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How to Tip Like a Lady

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Service jobs are hard. Leaving a tip is an important way to say “thank you” to the people who make a living taking care of other people’s basic needs. And in many cases, a tip is one of the only ways to make a statement about the quality of service you have received. But the tip line on a receipt or the jar on the counter often leaves us awkwardly wondering exactly how much money sends the right message. By applying two simple rules, you can always be sure you’re doing the right thing by those who serve you.

Rule Number One

For most longer interactions where the quality of service makes a big difference in your experience, a basic tip is 15% of the total cost before tax but including the value of any discounts or coupons.

Here are a few of the most common service people you’ll encounter and a general idea of a fair tip for each:

Poor service Standard service Excellent service
Table-service waiter 10% 15% 20%
Buffet or counter-service waiter 5% 10% 20%
Food delivery person 5% 10% 20%
Bartender 10% 15% 20%
Taxi driver 10% 15% 20%
Hair dresser 10% 15% 20%
Spa therapist 10% 15% 20%

Confused about percentages? Use this old rule: When you move the decimal point of any number one digit to the left, you’ve got 10%. So 10% of a $22.40 tab is $2.20. Double it for a 20% tip ($4.40) or half it and add it back to itself for a 15% tip ($3.30).

Rule Number Two

For shorter services where the quality of service doesn’t make a big difference, a basic tip is $2 for the first service and $1 for each additional service. (This, of course, means you should try to carry $1 bills when you’re going to use these services.)

Restaurant musicians $2-5 $1 per request
Cloakroom attendants $2 for the first coat $1 per additional coat
Washroom attendants $0.50 $2-3 for extra attention
Valet parkers  $2-5 Tip only the valet who returns your car, not the one who parks it.
Curbside check-in airport employees $2 for the first bag $1 for each additional bag
Bellmen $2 for the first bag $1 for each additional bag
Charter bus drivers $2-5 per day, per person
Hotel housekeepers $2-3 per night Each day, put out a clearly marked tip so the housekeeper who cleans your room will be sure to know the tip is for her
Baristas or other food service workers with tip jars Tips aren’t mandatory Throw in your spare change or tip a few dollars for great service like remembering your favorite drink

You can always add an extra dollar or two if you feel that someone has gone above or beyond the call of duty.

Who Not to Tip

Many employees in service industries earn enough that they don’t usually expect a tip for performing their jobs.

  • Airline employees (as opposed to airport employees like curbside check-in employees and porters)
  • Managers of any kind
  • Busboys
  • Concierges

Saying Thank You without a Tip

Finally, there are probably professionals you work with on a regular basis you would like to thank, even if you don’t normally tip them for doing their jobs. Many people choose to give these kinds of service workers a gift or bonus around the holidays.

Teachers A small gift like a $10-$25 gift card
Babysitters One evening’s pay and a small gift from your child
Housekeepers One week’s pay
Mail carriers A small gift like a mug or box of homemade cookies—You cannot give cash, a gift card, or anything valued at more than $20 or you’re asking him or her to violate Federal law
Residential building personnel like doormen A small gift like a $15-50 gift card
Trash/recycling collectors $10-30 each

Tipping with Grace

While you ought to tip on almost every occasion, tipping is never mandatory for terrible service. And be especially sure to check for added gratuities and only tip on top of them for excellent service.

No matter how much you choose to tip, be sure to keep your decision between you and the employee. Showing off how much or little you tip is rude to the employee and to other members of your party.

These rules are adapted from Emily Post’s Etiquette, the indispensible guide to good manners and one of Experimental Wifery’s 100 Books Every Woman Should Read. Pick up your copy today or check out’s Tipping Guide for even more great information about tipping.

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