General Question

jo_with_no_space's avatar

Can you explain the cultural and personal importance of tipping servers etc, in American cultural behaviour?

Asked by jo_with_no_space (1457points) April 6th, 2009

It seems much more ‘the done thing’ in most cases in the US, whereas in the UK it is more commonly used as an indicator of exceptionally good service.

So, when do you tip?
When don’t you tip?
Is tipping behaviour similar across the States?
What are the consequences of not tipping? How badly-looked-upon is it?
What is your understanding of other countries’ tipping practices?

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23 Answers

bea2345's avatar

Why do Americans tip? when I am in the US I do as the others do. At home, it depends. In most places, tips are not expected although some of us will tip for very good service – the other day a taxi driver helped me carry a heavy package up my front steps, so I tipped him.

psyla's avatar

Servers are Security Guards, protecting you from the wrath of the cook, that is, unless you did really order that Salivaburger.

ohmyword's avatar

I believe that tipping is more common in America for fact that we just feel obligated. It is a strange thing, and we never really consider it until an outsider mentions it.

I, for one, tip when it is deserved. A generous amount for great service, and little to nothing for poor service. Which I guess is common. At least for Americans.

SeventhSense's avatar

As a matter of course it is a given that at a meal that you tip a waiter who serves you a meal unless it is specifically stated on the menu that the gratuity is included. The customary is between 14–20%. Depending upon the service it can fall anywhere within that range. I almost always tip 20% unless there are some major faux pais. For example if the server made mistakes, food was cold, wrong order etc. On very rare occasions, if the experience is completely horrible, the tip is not left but even then it is protocol to leave a quarter to indicate that it wasn’t forgotten but omitted. Here’s the one occasion in my life, I had, where I did not tip:
I waited to be seated for at least 1/2 hour. The order was not taken for 15 minutes. The meal did not come out for 45 minutes and it was the wrong dish. This was sent back and another 1/2 hour later the dish came out and this time it was partially wrong and cold. No offer was made to discount the meal to compensate and I felt a message must be sent. A good waiter will make sure that this does not occur and will maintain their tables. Furthermore they will employ the floor manager to get a discount for their table. They were left a quarter after paying the bill. But I also accepted the fact that I would not return to the restaurant and if I did it would be uncomfortable. I was okay with that.

VzzBzz's avatar

American tipping is pretty much expected in order to show appreciation for the server, not the food. If you’re going to tip badly, it should be for lack of finesse on the part of the server, not because the kitchen was busy and they didn’t bring your food fast enough or you felt a drink was weak in alcohol or soda bubbles. A lot of times, bad tipping will bring an attentive manager to ask you about your experience and then you’ll probably have a different server the next visit and better attention. Restaurant staff usually have fantastic memories. If you leave in a huff and are rude to your server on top of leaving the bad tip then you’ll be eyed with skepticism if you ever go back to the same restaurant.

SeventhSense's avatar

Tipping for Services
Though tipping is covered in many sections of this guide, let’s summarize American tipping practices here. It is important to realize that for many professions, particularly waiters and waitresses, taxi drivers, porters and bellhops, tip income is half or more of the worker’s total income. These people are paid very low salaries and depend on tip income. If in doubt, tip a little more than usual, especially if service was good or the person was friendly. It will always be appreciated.
Waiters or waitresses get at least 15% and often 20%. If you are served at a counter or bar tip 10%. Remember, in American restaurants, service is almost never included in the final bill, except sometimes for large groups. If an amount is added on, it is usually the amount of sales tax you owe on the bill, not the service charge.

Delivery people—for take out food or groceries—should be tipped a dollar or two.

Taxi drivers get 15%. Auto rental agency employees do not expect tips. At a car wash put a dollar or two into the tip cup for the employees. Tip valet parking attendants at least a dollar or two. Gasoline pump attendants do not expect tips, but if they give you good service or wash your windshields, they will appreciate something.

Porters, skycaps and bellhops get $1.00 for the first bag or two, 50 cents each additional bag.

Hairdressers and barbers are tipped at least 15%. If a separate person washes your hair, tip a dollar or two. Shoe shine people should get a dollar.

Coat check. If you check your coat tip $1.00 if you are not charged for the service.

At hotels, you may tip the maid a dollar or two a day if you stay more than one night. Tip room service waiters 15%. If the hotel concierge goes out of his or her way to help you, you may tip from $10 to $20.

Mamradpivo's avatar

One thing that separates tipping in the US from tipping in Europe is that in the States, waitstaff often only make a few dollars an hour and are expected to supplement that with tips.

In most states, waiters, bellhops, carwash attendants, etc. make several dollars below minimum wage. Cash tips allow them to get by.

Since they don’t make a living wage, tips are the majority of many people’s income, which is why it’s so important to tip in many circumstances.

psyla's avatar

If you do not tip, they will be out to get you the next time you show up and will have their revenge by wiping your meal on the floor before serving you. Half to two-thirds of one’s income should generally be set aside to tip all service people to avoid angering them.

cwilbur's avatar

Restaurant wait staff make less than minimum wage, are expected to pay a percentage of each bill to the busser and dishwasher, and are taxed as if they take home a percentage of each bill as a tip. So if you don’t leave a tip, you’re really hurting the server.

It’s not a fantastic system, because there are cheapskates out there who will stiff the wait staff on the bill just because they can, but it would take a lot of work to change it, and there are a lot more pressing issues. Some states have changed the laws so that restaurant wait staff make minimum wage, but that means that people’s tips are pure profit for the staff.

loser's avatar


bea2345's avatar

Is there a union for wait staff? It is interesting that their earnings are taxed because that must mean record keeping for every Tom, Dick and Jane. Think of being able to trace the employment history of a dishwasher.

psyla's avatar

Pay them well to keep the food off the floor.

breedmitch's avatar

@psyla That is the third time you’ve mentioned something of that sort, and I feel compelled to say, “That really never rarely happens.” And I don’t feel I’d be mistaken by suggesting that, by “rarely”, I mean such a small percentage compared to the sheer volume of meals consumed in the US, and the also large percentage that were tipped upon poorly.

I’ve spent the majority of my employment career in the service industry, and in all those (assuredly many) years have not encountered even one example of an employee tampering with a customer’s food or drink. Please don’t imply that it’s a common thing.

psyla's avatar

@breedmitch, I’ve had more than my share of bad experiences & have an uncontrollable paranoia about it. I understand that it does not happen to most people.

essieness's avatar

I’m a server in a restaurant, so here’s my input:

First of all, you should definitely tip according to the level of service you receive, but there are some things to consider when you’re thinking about leaving a small tip just to be cheap.

a) most of us only make $2.13/hour (yes, you read that right)
b) most of us pay out 3% of our sales back to the restaurant to pay the bussers and hostesses.

So, if you sat in my section and stiffed me on say, a $50 bill, I would actually have to pay $1.50 to have served you. Assuming that you sat in my section for an hour, which is typical, I would have made $0.63 that hour, if you were my only table.

Also, keep in mind that there are circumstances that are completely out of our control and your anger about said subjects should not be taken out on your server:
How long you wait to be seated
Whether or not your order was cooked correctly (if I ordered it wrong, my fault. if the cook effs it up, not my fault)
Running out of items
Items being removed from the menu
Not being allowed to serve you alcohol if you don’t have an ID

We put up with a lot of shit. This past weekend marked the beginning of prom season, and anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant knows that this pretty much means that every Saturday night for a couple of months, you can count on not making much money. Prom kids are notorious for coming in in huge groups, ordering cheap food, sucking down drinks, behaving badly, and NOT TIPPING (we can no longer add gratuity because of a lawsuit, not in our company). Two of my coworkers made $30 and $40 respectively this past Saturday night ($80 to $120 is the norm) because they had table after table of prom kids who not only didn’t tip, but some actually left without paying their bills. That’s just unacceptable.

Prom rant over.

Finally, my rule of thumb is, if you can’t afford to leave a tip, don’t go out to eat. It’s that simple. This is how we make our money. Plan on tipping 20% and then if your service is horrible, lower it. If the service is outstanding, raise it. Don’t not tip just to not tip. Getting stiffed after bending over backwards to please your guests is very disheartening. Maybe that’s why we drink so much in the restaurant biz.

casheroo's avatar

@ohmyword Hmm, maybe people when people provide a service for you, you should tip them. How is that strange? Not paying someone for a service makes them a servant. People are not fucking servants.

i get very worked up over this subject, i’m gonna leave this up to @essieness unless someone pisses me off

essieness's avatar

I did hear a story of a guy who stirred a particularly rude customer’s drink with his penis. Just sayin…

SeventhSense's avatar

I guess it depends on the restaurant. Chains are an exception but back when I waited, we had some influence over the kitchen and maitre d. It was also the type of place that served bottles of wine etc. If you want to make money that’s key. Five bottles of wine at a table from 25–100 a bottle? That’ll drive your tab up.

essieness's avatar

@SeventhSense So true. We serve wine and our liquor is insanely expensive. I try to “upsell,” but honestly, people are so tight with their money these days that I don’t push it as much.

SeventhSense's avatar

That’s where most restaurants make their money. Often food is a loss because of waste and decay but liquor’s all profit….listening to the Clash-..what a tune

El_Cadejo's avatar

Servers make 2.13 an hour in NJ. We really do just work for tips.

psyla's avatar

@breedmitch, I say we do away with tipping & raise server’s pay. You see @essieness‘s example of drinks stirred with penises. Tipping creates a guilt factor that wrecks the dining experience.

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