MONEY Food & Drink

6 Tips on Tipping

Thomas Winz—Getty Images

Never tip on tax, but consider adding more if serving your table is especially demanding for the wait staff.

There seems to regularly be a lot of discussion about the death of tipping, but is this tradition really on its way out? Even with minimum wages on the rise, you likely want to be sure you are behaving appropriately and paying a reasonable amount so you and those in the service industry can stick to a budget and make monthly debt payments. Here’s a guide to tipping the right way.

1. Basic Percentage Guide

Part of what makes tipping so frustrating is that it is not always clear how much of a tip you should leave for whom. The environment you are in dictates the tip that is expected and deserved. The wage of workers is often based on tip expectation. Servers who do behind-the-scenes work in restaurants to make your experience enjoyable or wait on your table actively are likely not earning a high hourly wage. The standard advice is to tip servers between 15% and 20% of the pre-tax bill. And the U.S. average stands at about 18%, according to a 2014 Harris poll. Ultimately, you can use your own discretion to make that decision based on your evaluation of the service.

2. Calculate Before the Discount

When you are figuring out tip based on percentage, the general rule of thumb is that you can use the pre-tax amount, but not use an after-discount amount. If you have used a coupon or got a special, it’s a good idea to keep that in mind that the server put in the same effort as if you paid in full. In this case, experts generally say to provide a tip what the amount would have been without the coupon.

3. Pay If You Stay

Consider not just how your server affects your experience, but how your party affects the overall responsibilities of the server. If you take up your table for a long time or are excessively loud and needy, you may want to think about tipping a bit more because you have received more service than most would receive.

4. Irregular Scenarios

Certain people that may deserve a tip are hard at work every day and often go unnoticed. The holidays can provide a time to build goodwill with those you come in regular contact with, from a childcare provider and building doorman to the neighborhood garbage men and delivery people. These people don’t get tipped regularly but can appreciate the special boost for their hard work around the holidays.

5. Observe Local Norms

Not every country (or even region) has the same tipping culture. It’s a good idea to research before you arrive somewhere new how tipping works there. Some places do not require a tip and have higher wages that reflect that, some tip lower and some even tip higher. It’s important to respect the tipping culture in place no matter where you are so as not to offend or leave anyone without the pay they may be relying on.

Tipping may seem like a mathematical and financial burden, but it can be the difference between whether your servers can pay bills or not. No matter what changes in tipping culture may arise, it’s a good idea to do what is right for both the workers and your budget.

6. Check Your Transactions

Sometimes people make mistakes. We all do it. But when a tip is entered incorrectly, it can mean a nightmare credit card bill (seriously, here’s a real story of a credit card tip gone wrong). It’s important to check your transactions on your credit or debit cards regularly to make sure there aren’t any mistakes. And if there are, dispute them if necessary!

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MONEY Food & Drink

Should You Always Tip in Cash?

Getty Images Wait staff always prefer cash tips, but there are times when you may want to charge it instead.

Even a cash tip is not guaranteed to land completely in the server’s pocket.

You have two options for tipping at a restaurant: tipping in cash or including the tip on your credit card. (Notice that there is no third option to not tip at all. Don’t be a cheapskate.) Is it better to tip with cash or with a card? That depends on the perspective involved.

From the viewpoint of the server or person being tipped, cash is generally preferred. That is not just because a less scrupulous server may skip reporting some cash tips as income and evade taxes. Merchants have to pay a small fee to the credit card company for each payment that is processed. Some restaurant owners deduct a portion of those fees from your server’s tip, reducing the amount that you intended to leave for them.

There is also a time lag associated with the tips based on credit cards. The restaurant manager/owner must check the receipts and determine how much cash your server is owed for the tips on their shift. Servers may have to wait for some time after their shift is over to receive their tips, which can be troublesome if your server needs to be somewhere else quickly after work for a family obligation or second job. In other cases, the tips are added onto the paycheck, which can cause a cash-flow problem for your server.

Even a cash tip is not guaranteed to land completely in the server’s pocket. Some restaurants pool the tips to distribute them among the other supporting staff (such as busboys). In that case, you really do not have any control over how much of your tip is directed toward your server.

Auto-gratuities that are added to larger bills are more complicated from the restaurant owner/server viewpoint, based on the rule starting in January 2014 that auto-gratuities are considered service charges instead of a tip. That puts them in the category of regular wages and the restaurant must report them for payroll tax withholding.

From your viewpoint as the customer, how you tip generally does not matter, except when you are tipping on a service related to business purposes. In that case, the gratuity can have reimbursement consequences for you and tax consequences for your employer. Most employers have relatively strict guidelines on expectations for tipping and how they expect it to be documented.

From your employer’s perspective, a tip is a deductible business expense, but problems can arise when the tip is disproportionate and/or non-documented. Generally, businesses prefer that tips be applied to credit cards so that they have a record of it, but most businesses have a means of accounting for cash tips in expense reports. If you keep the amount reasonable and follow your employer’s system, then all should be well.

While we have used a restaurant as an example, these same principles can be applied to hotels, transportation, or any other place where a credit card can be reasonably used for a service tip.

As the customer, you can help your server in one of two ways: either ask if cash tips are pooled and present all of your tips in cash so you can make sure that your server receives the amount you intended to tip, or add an extra few percent to a credit-based tip. If you have ever worked as a server or in a job based on tips, you will know how grateful your server will be that you took the time to make sure that he or she was well compensated for their work.

Read next: 5 Amazing Strategies to Eliminate Food Waste and Feed the Hungry

More From MoneyTips:

TIME Business

Why Abolishing Tipping Failed in 1950 stock photos Money Dollar Bills
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad reported customers lacked the courage to kick the habit

The idea of putting an end to tipping has been gaining some traction the United States recently, with some restaurants deciding to ban the practice and restaurant experts also speaking up, especially as momentum builds for increasing the minimum that tipped servers would take home. But this isn’t the first time a business has tried to make that change.

For example, in the late 1940s, the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad declared that tipping in its dining cars was “unworthy of American labor” and “an imposition on the customer.” But the change didn’t stick. In 1950, the company went back to the old way. It turned out that not tipping was just too darn awkward.

Here what happened, as TIME explained back then:

Waiters, though they got a raise, had proved incapable of purging their features of all hope. And most customers had been plain miserable —uncomfortable if they slipped a clandestine coin under a saucer, more uncomfortable if they didn’t. Said the C. & O. sternly: “Too many persons lack the courage to participate in an experiment that breaks with custom.”

Read more about the minimum-wage debate, here in TIME: The Real Meaning of $9 an Hour


The 1 Weird Reason You’re Tipping More stock photos Money Dollar Bills
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

These tricks businesses use could make you more likely to tip

If you buy a cup of coffee or lunch and your server pulls out an iPad, pay attention: You could wind up leaving a higher tip without even realizing it.

When software research company Software Advice surveyed consumers who use iPads or similar devices to buy food and drink, it found that the use of iPads increases the amount many people tip when they pay. More than four in 10 consumers say being in close proximity to their server at the time of the transaction can prompt them to leave a tip when they otherwise might not have.

What’s more, nearly 30% of respondents say they would be more likely to tip if they had to tap a button that says “no tip,” a feature many establishments use.

“This is especially more prevalent at places like coffee shops or at food trucks where the person taking your card is standing right in front of you,” says Justin Guinn, retail market researcher at Software Advice. “People might feel awkward pressing a ‘no tip’ button with the server or cashier looking right at them, waiting for them to make a choice. There’s an undeniable guilty feeling,” he says.

Others also have observed this phenomenon in restaurants that use digital tipping, and even in taxi fleets that have been converted to accept credit cards via touch screens in the back seat.

“I think there’s some kind of a casino effect,” Manny Pena, owner of a New York City cafe. tells Bon Appetit magazine. “You don’t comprehend that it’s real money.”

And in some cases, establishments take advantage of the addition of iPads to tweak the standard tip — rather than offer customers a range with 15% at the midpoint, 15% or even 18% might be the starting point. Reflexively hitting the center option without thinking about it could lead to paying a few percentage points more.

When coffee giant Starbucks added the ability for a customer to leave a tip to their barista using the payment function on their mobile app, they included dollar amounts up to $2 — which adds up to a whopping 50% tip even if you’re paying $4 for your caffeine fix.

It could be guilt at work, or it could be the convenience of paying with a couple of taps, according to Guinn.

“Whether or not patrons are ‘feeling the pressure’ to tip more because the server is standing next to them certainly seems to be a factor in the amount they’re leaving,” he says. “However, since the iPad is streamlining the ordering and paying process overall, it could be the convenience of the iPad itself.”



MONEY Holidays

Who Do You Tip Around the Holidays?

The mailman, the haircutter, and the doorman: Who do you tip? What do you give? MONEY's George Mannes asks people in New York about their annual tipping tradition.

MONEY Holidays

Who Can You Get Away With NOT Tipping Around the Holidays?

holiday envelope full of cash
Jamie Grill—Getty Images

The holiday season is tipping time, when you reward all the hard-working people in your life with a little something extra. Or not.

Tipping, fraught as it with misconceptions and confusing “rules,” is an especially stressful prospect around the holidays, when tips are expected to represent a year’s worth of gratitude for the people performing services in our lives. Still, there’s hardly any consensus on how much to give. According to a survey, 31% of people give no holiday tips whatsoever, while 14% of say they spend less than $50 on holiday tips, 45% spend more than $150, and 17% are heavy tippers that drop more than $300.

What’s more, even though the issue of holiday tipping arises annually, there are still thorny questions that pop up. Sure, you can look up what you’re supposed to tip your hairdresser or pet sitter at a guide like this, but what about instances in which it’s unclear if you should tip, or situations when certain kinds of tips may be inappropriate or send the wrong message.

Here are a few tricky situations—and answers from etiquette experts.

Are there people I should avoid tipping altogether?

Tipping isn’t always appropriate in certain circumstances, depending on someone’s position. “You have to think about who’s receiving it, and what potentially a tip could say in that situation,” says Lizzie Post, author and spokesperson for the Emily Post Institute. “For instance, staff at a nursing home might not be allowed to receive cash gifts because it might look like a bribe.”

Likewise, it’s bad form to tip high-paid professionals with cash or a cash equivalent, such as a gift card. “You don’t tip dentists or doctors or accountants or lawyers,” says Diane Gottsman, national etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Texas. “That’s a commonly asked question that people don’t really understand.” If you really want to give them something, go with homemade holiday treats, a gift basket, or bottle of wine, along with a nice handwritten note.

In other situations, employers may enforce strict guidelines on what workers can receive. United States Postal Service employees, for instance, are not supposed to accept cash or gift cards, and holiday gifts valued at more than $20 are not allowed either. Cash tips might also be limited for delivery drivers, school bus drivers, teachers, and flight attendants. A quick Google search or a call to the employer will generally shed light on the situation. If there’s someone you’d like to tip who cannot accept cash, consider a nice note, a gift card or a small (thoughtful) gift within permitted value limits.

Everyone knows you tip the doorman if you live in a city. Who do you tip if you live in the suburbs?

If someone comes to your house to perform a service regularly, that’s someone you should at least consider tipping. Who these people are will differ depending on your lifestyle and where you live. “In Vermont, one of the biggest people you have to tip is the plow guy,” Post says. For others, the top household service category for tipping might be the landscaping company.

Two people regularly clean my house, but occasionally a third person joins them. Do I tip all three? Equally?

It’s appropriate to tip the third person in relation to her time at your house. “If they accompany the other two cleaners a quarter of the time, for example, you can give them a quarter of what you pay to have your house cleaned,” says Jacqueline Whitmore, an etiquette expert and founding director of the Protocol School of Palm Beach, who recommends a holiday tip amount of roughly the cost of one cleaning.

Do I tip my new nanny/babysitter as much as one who has been with our family for years?

Remember: A holiday tip is a gift. It’s not mandatory, and it greatly depends on your relationship with that person. You probably wouldn’t give a friend you’d just met an extravagant holiday gift, and you’re not obligated to give an extra week’s pay—the fairly standard holiday tip amount for a nanny or sitter—to someone who’s only worked for you for a month or two. “You want to be courteous and generous, but within your budget and within what feels comfortable to you,” Gottsman says. “You might want to give half a week’s salary or a gift card or gift from your child, which might be something you know they need or want.”

Should I tip the personal trainer? The workers who babysit my child at the gym? The school crossing guard?

If you feel these people make a big difference in your life, or that they go above and beyond what’s expected on the job, by all means tip. For personal trainers, a holiday tip is traditionally up to the cost of one session. Daycare workers at the gym will appreciate a small gift, but it’s by no means mandatory. School crossing guards aren’t traditionally tipped, so that one’s up to you. “If there’s someone that you see and you would like to make their season brighter, go for it,” Post says. “You’re looking to say ‘thank you for all you do.’”

Obviously you don’t tip the boss, but is a gift appropriate?

Again, it’s not mandatory, and depending on where you work, it may not be remotely expected. When a gift does seem like a good idea, it’s best to give your boss something from the group of workers as a whole, etiquette gurus say. “If you want, you can bring your boss something special that you know he or she likes, like a package of ground coffee or a box of fruit or something you’ve made from home,” Gottsman says. “But you’re not going to give him or her anything personal, like a sweater or a tie.”

The Ultimate Guide to Holiday Tipping

MONEY Holidays

The Ultimate Guide to Holiday Tipping

Want to give a holiday tip, but don't have a clue how much to give? Here are some helpful guidelines from the etiquette experts.

‘Tis the season to be jolly, but instead I often find myself stressed when I realize I have no clue how much to tip my hairdresser. Or my housekeeper. Or my garbage collectors. If you’re like me, you have a list of people you want to thank for helping to make your life easier throughout the year. If you’re also like me, you have no clue about what gratuity levels are considered typical, stingy, or even generous.

That’s why this year I reached out to a couple of highly regarded experts to get the inside scoop. Diane Gottsman, national etiquette expert and the owner of The Protocol School of Texas says, “The first rule of thought is to gift and tip within your budget. No one wants to see you struggle to tip through the holidays if you have just lost your job, or you are having trouble paying the rent.”

“Tips are subjective,” adds Jodi RR Smith of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting in Marblehead, Mass. “Tips are dependent on your relationship with the individual and the norms for your area, as well as your budget.”

With that in mind, here are some helpful guidelines from the experts to help you (and me!) navigate gratuity gifts as the year comes to an end.

Home Services

These are the people who help out around the house, so you have more time to earn money to hire people to help out around the house!

  • Babysitter: Cash or gift card equivalent to one or two night’s pay. I talked to someone who used to sit for my kids and she told me, “It’s nice to know you’re appreciated. A small gift is a nice token of appreciation and helps keep a sitter loyal to a family.”
  • Nanny/Au Pair: The equivalent of one week’s salary and a handmade gift from your child. “A live-in nanny or a nanny that spends most of the day with your children is invaluable,” says Gottsman.
  • Housekeeper: A cash gift equal to one week’s pay. “If you use a service, and you don’t see the same person on a regular basis, or the person is brand new,” says Gottsman, “you may not feel obliged give a tip at all. If you have a relationship with the person(s), or they come weekly, consider a gift card per person or a tip equivalent to one visit.”
  • Pet Sitter: One day to one week’s worth of service. “Our pets are our family and someone that takes care of them while we are on a trip, or walks the dog on a regular basis is worth their weight in gold,” says Gottsman.

Apartment Living

You’ll want to keep happy all those folks who make apartment living nice.

  • Doorman: Between $20 and $200. (This range seems huge to me. I’ve never lived in an apartment with a doorman so I’d love to hear those of you who do ring in on this one.)
  • Custodian/Superintendent/Handyman: $20 – $100. “If they have saved you in the middle of the night when your toilet was overflowing or jumped your car more than once when you forgot to turn off your headlights,” says Gottsman, a holiday tip would be helpful.”
  • Parking Attendant: $10 – $50
  • Landlord or Building Manager: $50 (cash or gift card)


While homeowners don’t typically have doormen to tip, they do have a host of service providers to gift.

  • Garbage Collector: Between $10 and $25 per crew person. In many areas, tips left taped to the trashcan lids can be stolen (I’ve had several friends tell me this happened to them.) If you miss your crew during the day, Gottsman suggests arranging to drop the gift off at their corporate office.
  • Lawncare: $10 per crew person.
  • Snow Removal: $10 per person.
  • Pool Cleaner: One week’s pay.


These gifts are more personal than those traded during the office Secret Santa.

  • Your Boss: $0 or a group office gift. “It’s not necessary to give your boss a large or expensive gift,” says Gottsman. “Consider an office gift pool or bring a tray or holiday goodies for the office.”
  • Your Office Assistant: A bonus, gift card, or small gift.


Show teachers and staff you appreciate all their efforts to educate Junior (even if Junior doesn’t).

  • Your Child’s Teacher: Many schools encourage parents to contribute to a class gift. If your child’s school doesn’t, consider a small gift with a note and/or a handmade gift from your child. A teacher friend of mine told me, “I always love and save handwritten notes. If they come with a gift or gift card — to anywhere at all — that is appreciated, too. But, it’s the notes that keep me going.”
  • Classroom Aide: If there is not a group classroom gift, a small gift with a note and/or a handmade gift from your child.
  • School Lunch Attendant: $20 per attendant, if you have a child with special dietary needs, and school policy allows such gifts (check with your child’s school office to be sure). Says Gottsman, “A lunch attendant who is vigilant when it comes to your child’s food allergy is worth their weight in gold.”
  • School Secretary: A small gift or gift certificate.

Personal Care

The people who keep you and your family looking good should know you appreciate their work, too.

  • Hairstylist: The cost of one session or a gift. “Hair stylists become our confidants,” says Gottsman. “It would be uncomfortable to arrive empty handed the last week of the holiday season.”
  • Shampoo Attendant: A small gift or $5 – $20.
  • Manicurist: The equivalent of one visit or a gift.
  • Massage Therapist: The equivalent of one session or a gift.
  • Personal Trainer: The equivalent of one session or a gift. According to Gottsman, “Personal trainers often double as counselors. A tip of one service or a gift that has personal significance would say happy holidays.”
  • Pet Groomer: The equivalent of one service or a basket of treats from your pet.
  • Personal Healthcare Nurse: The equivalent of one week’s pay.

Gift Wrap Your Gifts, Too

When preparing your holiday gratuities, Smith says, “Tips should be crisp, new bills placed in an envelope with a card or note of appreciation.” For the financially strapped, Smith suggests a heartfelt note of thanks along with a thoughtful and inexpensive gift like homemade cookies. Gottsman agrees and offers further suggestions like a pot of fresh herbs from your garden or a basket of scones with homemade jelly.

When to Skip the Tip

Gottsman also suggests adjusting your tips according to level of relationship and frequency of service. “Everyone has different lifestyle preferences and providers,” says Gottsman. “One person may use a hairstylist once a week while another person may visit the salon every three months. If you don’t see them regularly and they can’t remember your name, you may opt to skip the tip.”

If the relationship is solid, though, Smith says that skipping the tip is akin to telling your service providers they’re not valued or to imply they’ve done something wrong. If a gratuity is not in your budget for this year, consider the alternative suggestions above. However, “when your finances are fluid again,” Smith suggests, “please do tip them.”

Who Can You Get Away With NOT Tipping Over the Holidays?

Read more articles from Wise Bread:

How to Wrap Gifts with Leftovers
Regifting: A Simple How-To Guide
25 Great Gifts for $5 or Less

TIME Money

Tip Till It Hurts—Just Don’t Feel Smug About It

Guests ride an escalator in the background of a Marriott log
Daniel Acker—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Barbara Ehrenreich is the founder of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, and the author of the seminal Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America.

The tipping initiative by Maria Shriver sidesteps Marriott's responsibility to pay its housekeepers a living wage

Anything that brings attention to hotel housekeepers is probably a good thing. Not only are they notoriously underpaid and overworked, but they can do very little to bring attention to themselves. The 2011 case in which a Manhattan Sofitel housekeeper accused a guest of sexual assault in his $3,000-per-night suite was the rarest of exceptions, and attracted the media only because the alleged assailant happened to be a former director of the International Monetary Fund. The housekeeper’s job is to clean, change sheets, restock amenities and exit the room without leaving any personal traces behind. They are paid to be invisible and usually are.

Maria Shriver, however, is sharp-eyed enough to have noticed them. Last year, she spear-headed the effort that led to January’s The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink, which highlighted the struggles of low-income, working class women. I contributed to it, and was impressed by her energy and dedication. So I wasn’t surprised that Shriver struck up conversations with hotel housekeepers, and reported that “Their stories of hard work and perseverance inspired and informed me.” Unlike the 32 percent of hotel guests, who never even bother to leave tips for their housekeepers, she decided to do something.

But she chose to take a strangely sideways, almost timid, approach. Instead of getting the hotel’s CEO on the phone and inquiring politely why housekeepers aren’t paid a living wage – which is something that I imagine a centi-millionaire world-class celebrity could easily do – she launched a campaign to get hotels to encourage their guests to leave tips in their rooms. All the hotel has to do is place an appropriately labeled “gratitude envelope” on the bedside table. The initiative, called “The Envelope Please,” drew immediate support from the Marriott hotel chain, which employs about 20,000 housekeepers in North America.

The response from hotel guests was less enthusiastic. Already faced with proliferating surcharges for hotel services that used to be free – the in-room safe, a fold-out bed, baggage checking fees – consumers gagged on the assumption that they should now contribute to the housekeepers’ pay. September 2014 was probably not a tactful moment to introduce The Envelope Please: In August, hotels had just achieved a $2.25 billion high-water mark in their income from surcharges, double the amount they got in 2003.

Less churlishly, critics of the initiative wanted to know why the hotels don’t just pay higher wages. As one wrote to the Boston Globe, “All Marriott guests should then write ‘PAY YOUR EMPLOYEES A LIVING WAGE’ on the empty envelope and hand it to hotel management.” The median pay for a hotel housekeeper is $9.51 an hour – far less than a living wage in most cities – and an unseemly amount of this often goes for over-the-counter pain medications. Hotel housekeepers, who often work under extreme time pressure, are 40 percent more likely to incur injuries than other service workers—back injuries from lifting mattresses, knee and elbow injuries from scrubbing. Next time you stay in a hotel, take a look at a housekeeper pushing her cart through the corridor: You’ll see a tired woman, very often an immigrant, ill-shod and probably in need of dental work.

Let’s put this in perspective. Marriott International reported $192 million in profits for the second quarter of this year, up 7.3 percent from a year ago, and the company can be generous to employees when it wants to. Arne Sorenson, the CEO of Marriott International, got a raise in total compensation in 2013, bringing in $9.2 million, up from $8.6 million in 2012. That would be about $3,800 an hour.

Unless they wait tables in high-end restaurants, most people prefer to get their compensation in wages rather than tips. Wages are steady; tips are erratic and at the customer’s whim. And, although I’ve happily pocketed many tips myself, there’s something a little icky about the process. Everyone knows that “real” professionals—doctors, lawyers, electricians—don’t get tips, and to offer one would be a grave insult. Reporting from Barcelona in the 1930s, George Orwell noted that since the revolutionary government had outlawed tipping, waiters “looked you in the face and treated you as an equal.”

My advice, as someone who has both stayed in hotel rooms and cleaned them, is this: Tip till it hurts. And for many of us that means a lot more than $1 to $5 a night recommended by “The Envelope Please.” You will be helping someone feed her children and pay the electric bill. You will be gaining karma points.

Just don’t feel too smug about it. By tipping, you are acceding to an economic arrangement based on severe inequality. In fact, you are inadvertently subsidizing a company that profits from and perpetuates this inequality. Tipping may generate a tiny flare of human warmth in an otherwise cold corporate world, but “gratitude” is not an answer to exploitation.

Barbara Ehrenreich is the founder of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, and the author of the seminal Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email

MONEY Travel

15 Things You Didn’t Know About Tipping

Man signing credit card bill at restaurant
Tetra Images—Getty Images

It's not your imagination. In today's world, we're expected to tip more people, and at increasingly higher amounts. What's up with that?

In the past few days, tipping has been at the center of controversies involving the Philadelphia Eagles’ LeSean McCoy, who left a 20-cent tip at a restaurant, and Marriott, which launched a campaign to encourage guests to tip housekeepers. The latter prompted many to respond by bashing the upscale hotel company for not paying maids higher wages in the first place.

Clearly, the subject of tipping—fraught with guilt and obligation, clouded with issues of class and income inequality—strikes a chord. It certainly doesn’t help that there’s so much we don’t understand about gratuities. For example …

Until very recently, most travelers didn’t tip hotel maids. Marriott’s initiative to prod guests to tip housekeepers seems to have firmly established the practice as standard. And indeed, it does seem to be the standard: Only 31% of American travelers said they don’t tip maids, according to a recent TripAdvisor survey. As recently as 2011, however, the ratio was reversed, with industry experts such as Michael Lynn of the Cornell School of Hotel Administration pointed to data suggesting that only 30% of hotel guests actually left tips for housekeepers. In 2006, New York Times columnist Joe Sharkey admitted he, presumably like nearly all business travelers, generously tipped almost every hotel staffer he encountered but had been overlooking the maids, “perhaps because they were unseen, working in the room when the guest was gone.”

Where you leave the money matters. Marriott provides envelopes so that guests can leave a tip, and perhaps a note of gratitude, for housekeepers. Hotel guests may not be exactly sure where to leave tips for the maid—and the maids themselves may not know if money left out in the open is intended for them. In one anonymous Q&A, a hotel maid offered the advice that hotel guests should “leave [the tip] where it’s obviously for the recipient—like a $20 on the nightstand for a hooker!” Her suggestions: on the tray with the ice bucket, or in the bathroom under the water glass.

Some stereotypes about tipping appear to be true. Certain ethnic groups are perceived to be less generous tippers than others. Apparently, these theories are not simply urban myths. One recent study found that Hispanics tipped less at restaurants than whites after controlling for factors such as bill size and the customer’s personal feelings about the quality of the service and food, while the conclusion in another survey declared “restaurant servers and their managers can expect below average tips from black customers regardless of their social class.” Only 11% of Italians in a recent survey, meanwhile, said that they “always” tipped for service on vacation, compared with 60% of Americans.

Millennials are bad tippers too. Millennials are known to love tasting new foods and tend to dine out in “upscale, casual-dining” establishment more than older generations, yet roughly one-third of Gen Y tips less than 15% at restaurants. Only 16% of people in demographics older than the millennials admit to tipping less than 15%.

Dads tip babysitters, moms stiff them. Men typically tip the babysitter for an average of $2.20, while the typical babysitter tip offered by women is $0, according to a PayScale survey.

There’s a payday loan banking alternative that runs on tips. It’s an app called Activehours, and it allows hourly employees to get paid for the time they’ve worked—before payday, and with no mandatory fees. Instead of the loanshark-like terms of the typical payday loan, users have the freedom to pay Activehours whatever amount (including $0) they want for the service.

Cheapness is only one reason people don’t tip. The NFL’s LeSean McCoy said that he is normally a generous tipper, but that he left a 20-cent tip on a recent restaurant bill as “a kind of statement,” with the message being that the food, service, and general level of respect weren’t up to snuff. Other restaurant customers have been shamed for using homophobia, racism, religion, and, in one instance, being spurned by the bartender after groping her, as excuses for why they didn’t tip their waitstaff.

Holiday season tipping can be traced back to newsboys. The annual tradition of tipping doormen, mail carriers, maids, nannies, and others originated in the 1700s, when young newspaper delivery boys got in the habit of hitting up subscribers for gratuities on Christmas or New Year’s Day. The practice, which existed well into the mid-1950s according to Bloomberg News, was adopted by bootblacks, street sweepers, and other local service people.

Waiters haven’t always gotten 20%, or even 15%. It makes sense that we tip more as time passes, just to keep up with inflation. That doesn’t explain why we’d be expected to tip at an increasingly higher percentage, however, because as our restaurant bills have gone up, so have the gratuities. (If a fancy dinner in 1950 cost $50, a 15% tip would be $7.50; if a comparable fancy dinner in 2000 ran $100, the tip at a 15% rate would double too.)

Nonetheless, the standard percentage to tip waitstaff has risen over the decades. According to a PayScale study, the median tip is now 19.5%. In recent years, some waiters and restaurants have suggested that 25% or even 30% is the proper gratuity level, and that a 20% tip, once considered generous, is just average today. As recently as 2008, though, an Esquire tipping guide stated “15 percent for good service is still the norm” at American restaurants. An American Demographics study from 2001 found that three-quarters of Americans tipped an average of 17% on restaurant bills, while 22% tipped a flat amount no matter what the bill, and the gratuity left averaged $4.67. Meanwhile, in 1922, Emily Post wrote, “You will not get good service unless you tip generously,” and “the rule is ten per cent.”

Emily Post herself sorta hated tipping. In that 1922 guide, Post wrote, “Tipping is undoubtedly a bad system, but it happens to be in force, and that being the case, travelers have to pay their share of it—if they like the way made smooth and comfortable.”

Tipping was once considered demeaning and anti-American. Slate, the New York Times, and Esquire are among the outlets that have published epic rants calling for the end to the “abomination” of tipping in the last year or so. No one made the case better than the Times’ Pete Wells, who summed up of our current tipping system, “it is irrational, outdated, ineffective, confusing, prone to abuse and sometimes discriminatory. The people who take care of us in restaurants deserve a better system, and so do we.”

Those who defend tipping, and/or those who just insist on always tipping generously tend to think of gratuities as the great equalizer: Tips are necessary because waitstaff and other workers aren’t paid enough by their employers, and gratuities help provide them a living wage. A century ago, however, anti-tipping groups felt they were being progressive by declaring war on the demeaning system because it implicitly created a servile class that depended on the generosity of richer, aristocratic customers—and was therefore anti-democratic and anti-American. The anti-tipping movement gained steam in the late 1890s and continued through the 1910s, when a half-dozen states tried (but ultimately failed) to make tipping illegal.

Waitstaff today need tips even more than you think. As much as some people would love to replace tipping with a more sensible system—like, you know, just paying workers more money—today’s waiters and waitresses remain stuck desperately in need of gratuities. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that nearly 15% of America’s 2.4 million waitstaff live in poverty, compared to 7% of all workers.

Some workers get tipped way more than waiters. Waiters and waitresses get an average of 63% of their wages from gratuities, per the PayScale study, but workers in the stripper/exotic dancer category earn the highest median hourly tips of all, at $25.40 per hour.

We tip for totally nonsensical reasons. Studies indicate that diners tip more when a waitress wears a barrette, flower, or some other ornamentation in her hair, when the server repeats orders to the customer, and when the waiter introduces him or herself by name ($2 extra, on average). Another study showed that the quality of service generally has very little effect on how much the customer tips. And in yet another survey, various consumers admitted that they tipped more when the server was white, black, female, or attractive, among other categories.

Sometimes even experts have no clue how much to tip. Or if you should tip at all. When Marketplace asked Cornell’s Michael Lynn earlier this year about the norm for tipping the barista at Starbucks, or any coffee shop for that matter, he paused and sighed before giving the honest answer: “I don’t know.”

TIME Etiquette

Don’t Want to Leave a Tip for Housekeeping? Shame on You.

Courtesy Anchor Books

Jacob Tomsky is a dedicated veteran of the hospitality business and the author of the bestselling Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality.

As someone who worked in the service industry—and then wrote a bestselling memoir about it—Jacob Tomsky has some words of advice to offer on gratuity, and ingratitude

Imagine a housekeeper, ten years of service at the same property, walks into a hotel room one day to find that her company, overnight, has placed envelopes in every single room, envelopes that suggest and encourage hotel guests to tip their hardworking housekeepers.

Yesterday there were no envelopes.

Today there are envelopes.

The day continues as usual but something exciting has been added to the routine. Usually a housekeeper will enter and immediately assess the damage. And, confronted with that damage, she (or he) might let out a weary and timeless sigh. Cleaning a hotel room is a Sisyphean task. Every day the boulder is balanced atop the hill. And every day a guest flies in and drop-kicks that boulder, sending it rushing madly to the ground. But now, perhaps, the first part of the routine involves skirting around the damage to check this new and exciting envelope. Perhaps there is a gratuity inside. Then, wonderfully, the housekeeper may let out another sigh, of a completely different nature, but just as timeless; a sigh of gratitude.

Recently, the Marriott hotel chain began placing these very envelopes in their rooms, envelopes suggesting that guests leave a gratuity for the hard-working and often ignored housekeepers.

As a ten-year veteran of the hotel business, and author of an entire memoir about it, I would like to say:

Dear Marriott,

Oh, man, I love you for this. This is so kind. So beautiful.

Immediately, however, there was backlash from more than a few Marriott guests. Some of them appear to feel “blackmailed” or “guilted” into tipping.

As a ten-year veteran of the hotel business, including a stint in the housekeeping department, I would like to say:

Dear Affronted Marriot Guests: I dislike you for this.

Some people need to be guilted into tipping. Or at least steered through the process.

Housekeeping is the most thankless job in the hospitality business. When it’s done correctly, you never even glimpse the person who delicately avoided all your disgusting personal items. Usually, if you see them, it’s when you pass them in the hall, and you avert your gaze a little, maybe feeling a touch of guilt. But now Marriot is allowing us to do more than give them a sheepish smile as we sneak past their carts. They are giving us a well-defined way to thank them directly: with cash.

This is America. We tip here. We keep the currency circulating at the micro level, hand to hand, giving tax-free cash to the people who we feel need and deserve it. When we go abroad they love us because we tip there too. It’s an act of kindness. It’s hard to show kindness in today’s world. And nothing (truly, nothing) says “thank you” like a gratuity—the meaning of the word is, after all, “thanks”—especially for a housekeeper. It’s like a gift certificate that applies to the whole world! For back-to-school supplies! For drinks after work! A healthier lunch! A cold soda! Anything.

If you don’t want to utilize the envelope, don’t. Maybe write a nice note. Or refrain from trashing the room like a filthy animal. But do not grow indignant because Marriot has added a wonderful extra for the hardest-working employees in the hotel business. Perhaps these indignant guests should try cleaning 15 rooms a day and then see? Then maybe see if they wouldn’t appreciate a small gratuity for all the effort? Work that job for one week and see if they don’t think that money is earned and absolutely appropriate.

I am so happy for those Marriott employees. Life, as they open door after door, day after day, just got a little better. A little more exciting.

It’s wonderful.


Jacob Tomsky is a dedicated veteran of the hospitality business, the author of Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality, and the founder and president of Short Story Thursdays, a weekly, email-based short story club. His writing has appeared in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, among other outlets. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email

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