Are You Tipping Wrong? This Is What You Should Be Leaving

Do you ever wonder if you're being too stingy or too generous — or if you're supposed to tip someone for their services at all? What about when you go on vacation: do the rules change? And what is the "right" amount to show appreciation for service providers at the holidays?

Well, wonder no longer, because it's all here in Wise Bread's guide to tipping for (almost) every situation.

Dining — In or Out

Eating at a 5-star restaurant is different than a counter-service joint. Here's the lowdown on how to tip for food-related services, based on advice from the Emily Post Institute, run by the family whose name is synonymous with etiquette.

  • Wait service at a sit-down restaurant: 15-20% of the pretax total of your bill.
  • Host or Maitre d': Generally speaking, it's not necessary to tip the person who shows you to your table; however if you feel they've gone out of the way to find you a special table on a busy night, a $10-$20 bill is a nice token of your appreciation.
  • Buffet: 10% of the pretax total of your bill
  • Take-out service: This is a completely discretionary tip. Generally, it is not necessary to tip when you pick up a take-out order, but if you feel you've received exceptional service, or that you've placed a particularly complicated order, then tip 10% of the pretax total.
  • Delivery: For home or office food delivery service, the Post Institute recommends 10%-15% of the pretax total of your bill. However, they also suggest a flat tip of $2-$5 dollars for pizza delivery, depending on the size of the order and difficulty of delivery.
  • Bad weather delivery: Couriers appreciate a little something extra when the weather gets ugly, according to Grub Street. Adam Eric Greenberg, a UC San Diego Ph.D. candidate and co-author of "probably the most thorough study yet on bad-weather tips," says percentage-based tipping (Greenberg suggests 15%-20%) should kick in when an order is greater than $15. "When the weather is bad, be a bit more generous by tipping 20% to 22%. If it's raining outside, tip 22%-25%," he recommends.
  • Bar service: The Post Institute suggests leaving a $1-$2 tip per drink, or 15-20% of the tab.
  • Barista: While contributing to the tipping jar is not obligatory, it's nice to leave an occasional tip if you think that the barista went above and beyond, or if you're a regular customer. Among the 13 Things Your Barista Won't Tell You, according to Reader's Digest, a $1 tip goes a long way in creating goodwill.

Looking Good — Stylishly Tipping at Salons and Spas

The general rule of thumb is to leave a 20% tip for all the people who help you look and feel your finest. For hair services (cut, special-occasion styling, color, chemical treatments); nail services (manicure, pedicure); and spa services (facials, massages, waxing), the 20% rate is a guideline, but you can always increase the rate or round up the amount if you feel that your stylist, manicurist or esthetician has spent a more-than-average amount of time with you, or gone the extra mile to make you look amazing.

In some salons, a shampooist will wash your hair (often with a nice scalp massage) before you sit down in the stylist's chair. Here the jury wavers between a $2-$6 tip.

Note: If your stylist offers free services between cuts, like a bang trim or neck shave, be sure to leave them a small tip ($2-$5) to show your appreciation for their time and service.

Getting Around

The 15%-20% tip guideline also applies to taxi and limo drivers, depending on location. When taking a cab or limo to the airport (or to your destination, whether hotel or back home), the Post Institute recommends an additional $2 for the first bag, and $1 for each additional piece.

Do you like to keep your own vehicle looking spiffy? At a full-service carwash, the general rule of thumb is to tip $2-$3 for a full-service car wash for a regular-size car, but $3-$5 for an SUV, truck or van, according to Angie's List.


"Everyone that touches your bag gets a tip," according to etiquette expert Diane Gottsman of the Protocol School of Texas. A bellhop should generally get $2 for the first piece of luggage and $1 for additional pieces.

She recommends leaving the cleaning staff in the hotel "a couple of dollars" every morning — not at the end of your stay. "If you wait till the end of the week, they've already changed staff three or four times."

According to the Post Institute, there is no obligation to tip a concierge for answering simple questions, but it is customary to give a $5-$10 tip if the concierge makes dinner or theater reservations for you.

When traveling abroad, the rules vary by country. Do your homework ahead of time to make sure you respect cultural norms.

Help Around the House

Even the do-it-yourselfers of the world often rely on the experts to keep their abodes looking good and functioning well. This can be one of the greyer areas of tipping, but the following tipping guidelines, courtesy of Angie's List, can help you decide how much to dole out to household help.

  • Handymen, plumbers, electricians don't generally expect a tip; however, a tip shows your appreciation for exceptional service or a small (free-of-charge) favor, like stopping by to fix a leaky pipe.
  • The tip for movers depends on the size of the job, length of time it takes to complete it, and the quality of the work. For a small job, $10-$20 per team member is a nice way to show your appreciation for a job well done; you may want to increase that to $20-$50 per mover for larger jobs that take longer to complete and require more muscle power.
  • For people who help keep your house and yard looking good year-round, the customary practice is to give them a tip once a year, usually at holiday time.

Spread the Holiday Cheer

From your hair stylist to the garbage haulers, your mechanic or your babysitter, a gift at holiday time is the perfect way to say "thank you" to the people who provide you with year-long service. A gift card makes a nice holiday gift because it's a little more personal than cash, but still allows the recipient to make some choices about how to spend it.

How much you choose to spend on a holiday tip depends on many factors, including your own financial circumstances. A batch of homemade cookies with a personal note of appreciation for services rendered throughout the year is an acceptable holiday tip if your finances preclude a large cash outlay.

If you can afford it, the normal cost of one service is generally recommended as a holiday tip for:

  • The hair stylist, manicurist or esthetician if you see that person on a regular basis throughout the year;
  • Your pet's groomer;
  • Your personal trainer at the gym;
  • Cleaning person (more if they help you out more than once a week; something to split if your cleaning help is a team);
  • Your child's babysitter or home daycare provider.

Other people you may choose to tip in the form of a small gift at the holidays include:

  • The letter carrier (note that the U.S. government prohibits federal workers (that includes postal workers) from receiving a gift valued at $20 or above);
  • Newspaper delivery person (between $10-$30 depending on how often you receive delivery, quality of service, difficulty in getting to your home, etc.);
  • Doorman (the amount here ranges widely depending on where you live; anywhere from $25-$150 appears to be customary);
  • Garbage collector (between $10-$30 each, assuming your municipality does not prohibit such gifts; check first!);
  • Your local fire and/or police department (a gift to share — box of chocolates or other culinary treat is nice);
  • Your child's preschool or grade school teacher (guidelines vary widely, but some experts recommend adding a small gift — perhaps something the child makes by hand- in addition to cash or a gift card).

What Is a Tip?

Diane Gottsman says that the word TIP stands for "to insure prompt service." Whether you agree with that statement or not, when considering whom and how much to tip, bear in mind that tips are essentially tokens of appreciation — tangible ways to say "thank you." When you tip at a restaurant or spa, consider the fact that most workers depend on that extra cash as part of their regular income. And tip accordingly; if you think your waiter has significantly enhanced your dining experience, let your cash complement your words of appreciation.

Anybody who's deserving of a generous gratuity we've missed? Please share in comments!

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Guest's picture

I usually tip fairly well, anywhere between 25% to 30%. I also tip extra if the person has given me a discount (such as when I'm at the bar and my bartender friend gives me free drinks).

Mardee Handler's picture

Freebies always deserve a good tip ... which brings up a great point: If you aren't charged for your meal because it wasn't cooked right or you found a bug dancing around in your salad, make sure you tip on the original bill amount. The waiter shouldn't be penalized for the kitchen's mistake!

Guest's picture

Try living with someone who used to work in the restaurant industry. Our tips are pretty high because of it. However if you are really bad, man my wife has no mercy because of the same deal of having worked there before.

Mardee Handler's picture

I believe it, Lance! I guess having "been-there-done-that" has its benefits - and drawbacks!

Guest's picture

Nice to think of the postal worker and garbage man but what about school bus driver that gets your most precious commodity, your child(ren,) back and forth to school everyday? The majority have no idea what a little acknowledgement of appreciation means in another mostly unappreciated service position.

Mardee Handler's picture

Absolutely! Acknowledging the school bus driver is a wonderful idea, and one that definitely should be included here. Thanks for the reminder.

Guest's picture

How long have these been the rules? I suspect in 1947 one might see tips recommended at 10%. Why should that rule ever ever change? BTW I work for Fedex and get zero tips for long trips in any weather. You wanna start tipping guys like me based on shipping price? I firmly believe you should NOT. But I oppose percent inflation in tipping as well. If it was ever 15%, there is no reason that percent should rise. Prices rise-tips increase, but the distance from the kitchen to the tables hasn't gotten any farther in some beloved old steak house. Were yesterday's waitresses lesser people than today's, deserving less?