $5 for flowers
$1 to $2 for pizza ($5 for a large or long-distance deliverery)
Note: We consulted the Itty Bitty Tipping Guide and the Emily Post Institute, among other souces, when we compiled this article.