When Should I Tip And How Much? - Live Work Travel USA|Live Work Travel USA

When Should I Tip And How Much?

I have to admit, the amounts that people tip in the USA has been a real shocker for me. Especially because I was so used to the German way of tipping, which is just rounding up to the next Euro or maybe a little more. In the part of Germany that I come from you have a good chance to get a stressed out and quite unfriendly waiter, so you don’t even feel bad tipping them just a few cents. And other than in restaurants or bars there is not a whole lot of tipping going on in Gemany.

It’s all different in the USA, and that’s mainly because the service industry is taking total advantage of Americans being good tippers. They’ve been brought up to reward good service, even if the service person is just doing their job. That’s why service personell like waiters, hair stylists, room maids, etc. are getting paid ridiculously low by their employers. So it all makes sense when you see it from this perspective. A lot of employees in this industry have to rely on tips as part of their total income and they are making every effort to serve you to their best ability to get the most tip. In return, the customer usually has a very good experience and comes back. Sounds like win-win, but in the end the employer is the main benefitiary, because they just saved a big chunk of salary and customers still pay full price on the service they receive.

Let’s take a look at some services and how much tip is expected from you. I’ll focus more on restaurants since you’ll be in that situation the most. This is most helpful for everyone who just immigrated or plans to travel in the US, because I’ve been in your shoes and I know how confusing tipping can be. Before you upset a lot of people by not tipping or just tipping everybody to be on the safe side, read on for some guide lines.

Restaurants vs. Fast Food Chains
The difference is in being served or getting your food at the counter after paying for it. Whenever a waiter/waitress brings your food and you pay after you’ve eaten, a tip of 15-20% is expected. If the service was just bad, you got the wrong food, had to wait a very long time on food or the check, you can reduce that percentage to 10, 5 or even zero percent to show your disappointment. Whatever reason you have please make sure that it was the waiter’s mistake. You don’t punish the waiter if the kitchen messed up.
Pay attention to the check that you’re going to sign, because sometimes the restaurant automatically added a 18% gratuity, which is the tip. In that case just sign for the amount and leave the “tip” field blank.
Please remember to be fair to the waiter when you got a coupon that cuts your check in half. When it comes to tipping, you always calculate it based on the total before the discount. The waiter’s tip shouldn’t be cut in half too, just because you had a coupon. I had a gift card once that covered the whole amount of the check and I was so excited about it that I totally forgot to tip the waiter. I’m still blushing when I think about it.
In chains like McDonald’s, In & Out Burger, Taco Bell, Panera Bread or any other restaurant where you order at a counter and pay upfront, you do not tip. You can, but it’s not expected.

Tip Jars
You will notice a jar or container with cash in some stores to throw in money. That’s totally optional. I usually don’t put money in it, and if I do it’s the coins that I got for change.

$1 per drink is common or 15% of the total bill.

Pizza Delivery person
10% or minimum of $2

Whenever you just stop by at a restaurant and order takeout, you don’t have to tip, even if this restaurants has waiters. Nobody served you, they don’t have to clean dishes, no tip.

Hotel Porter or everyone who carries your luggage
$1 to $2 per bag

$1 to $5 per night. It motivates them to get tipped daily, but you can also leave the total on your last day.

Valet Parking
$2 to $5 when you get your car back

Room service
$5 (unless gratuity is included in the check)

Taxi Driver
10%, $2 minimum

Hair Stylist, Manicurist,  Spa Service, Masseuse
You can’t go wrong with roughly 15%

Furniture Deliverer
$5 to $10, if they also install the furniture for you

Grocery store bagger
No need to tip. It’s part of the service.

$5 – $20 per person based on performance

General Rules:

  • Tip above the norm if you’ve received out of the ordinary service or if you’ve made it extremely difficult and the person went above and beyond to serve you well.
  • Don’t tip if it’s not deserved. Poor service should not be rewarded.
  • All numbers above are meant as a guide. You can pay more or less of course.


What is your criteria for tipping?
Please comment below.

Photo credit: m kasahara / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

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4 Responses to “When Should I Tip And How Much?”

  1. nick says:

    Very nice site! This post on tipping is extremely well written and is on point. I have travelled the world and even lived in Asia, and tipping between Japan, the EU and the US is very, very different. For instance, tipping in Japan is seen as a negative, as if you are saying “here is some money to go back to school and get a better job”, almost a direct insult. But in the US, no tip means the same thing-it’s usually considered bad practice especially if you are at a very nice restaurant.
    Overall great blog and your experiences are bound to help someone coming to the US. Great job!

    • Dan says:


      Thanks for your kind words and sharing your experience from Japan. I did not know that and it’s very interesting to learn how completely different certain things can be in different cultures.


  2. Again, a great post, you are always spot on, congratulations. This will help us a lot when we settle in the US this summer. Best,

    • Dan says:

      Thanks Alexandra 🙂
      Make sure to sign up for my newsletter. Then you’ll get access to my Tipping Guide, that covers even more occasions.

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