How Much to Tip Service Workers in America

Waiter picking up tip on table
Waiter collecting tip | Photo by NewAfrica, Depositphotos

Thank you for taking the time to find out more about what is customary to tip in the United States. In general, 15-20% is the common tipping practice for service workers (other than fast food where it is not necessary or nor is it expected). Take the following information as just helpful suggestions.


Tip Guide

Why tip in the first place?

Short Answer:

Culturally it is common practice; you don’t want to be criticized for not doing it.

Long Answer:

While tipping in the United States is not mandatory (unless specifically noted), it is widely expected–especially at sit down restaurants. Many service workers rely on tips for income.  Not tipping will make you appear very cheap.  In the best case scenario, your waiter will give you a bad look and not want to serve you again.  In the worst case scenario, your waiter might 1) chase you down to ask you why you didn’t tip, 2) may cause an embarrassing scene, and/or 3) may openly talk bad about you so the whole restaurant will hear.

Sadly the US has its shortcomings in consistently providing a livable wage for all service workers. Fortunately, there are several businesses across America that are doing their part to correct this and phase out tipping. But there are still many more opportunities for change.  More often than not, restaurants pay waiters minimum wages.

For the tips that are received, service providers cannot keep the full amount. They have to reserve a portion for taxes.  Not only that, they have to pay at least 8% in taxes even if they receive no tips at all.   Restaurants commonly report 8% of their gross sales (or a calculation of hours worked) as the waiter’s tips to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The burden is put on waiters to pay for that taxable income and any additional earnings regardless if they received less than 8% in tips. 

So please be kind and generous with your wait staff.  At the very least please give 10% to offset taxes; this amount however will still make you appear cheap.  15-20% is much more acceptable.

Standard Tip Rate

15-20% is the standard tip rate in the United States.  15% is most commonly used and completely acceptable.  If you want to tip well give 20%. 

When calculating how much to tip, base it on the pre-tax subtotal (e.g. To tip 15% for a subtotal that comes to $20, multiply 0.15 x 20 = $3 tip).  If you are tipping in cash, round up change to the next dollar.

Some bills will come preprinted with suggested amounts already calculated for you.  Please note, if you are dining with parties of 6 or more, tip may already be included in your bill (e.g. 18% gratuity).  If tip is already included, it will be noted in writing.  If you are unsure, ask your server.

As a former waitress that knows how much work goes into prepping, serving, and cleaning after patrons, 20% is my personal default tip rate.

Food Service

  • • Quick Service Restaurants: These are restaurants where you pick up your own food and seat yourselves if there are tables.  There are usually no waiters here.  You may find a tip line on the receipt when you go to the counter to order and pay.  Tip amount is discretionary depending on the type of quick service restaurant. It could be a few dollars or 10-20% of the pre-tax, non-discounted bill. It is up to you.
  • • Take-Out: Not required, but always appreciated. Tip amount is discretionary depending on the type of restaurant. It could be a few dollars or 10-20% of the pre-tax, non-discounted bill. It is up to your generosity.
  • • Delivery: At least $5 is suggested to cover the deliverer’s transportation costs; 10-15% if a large order. Be extra generous if the weather is terrible. Note: ‘Delivery Fees’ usually go to the store and not the deliverer.  So ‘Tips’ are very much appreciated by the person who brings you your order.
  • • Drive Thrus: No tip
  • • Tip Jars: Not required; but if you want to acknowledge their hard work leave your change or $1-2. You usually see these at coffee shops, bakeries, quick service restaurants, and sometimes drive-thrus.
  • • Table Service Restaurants: These are sit-down restaurants where a host greets you, seats you at a table, and a waiter comes around to take your order.  Tip is customarily 10-20% of the pre-tax, full (food & alcohol), non-discounted bill. 15% is the standard. 20% to tip well.  You do not need to tip the host separately.  Just tip your waiter through the bill or leave on the table when you depart.
  • • Hospitality Included: If hospitality fees are built into the cost of food you do not have to tip.  This inclusive practice will be noted on your menu or other signage; there could also be no tip line on your bill.  If unsure, you can ask your waiter if tip is already included.
  • • Automatic Charges for Large Parties: If you have a large group, of 6 or more people, gratuity may be automatically charged.  This is typically the practice at table service restaurants, reserved private rooms, and reserved nightclub tables.  Usually the tip rate is 18%.  If tip is automatically charged, you do not have to add any further tips.  Check your bill to see if tip was included or verify with your waiter.  
  • • Wine Stewards & Sommeliers: No need to tip separately from your regular bill. But if they enhance your dining experience and/or go above and beyond, tip them additionally when they come back to ask if you enjoyed your wine. No need to tip for each bottle; just once per meal as a token of gratitude ($20 for standard wine; $50-100 for really expensive wine). As a bonus, if you are ordering or bringing in a rare or unusual bottle of wine, it is not only acceptable but very much appreciated to offer your wine steward or sommelier a taste and ask for their feedback.
  • • Bartenders: $1 per beer and $1-2 per cocktail if ad hoc; 15-18% of final bill if running a bar tab
  • • Buffets: 10% of the pre-tax, non-discounted bill if waiter services you with drinks. At least $1-2/person for the busboy (person who clears your plates) if the buffet is completely self-service and nobody services you drinks.
  • • Drink Attendants: You see these service workers more often at casinos where they come up to you while you are playing (or you initiate service by pressing the attendant button) and ask you what you would like to drink.  At casinos the drinks are complementary because they want you to be comfortable and keep playing.  While the drinks are free, tipping is expected.  Like bartenders, it is customary to tip them $1 for each drink.

Transportation

  • • Valet: $2-3 when car is retrieved. Tipping at drop-off is optional but always appreciated as the driver who parks your car may be different from the driver who retrieves your car. $1-2 per bag if you receive additional assistance with luggage.
  • • Taxis and Car Service: 15%
  • • Shuttle Drivers: $1-2 per person or $4-5 per party

Lodging

  • • Doormen: $1-2 if they hail a taxi for you
  • • Bellhops/Porters/Luggage Delivery: $1-2 per bag; but if they show you how to use your room then $5-10 instead with no extra for individual bags (unless of course any of them were embarrassingly heavy or they went out of their way to take extra care of something that was extremely fragile; then you may want to tip them a little more as a thank you).
  • • Concierge: For quick questions tips are not necessary. If they help you with making reservations $2-5. If they help you with luggage $1-2 per bag. If something is more involved or extra special (e.g. getting you reservations at a hard to get event or restaurant) tip $10-20.
  • • Housekeeping: $2-5 each night. Tip nightly as housekeepers may rotate their room assignments. For additional special requests (e.g. extra pillows, blankets, plates, utensils, etc) tip $1 for each item at delivery.

Restroom Attendants

A restroom attendant is usually someone that stays in the facilities to hand patrons towels after they wash their hands.  Yes it is is awkward having them present.  It is as uncomfortable for you as it is for them to be there (actually probably more so for them because they have to endure more smells). 

Restroom attendants are usually in place as a deterrent to questionable behavior.  Some may also be tasked with keeping the facilities clean.  But their salaries may be based solely on tips.  So some get creative and stock a “courtesy basket” using their own funds to encourage more tips.  Some may be more irritating and hoard all the towels to guilt you into tipping.  Regardless of which strategies are employed, tipping is not necessary if the attendant only hands you a towel.  

If you do tip, spare change or a dollar on your first visit is adequate.  It is not necessary to tip again for subsequent visits on the same day. 

Here are instances, however, where you should tip for each interaction:

  • • If you receive extra assistance beyond a paper towel: Tip $1 for each instance
  • • If you take an item(s) from their courtesy basket (e.g. candy, mouthwash, hairspray, comb, etc): Tip $1 for each item
  • • If you leave a stall extra smelly: Tip $1 or more as a consolation for the embarrassing odor they will have to suffer. 

Tip Jars

Adding money to tip jars is not required. But if you want to acknowledge great service and/or hard work please consider leaving your change or $1-2.  

Methods Accepted for Paying Tip

Cash tip is always welcome.  But in the US, if you are able to pay with a credit card or other contactless method you are also able to pay for gratuity using that method.  There will either be a tip line on your credit card slip to write in an amount or you can select a tip percentage on a pay terminal. 

Please make note, however, if your bill says gratuity is already included (usually the case when you are dining with a party of 6 people or more) then you don’t have to pay additional tip as it is already added to the bill.

Special Note for International Visitors

I know having to pay more in addition to the bill may be an uncomfortable, extremely annoying practice. But it is best to always tip your service providers in order to prevent potential confrontation. Unfortunately, it is extremely rude to not tip in the US.  While legally it is not mandatory to tip (unless specifically noted), in practice it is embedded in American culture.  If you don’t tip your waiter they might chase after you, cause an embarrassing scene, and/ or openly talk bad about you.  This may also trigger chastisement by onlookers.  It is best to not draw unwanted attention to yourself.

Last updated August 24, 2023 by Jacyln