One of the things that is most confusing to many visitors when going on holiday to New York City is the practice of tipping (gratuities); who to tip?, how much to tip?, etc. Especially for visitors from outside the United States, the American practice of tipping can seem strange and frankly unnecessary. We sympathize with you. Tipping definitely can be a weird practice and custom, that’s for sure, and its no wonder that visitors struggle with it. We feel a guide to tipping in New York City is valuable. It’s worth taking a few minutes to try and explain how it works, and why it’s important. This guide is relevant to other parts of the United States as well.
Tip: Read our other articles on visiting New York on a budget.
Part of the reason tipping has become so confusing is that it was initially intended to be a reward for good service, but has transformed into being a requirement. Many (if not most) restaurants in the US are permitted to pay their servers and bartenders way below minimum wage, with the understanding that they will make up the difference with tips. Tips are therefore the only way that such employees are able to make their jobs profitable. In fact, many service workers, especially in big cities like New York, make more with this system than their counterparts in other countries that don’t rely on tipping. It is an odd system to be sure, but it is not fair to the employee not to tip just because you don’t agree with or understand the system. Below is the Free Tours by Foot guide on tipping etiquette in the Big Apple.
Tips on Tipping
- Don’t double tip. Be sure to read your bill at restaurants before you leave gratuities, especially if you are in a tourist district. Many restaurants are already prepared for tourists who leave insufficient gratuities and build in an 18% service charge (probably what you are used to at home).
- Carry $1 bills. Have small bills ready for when you are ready to tip. Don’t get caught pulling out a $20 bill and then saying, sorry, I will tip you later. It just feels weird.
- Be open minded – Don’t curse the system. The world is full of different customs that just don’t make sense to outsiders. Just go with it. You aren’t getting cheated, you are just more responsible for how someone is compensated here.
Here are some of the most common occupations that you will encounter that rely on tips, along with the standard tipping amount for each:
- Taxi cabs: 15% of the total, more if they help you with bags. In addition, many taxi cab companies have put credit card machines in taxi cabs and charge the driver a significant service charge for each credit card tip, so whenever possible pay or at least tip in cash.
- Servers (waiters and waitresses): 15% to 20% of the total bill for good service, more for exceptional service. Many restaurants include the tip for parties of 6 or more, so check your bill. It’s OK to tip 10% if you did not received good service. Just remember, that your tip is also split among the other workers, such as busboys and sometimes other servers.
- Bartenders: 15% to 20% of your total bill, or at least $1 per beverage. If you are buying rounds, say 4 or 5 drinks at a time, $2-$3 will suffice.
- Room service: 15% of the total bill, but check that it is not already included in the bill.
- Concierges: $1-$5 for useful information or real help. Though, you don’t need to tip them every time.
- Hotel bellhop or doorman: $2 minimum with $1 for each additional bag.
- Hotel housekeeping: $3 to $5 for each person in the room, each night.
- Tour guides: Tour guides with Free Tours by Foot work on a pay-what-you-like basis. You decide what a tour was worth. However, most tour guides in the city do earn a fee for leading a tour. Unlike restaurant workers, it is usually at least minimum wage. It’s appropriate to tip $5 per person in your party if you liked your tour. Of course, this depends on the length of the tour.
If you are in New York on a layover and decide to stow your luggage at a hotel, a small tip $5-$10 could be the difference between a yes or no. Be sure to check out our blog post on New York luggage storage.