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Tips on tipping in the USA

Rounding up doesn’t count

As an Aussie living in the US there was many a time I would channel my inner Peter Allen and long to again call Australia home: anytime I wanted to know the temperature outside (never take the metric system for granted); when they put pumpkin in their beer (it’s a Halloween thing); and when faced with the dilemma of how much to tip.


Don’t get me wrong, I tip even in Australia. But it’s never as stressful here. Because in the US there are rules.


Become a mathematician

Americans are good at math. Adding sales tax to every purchase and a service charge to every meal is hard work. In Australia we’ve become lazy thanks to the powers-that-be doing all the work for us. So to avoid any nasty surprises, simply calculate the tip beforehand and build it into your budget.


How much you tip speaks volumes

  • 10% = I’m not entirely happy with the service.
  • 15% = All good, mate. This is the ‘normal’ tipping amount.
  • 20% = Excellent service, I’ll be coming back and hope you’ll be just as awesome because you remember I’m a big tipper.
  • Over 20% = Outstanding service – or I’m drunk – or all your money looks the same and I paid with the wrong bill.


Who should you tip?

  • Anyone who handles your bags should get $1-2 per bag.
  • Hotel housekeeping isn’t a face-to-face service, so tipping isn’t necessary, but nice. For mid-range hotels, $1 per night paid daily is a good guide. For high-end hotels, leave $3-5 per night. Best to clearly mark that this is a tip for housekeeping – I use the complimentary stationery for this.
  • Give $3-5 for parking valets when they return your vehicle to you only.
  • $1 per coat for coatroom attendants.
  • If the concierge has been especially helpful (say, in getting you front row tickets to a show) tip somewhere between $5 and $20 depending on the service rendered.


More is more

Some dining establishments stipulate a set tip for parties of 6-8+. And if you think that’s confusing, Americans call mains, entrees and entrees, appetisers. 


AND MOST IMPORTANTLY: Don’t engage in an argument about tipping with an American

Chances are, at some point in their career, that American relied on tips and will not be convinced by your argument that the employer should either pay the employee more or build the service charge into the final amount. Instead, tell them of the wonders of Australian minimum wage and direct them to their nearest Australian consulate. Holiday loading also astounds. As does public health care and affordable education.


Written by: Gaya Avery
Published: 4 November 2013

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