Tipping. It is a dreaded word for many international students! Tipping can cause more stress, confusion, and emotion than should ever be experienced when paying for a service, and all of these things occur simply because the rules for tipping seem unclear. Do not worry: follow these guidelines and you will understand why and how people tip in the United States.


Why do Americans tip?

This is a question many international students ask. Why is there tipping the United States, but not in many other countries? Simply put, it is a very different system: waiters and waitresses in the United States are paid the minimum wage, so they rely on the tips that they are given.

It is also important to understand that servers must pay taxes and pay tips to other employees based on the food that you order. The restaurant keeps a record of all the things a  server orders during a shift: at the end of the shift, the server must pay a percentage of the total sales (not total tips, but total SALES), to the other employees (the cooks, the bartenders, the hostess, the people who clear your plates, etc). In addition, the server reports the total sales to the government and must pay 8% of the total sales to the government, because the government assumes that the server made tips on this food that he/she sold.

So what happens if you do not tip? Basically, the waiter or waitress has to pay to serve you. If your bill is $100, then the server will give a percentage of your $100 bill to the other staff members and pay a small percentage to the government. In short, it is very important to tip! Don’t know how much to leave? Read on . . .


How much should you tip?

Typically, in a restaurant 15% is expected, but 20% is a much more acceptable rate if you really liked the service. At a bar, $1 per drink is an accepted tip, but if the drink is complicated, you might want to tip more.


Here are some other suggested tipping rates for services in the United States:

  • Taxis: 20% is a GREAT tip, and usually only expected when the driver helps you with your bags and takes a direct route
  • Hairdressers: 20%
  • Bellhops: $1 for each bag; an additional few dollars if they help you to your room
  • Coffee: A tip is not expected (although most people put their change in the tip jar)
  • Tour guides: 15-20% of the cost of the tour (if you are happy with the guide)
  • Take away food: tip is not expected
  • Food delivery: 10%


Note: tip (also called “gratuity”) is typically always added to the bill for parties of 6 or more. You are not obligated to leave an additional tip, but if you think the server deserves more than the percentage added, you can always leave a few more dollars.


Is it OK not to tip?

It is. If your service was REALLY bad, then you can of course refuse to tip. Remember that the tip is always earned, not expected, so you never have to “reward” bad service! Typically, a 10% tip is acknowledgement that the service was bad.

When tipping after a bad meal, remember to distinguish between bad service and bad food. The waiter cannot help if the food is bad, but he or she can do their best to make sure that your food order is fixed if you are unhappy. Never be afraid to say something if you are unhappy with the food: because the servers are working for tips, they want you to be happy and will work with you to change your order.

To read more into tipping in the United States, check out these BBC America and Money articles on the subject.


Do you have any questions about tipping? Leave us a note on the CISL Facebook page!