The New Rules of Tipping

Why you should reward the bartender even when ordering water, but not the person pumping your gas.

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We all know that waiters should get somewhere around 20 percent of the final bill. But what about newspaper delivery workers? Or the housekeeping staff at a hotel? Feeling perpetually confused about tipping myself, I turned to Judith Bowman, a protocol consultant and author of Don't Take the Last Donut, to go over the basic rules.

Can you please explain your basic tipping philosophy, including how you know when to tip and how much?


Tipping is not mandatory. Literally translated, to "tip" means "to ensure promptness." [But] tipping is also a way of saying thank you for services rendered. There are no absolutes in terms of whom one should tip. However, generally speaking, service providers should be tipped anywhere from 18 to 22 percent. The 10 to 15 percent tip is archaic. That said, the elderly individual on a fixed income who offers $1 to the maitre d' should be applauded, and the service staff should accept the gesture as graciously as they would a $50 gratuity. Overtipping is never a negative, however, as this serves to help ensure prompt service, particularly if one is a regular customer.

Are there certain types of workers whom people tend to forget to tip?


Generally speaking, some individuals might tend to forget to tip workers at the car wash, maid service in a hotel, and individuals who prepare takeout food (at a higher-end restaurant, they deserve a tip, particularly when they go to the trouble to put extras in or make a special presentation). Garbage collectors are also often forgotten. What are some common tipping mistakes?


You should never tip the owner or proprietor of an establishment. In fact, it is their professional responsibility to tell you that they do not accept tips. Never tip salaried staff or those on commission, such as a salesperson in a furniture showroom. Do not tip the person who pumps your gas. The cost of "full service" gas includes the effort of the individual. There is no need to tip for furniture delivery because delivery charges are included in the bill. However, if the delivery is unusually challenging or you want to thank the individuals for terrific attitude or speed, then tipping is appropriate. A flower delivery person also does not get a tip, unless they have made a special effort.

Another common mistake: Many people forget to extend the tip by making good eye contact, offering a warm and sincere thank-you, and even offering a handshake. Service providers have the responsibility of accepting the gesture graciously, sincerely, and, again, with good eye contact.

How much should you tip your building's doorman? Your newspaper delivery worker? Garbage collectors? A bartender? Other service workers?


Doormen: If you have a doorman, a tip for opening the door, perhaps even retrieving your car, and helping you in and out every day is not necessary, as this is part of their job description and what you pay for with condo or rental fees. If, however, the doorman goes out of their way to go above and beyond, such as bringing your groceries into your apartment or condominium unit, this definitely requires a tip, anywhere between $5 and $10 or more, depending on how many trips or bundles. Newspaper delivery worker: Delivery workers are typically tipped at holiday time, anywhere between $10 and $20. This amount should be left in an envelope, which they will often leave to help remind you, or, ideally, you should place the cash in a card along with a personal note. Hopefully, you know their name.

Garbage collectors: They should be tipped whenever you leave extra garbage—volume or mass—anywhere from $10 to $20.

Bartenders: Even if you order a glass of water at the bar and there is no check, you must understand that the bartender has taken as much time and provided to you the same level of service and personal attention as if you had ordered any other beverage. You should also be sensitive to the fact that by taking up a seat at the bar, you are potentially costing the bartender revenue. For both of these reasons, a tip [of around 20 percent of what drinks would cost] is required when ordering even water and sitting at the bar.

Sky cap at a hotel: $2 per bag, or you may never see your bags again.

Room service deliverer: Many hotels have initiated mandatory tipping under the guise of a room service charge or a delivery charge, in which case a tip is not necessary. When in doubt, ask.

Housekeeping staff: The appropriate tip for housekeeping services is $1 to $2 per room per night. The general rule is that the level of tipping for housekeeping personnel would not vary regardless if you are staying at an upscale hotel or a local motel. One word of caution: It is sometimes dangerous to leave any cash in your room and assume it will reach the housekeeping staff. The safe course here is to hand your tip—placed in an envelope, along with a brief, handwritten note on hotel stationery—directly to the housekeeper who has been caring for you and your room or with the concierge on duty.

Do you have advice for someone who feels really awkward giving tips?


Anyone who feels awkward tipping should truly make the effort to get past this. Tipping others for a job well done is intended as a show of appreciation, which should make them, you, and your heart feel good.

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