Last week a nice young girl posted to this community asking for advice on tipping in the United States. Every few weeks or months I notice the same question asked here or in other communities. So I've decided to post a "Guide to Tipping" for everyones beneift.
Disclaimer/Disclosure: I have an AAS in Broadcast Management and Technology and I've been driving for my fathers Brooklyn Car Service for nearly 2 years. Before that I helped operate the phones. My uncle manages the buisness, and my Father, Grandfather and Uncle have all spent many years driving either yellow cabs or for private car services over the years. I've had many friends who bartend or waitress and over the years i've interviewed many people who work for tips. In the end anything I write below is only an opinion, one developed by experience and by my morals and beleifs. I hope it helps some of you. Yellow Cabs and Taxies
Lets start with the baseline. For a standard yellow cab in NYC I'd recommend tipping either 10% or the remainder of the demonination of change between 5$. For example, if the ride was 17$, and it was neither spectacular nor bad, feel free to give them a 20$. Got driven to JFK for 45$, give em a 50. While its not as specific as a percentage its a decent guideline for base service. However, I have some "modifiers" I use to determine a tip for yellow cab drivers.
Obviously if they go above and beyond the call of duty, helping with heavy luggage, helping you get in the car, getting you somewhere so fast you dont remember the ride, holding decent conversation, not smelling bad, etc etc etc I'd increase the tip to as high as 20%. However, I also have rules for DECREASING the tip. Its becoming an increasing problem in the city that Cab Drivers dont speak good english and cant translate street signs too well. The TLC is constant ferreting out cab drivers who used fake information to get their license. Also, many many cab drivers send all their money out of of the country. If you're a politically minded person, these things will affect how you tip. They may not, but they DO affect me. So what do you do? If a driver can barly speak english or has a lot of trouble communicating do not tip at all. These people need to learn english so they can do their job properly. Tipping them only enables them. Additionally, write down their TLC license number and report them to the TLC via 311. The TLC often impresses on these individuals to take english classes. If a driver is rude, does not follow your directions, ignores requests for help, smells bad, or whatever else....do not tip.
If you find anything particularly offensive or helpfull about a driver, please, call 311 and file a comment with the TLC (either positive or negative). Private Car Services
The city is filled with private limo and car services which are radio dispatched for door to door service. This side of the buisness is more intimate as you start to form a relationship with the drivers if you use the car service often. A greater part of the salary of a driver for a private car service comes from their tips. So the baseline here is 20%. You're far less likely to encounter problems using these services but if you do encounter a problem driver simply call the car service and immediatly ask for the manager and complain. Problem drivers do NOT stay hired for long. There are ALWAYS more drivers out there for the buisness to hire.
This is one reason you can tip more, you can and should expect better service. Door to door service, help with luggage and groceries and what not. If a driver gets out to help with anything being placed in the trunk without being asked, consider increasing the tip.
Here is a more specific guideline for tipping that I feel works if you're not gonna use 20% specifically.
5$ - 7$ Tip 1$
8$ - 12$ Tip 2$
12$ - 17$ Tip 3$
18$ - 21$ Tip 4$
This nice little system also usually means you dont have to deal with many singles. Airport jobs, depending on distance and luggage should be between 5 and 15$. A really fast job from Mid Brooklyn to JFK with almost no luggage works for 5$. A job from Queens or Brooklyn to Newark with 2 or 3 heavy bags deserves 15$.
There are almost always Tolls for inter boro or inter state jobs. If a driver takes a longer road to avoid a toll, you should definatly consider giving him half the money you saved on top of whatever tip you've decided on. Taking the longer road means the driver spends more gas while you spend less money. Its considerate to thank him by passing some of those savings on to him so he can cover gas.Waiters and Waitresses or Food Services
Unlike being driven somewhere, the tip here varies far more then in any other industry because it should specifically correlate to how good the services are. Before I say anything else I'll say this. Most resteraunts add the tip TO the bill if there is over 8 people. The reasons for this are "shady". Some places do it to ensure their waiters get a tip, because in NYS the Min wage for Waiters is somewhere around 3.15$/hr because they are supposed to work on tips. Some places split the tip from a table with ALL their staff (usually the manager takes a nice 20% cut before splitting it, which is illegal but nothing you can do).
I dont belive there is any LAW that says that you MUST tip if the gratiutity is on the bill. If its added to the bill and you have less then a party of 8 I recommend you do NOT pay it. If the service is good give your tip DIRECTLY to the waiter and tell him to keep it himself. Make sure to tell the mangement you refuse to pay the gratutity and that they dont see you tipping your waiter privatly.
Ok, now for numbers. The tips themselves average between 10 and 35%. Pretty wide eh? A nice baseline is double the tax, or rounded down to 15%. For terrible service that only the waiter can control, drop the tip as low as 5% of not removing it entierly. If the service is spectacular (for example, if you get some bad food and the waiter replaces it or gets the manager to give you a discount or a free cupon, If they check on you often and keep your drinks full) feel free to triple the tax or go as high as 35%. Especially at an expensive place.
Here is something to look out for. Usually alcahol or bottles of wine increase your bill by a HUGE amount. Do NOT add the amount of bottles of wine or whatever else to the bill when considering a tip. Especially in a place where the help only OPENS the bottle for you. Usually these places have a bar area. Take the value of all your mixed drinks and determine a seprate tip for the bar staff, and put it in the cup they use. Do not tip for bottles of alcahol at all unless the staff is refilling your drinks FOR you with your own bottles.Bartenders
I dont drink so I dont go to bars often. When I do I usually sit and drink soda while talking to the bartender inbetween her duties (yes her, why would I talk to a male bartender!). Here's what I've learned. The majority of drinks run around 5$ right? Well, many bartenders appreciate a tip of 1-2$ per drink. If you're drinking something that takes energy to make, a mojito (with the smashed leaves) or some mixed drink that requires some extra energy, a higher tip is a must. Make sure the bartender who's serving you gets the tip. Dont always slide it with the drink, sometimes its better to palm it to them under the table so they dont have to share it with others.
Well, I cant really think of anything else. If anyone has questions or wants my opinion, ask me. As you can see i'm not a fan of the shared tip, or of immigrant drivers who cant speak english. Hey, thats who I am. Live with it.
I considered posting groups of people (culture/race) I belive to be the worst tippers. But I'm afraid my comment would then turn into some fight over racism or whatever else, despite it not being so. Thus, I'll only post my experiences on that if someone specifically requests it. I hope this helps some of you. I dont expect everyone to agree, but I'd like to think this guide is a nice guideline which leaves everyone involved happy.