Tips on Tipping

Many of my English students do not only want to improve their English, they also want to work on their cultural fluency: learn about American customs, culture, and history. As an English instructor and coach, I especially love teaching lessons that combine English practice with studying American culture. The following article will take you into the mysterious world of tipping in the U.S. I hope you will enjoy it. As always, feel free to drop me a line if you have any questions. I am an English coach and tutor after all. I love answering questions.

Tipping is one of the bewildering aspects of American life. In America, tips aren’t rewards or bribes, but a major part of service worker’s income.  Pay for many service jobs is low on the theory that tips will make up the difference. The theory is so widely held that the government taxes some workers on the estimated amount of their tips. When you don’t tip, you’re actually stealing money from your server! Small wonder many service workers are less than enthusiastic to serve visitors from countries where tipping isn’t customary. It can cost them money!

Here are a few guidelines to help you with this custom:

  • Taxis: 15% of the total fare is standard. If the driver helps with your luggage, add $2 per bag, more if they’re heavy.

  • Fast Food Restaurants: The good news is if you order food at a counter and pay at the register, you don’t have to tip. Smaller fast food restaurants, coffee shops and cafes may have a tip jar by the register. This is optional, although it’s nice to throw in a dollar or two, especially if you have a large or complicated order

  • Sit Down Restaurants: If you’re sitting down and someone brings you your food and a bill, you’re in a sit down restaurant, even if you’re sitting at a counter. 20% of the bill is the standard tip. To avoid getting “stiffed” by larger parties, many restaurants add a “service charge” or a “gratuity” to the bill. This is always stated on the menu (if in fine type) and is clearly identified on the bill. An additional tip is not necessary, but certainly appreciated!

  • Bars: If you’re in a bar, you should be tipping someone, even if you’re drinking water. $1 per drink is the minimum, more for complicated or expensive drinks. 20% is a good rule of thumb, but feel free to round up or down to the nearest dollar. While it’s OK to leave any coins you receive in change from your server as part of the tip, taking coins out of your pocket to tip is looked down upon. And should your bartender be so kind as to give you a free drink, double your tip!

Marike Korn