Tipping in New York

Guide to Tipping in New York City

Posted by & filed under A Blog on Visiting New York City.

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.Guide to Tipping in New York City

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.


SoHo and Nolita Shopping Day

Shop New York’s Independent Boutiques Most People Don’t Know About

Posted by & filed under A Blog on Visiting New York City.

While visiting New York City, sight seeing is a must, yet thousand of people every year travel to the city for the massive retail shopping it has to offer. Some shoppers are in search for a good deal, while others are looking to buy something that is uniquely uncommon.

SoHo and Nolita Shopping DayThere are several options for the shopper looking for big-name High Street brands, from department stores and designer sample sales, to established commercial retail areas. One area worth taking note of, where High Street retail couldn’t be more vibrant, is the stretch of Broadway between Houston and Canal Streets in SoHo (South of Houston). Comprised of more than 50 blocks, SoHo, once known for its defunct sweat shops, was organically transformed into a desirable neighborhood by artists in the 1970s, living in roomy deserted loft spaces and selling their paintings on the streets. Real estate investors caught on to the trendy area; storefront rents surged making way for the high-rent retail spaces of today.

If you are the shopper who favors patronizing independent businesses that boast American Made brands and high-quality goods, you will have to take a walk off Broadway’s beaten path.

With so little time in New York City and so many interesting small stores peppering the charming downtown landscape, where does one begin to shop? Allow Free Tours by Foot to introduce you to the much sought out small shops. Sign up for our NoLIta & SoHo Shopping Day and discover the independent businesses you would never have found on your own. Enjoy a three-hour day of shopping quality merchants, each with a story to tell. Your guide will also be happy to assist you with questions you may have around navigating shopping in New York.

This shopping day is offered in conjunction with www.ZTrend.com/shop. To ensure a special shopping experience, groups are kept small. After a day of shopping, attendees are privy to a complimentary map of Meatpacking, hi-lighting your guide’s short list of favorite stores, restaurants as well as things to do.

Harlem Food Tour soul food

Harlem Soul Food | It’s History and Where to Find the Best Restaurants

Posted by & filed under A Blog on Visiting New York City.

Soul food dates back to 1492. In the days of slavery, slave masters would give (to the slaves) cuts of meat for which they had no use or desire. These cuts included  pig feet, ham hocks, chicken gizzards, chicken wings, turkey necks, and pork fat.  Little did the slave masters (or the slaves– for that matter)  know that these ‘undesirable’ foods would one day reach the masses worldwide, to be revered, appreciated, and much-desired.

(Free Tours by Foot offers a Harlem Food Tour as well as walking tours, including the Harlem Neighborhood Walking Tour, on which we usually will stop at Sylvia’s Restaurant (see video below) for a sampling of classic soul food dishes).

Also, be sure to check out our full list of free, self-guided tours.



Named SOUL FOOD because it touches and delights the soul, Soul food dishes include fried chicken, pork/beef ribs, collard greens, potato salad, cornbread, macaroni and cheese, smoked ham hocks and a host of familiar and delightful edibles.

Soul food has humble beginnings in the Southern United States, hailing from the states of Mississippi, Alabama, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North/South Carolina, Louisiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, and even below The Dixie Line — going through Georgia and into Florida.

Yet….many soul food influences were developed in major cities like Chicago and New York City. Many freed slaves migrated from Mississippi and Alabama to Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio, hoping to create better socioeconomic advancements for themselves. Freed slaves from the Carolinas, the Virginian states, and Georgia re-located to New York City and other places — Up North — for the same purposes of bettering themselves financially/socially.

Many freed African Americans were ‘greeted’ by rude awakenings in The North. They faced hardship securing jobs and many challenges as they sought higher education. They resorted to cooking/cleaning for ‘white folks’ houses. The cooks were well-received, often called, ‘the help.’

The ‘help’ was always finding a way from ‘no-way.’ And so ….naturally, they did the best with what they had.

Some of our finest offerings in soul food, actually, come from major cities. Many Southerners in The Big Cities were forced to seek governmental assistance, public housing, powdered milk, peanut butter, and cheese.  The ‘government  cheese’ — popular in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s– was the innovative force in a favorite ‘contemporary’ soul food dish, macaroni and cheese. When public assistance programs passed out the cheese (and whew, the lines were long), the ‘recipients’ made macaroni and cheese (affectionately known as Mac-N-Cheese).When 50 lb. bags of potatoes were distributed to the ‘poor and less-fortunate,’ the ‘poor and less-fortunate’ made potato salad. These are just a few examples of how soul food relates to life and survival. When life deals us lemons. we make lemonade. Make the best of it. The makings of soul food is truly a story of survival and has proven to be fortunate and victorious. Who would have ever known that Soul Food would be the result of celebrity chefs, millionaires, and respected entrepreneurs?

Amy Ruth’ s Restaurant
116th Street/Lenox Avenue (Malcolm X Blvd.)

Southern-styled cuisine — Up North —  starts with Amy Ruth’s Restaurant. Do you want Soul Food? Amy Ruth’s Restaurant responds. We will have some samples from legendary Amy Ruth’s. Don’t forget to grab a menu, which lists hours of operation and location. After sampling a popular daily special: The Chicken and Waffles dish, returning to Amy Ruth’s will become your wish!

Sylvia’s Restaurant
127th Street & Lenox Avenue

Often identified as ‘The House of Soul Food,’ you will want to stop by Sylvia’s and stay for a while. Sylvia’s Restaurant has been ‘souling it up’ for over 50 years. Crowned,’The Queen of Soul Food,’ Sylvia Woods brought a brand-new bag of SOUL from Hemingway, South Carolina and kept it coming for years. Ironically, Sylvia took the title of Queen of Soul Food, while the late- great James Brown, (also born in South Carolina) was named The Godfather of Soul Food. Is that what it means to be from South Carolina? Or simply stated, ‘We know they had SOUL!’

Sylvia Woods died on July 19, 2012 and the family remains the manager of this fabulous home of SOUL FOOD.

137th/Lenox Avenue

If you’ve been wondering over Spoonbread, you will now know all there is to know. Spoonbread is actually a corn-meal based dish that resembles corn-meal soufle. Think Yorkshire pudding. Delicious indeed. Norma Darden has been ‘making it delicious and soulful’ for years at our next stop, Spoonbread. You will certainly want to keep some of that bread on your spoon!

Make My Cake Bakery
139th Street & Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. (7th Avenue)

And…LAST BUT NOT LEAST….Every good SOUL FOOD meal should end with some ICING ON THE CAKE! At Make My Cake, they don’t just put icing on the cake; they make the cakes from ‘scratch’! You will want some of that cake.

That’s how we do Harlem SOUL FOOD. Be sure to stop on by again. And…make it real soon!

Visit Statue of Liberty

Visit the Statue of Liberty

Posted by & filed under A Blog on Visiting New York City.

The Statue of Liberty is one of the first things that the huddled masses arriving from foreign shores would see as they peered from the portholes and decks of the ships. Today we arrive in New York City in much more comfort than the forefathers, and while California can seem foreign to a New Yorker, it’s still the same country. The first time you see our Lady Liberty, she’s breathtaking–A symbol of hope, a new life, and a great photo op!

statue_and_pedestal2One of the most requested sites to see on a tour, is how to visit the Statue of Liberty. Though we talk about her from afar, her location on Liberty Island makes it rather hard to visit on a walking tour!

It is a ticketed attraction and while you can get tickets on the day, we highly recommend arranging advanced tickets to visit the Statue of Liberty. There are three types of tickets based on how high you want to go!

For those afraid of heights, you can purchase GROUND ONLY tickets. There are ranger talks and self guided tours of the grounds.

If you want to make it a little higher, you can visit the PEDESTAL which allows guests to wander inside of the pedestal, the museum, and the Fort Wood level. While you can get some of these tickets on the island itself, they are often gone by the first ferry.


All the way to the top, you say? CROWN tickets lets you visit the pedestal and the crown level. These are the most popular tickets and book up often 6 months in advance.

So that gets you into the statue, how do you get to Liberty Island? There is an official ferry line, Statue Cruises And by official, we mean only. There are two departure points – Liberty State Park in New Jersey with has plenty of parking or Battery Park in NYC with no parking. All ferry tickets include Grounds access, but you can preserve Pedestal or Crown Access when booking your tickets.

Art in NYC Subway

NYC Subway Art: Life Underground

Posted by & filed under A Blog on Visiting New York City.

Of all the MTA-Art for Transit’s artworks visited during The NYC Subway Art Tour consistently the most popular one among attendees is Tom Otterness’ Life Underground installed in 2001.

Fare EvaderTaking 10 years to complete, 130 eye-catching bronze figures are scattered throughout the immense 14th Street station. Many are in plain sight and many have to be looked for.

“The impossibility of understanding life in New York,” is the theme according to the artist who was inspired by the rampant political corruption during the construction of the NYC subway in the late 19th century.

“I’m surprised that the government allowed him to put all that in!” Expresses a widely shared interpretation that it’s a mischievous depiction of the capitalist system. Several of the tableau could be seen to depict the clash of economic classes and others are simply funny.

The picture above is one the most photographed scenes on the tour and captures the humor, poignancy and provocativeness of Life Underground.

Below is a video of Darryl Riley’s New York Subway Art Tour, which Darryl offers once a week as a pay-what-you-like tour with us.  Otherwise, he offers this tour two times each day for $25.  Check out the HuffPost’s article on Subway Art for even more photos and videos.

The New York City Subway Art Tour from Darryl Reilly on Vimeo.

Greenwich Village NYC Ghost Tour

Posted by & filed under A Blog on Visiting New York City.

As the weather cools down it’s not unusual to feel a chill every now and again, but if you happen to wander into the Greenwich Village perhaps those shivers are due to something more…otherworldly. The dip in temperature can’t explain that feeling of being watched, the hairs standing on the back of your neck, the sound of footsteps echoing down an empty street. Your guidebook might not reveal the darker secrets that New York City harbors, but the Greenwich Village NYC Ghost Tour can open your eyes to the supernatural side of the Big Apple.

NY Ghost TourIn New York City thousands of people walk over a mass burial ground every day, charge past the site of an infamous tragedy, or live next door to a home bursting with spirits. The Greenwich Village Ghost Tour aims to bring the past to life while reminding those bold enough to attend about the mysteries of the dead. The tour begins in Washington Square and curves its way through the West Village, telling tales of hauntings, murder, scandals, as well as providing a healthy dose of history.

The tour includes public spaces as well as private homes marred by scandal. After the tour attendees can indulge in spirits while in the company of Dylan Thomas at the White Horse Tavern, or return to Marie’s Crisis to strain for the sound of Thomas Paine delivering speeches over showtunes at this notorious cabaret bar. If nighttime seems too risky, you can return to Saint Luke in the Fields in daylight for a visit in the gardens, and perhaps an encounter with the visage of an elderly gentleman who disappears mid-conversation. If you have a friend at New York University, the school’s very haunted campus might be a destination to add to your checklist. Search for the ghost of Molly in Brittany Hall (but careful, she may turn the lights out if you aren’t polite), search for the soul of a young student in Hayden Hall, or take in the faint smell of smoke at the Brown Science Building, formerly known as the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory and site of New York City’s most infamous fire. For those looking to light a candle for the dead, perhaps a tribute is in order where Sid Vicious took his final breaths, or the former hangout of Angel Melendez before he was brutally slain by Club Kid Michael Alig.

These are just a touch of the tales waiting for you on the Greenwich Village Ghost Tour. Join us if you dare, this experience is not for the faint of heart. Consider yourself warned.

Guest Post by Megan Faye, NYC By Foot resident ghost guide!

New York Stadtführungen; New York walking tours

Moving to New York City

Posted by & filed under A Blog on Visiting New York City.

Over 200,000 people move to NYC each year and moving to a city this diverse and large can be overwhelming. Where should I live? Or more importantly, where should I NOT live? Where can I find full time employment or a part time job? Where’s the best place to eat out, make friends, do laundry, go grocery shopping?

But moving to New York City doesn’t have to be hard. Think of it as chance to explore! Our NYC tours are guided by local residents who share their own neighborhoods with guests. NYC tours are a great and affordable way to experience New York’s different neighborhoods as our guides are great resources about life in these neighborhoods.

While most of our tours focus on history (or food!) of various parts of New York City, even just meandering down the sidewalks can give you a local feel of the area. Our guides can point out the historic homes and stories of years past, but we also talk about what life is like today in Brooklyn Heights, Harlem, Greenwich Village and more!

What our guides can’t do is help you find an apartment (though who knows, maybe we know someone renting out a room?), a job (of course, we’re always hiring!), making friends (or maybe we can – have you tried our East Village Pub Crawl?) – but if you want guaranteed assistance, check out Moving to New York Guide as a resource for moving to NYC.

Moving To New York Guide has original articles as well as links to the best resources around the web for people who are planning their move that focuses specifically on topics that people who are relocating need to know, such as: finding employment, finding an apartment, making new friends and planning a move.

Need help with moving companies? They have recommendations! Brought too much stuff for a tiny studio apartment, there are links to storage companies in NYC. Can you really afford that $2500 month studio apartment anyways? From finding roommates to a home on your own, setting up cable and internet to how not to go broke, Moving to New York Guide has the resources to help you move to NYC.

And when you’re all set up as a NYC local with an air mattress for guests visiting, don’t forget to send them our way to start the process of helping others fall in love with the Big Apple all over again!

Restrooms New York

Finding a Public Restroom in New York City

Posted by & filed under A Blog on Visiting New York City.

Finding a public bathroom in New York City can be a challenge, so we like to provide you with some helpful tips. You won’t find toilets in subway stations, and simply walking into a restaurant might get you some unwelcome stares.  As a general rule, the many upscale hotels, coffee houses, and department stores in New York City are a safe and easy way to go.

And don’t forget, we always provide you with a free bathroom spot before the start of any of our free walking tours.

Related Posts:

Read more »

Budget friendly travel options throughout the US

Posted by & filed under A Blog on Visiting New York City, Boston, Charleston, Chicago, Miami, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Washington DC.

Free Tours by Foot offers pay-what-you-like walking, bike, bus, food and theme tours for every budget, because we believe that everybody should be able to explore the stories, history, and hidden gems of the city they are visiting.  We offer tours of U.S. cities such as BostonChicago, New York, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Charleston and New Orleans and we often have visitors exploring our tours in different cities. We frequently get the question, what we suggest are the best ways to get around the U.S. and while most travelers have a car or rent a car, that option does not always suit everybody. Here are some budget-friendly ways to travel from city to city without car.

Connecting New York – Boston – Philadelphia – Washington D.C.

A great, easy, and budget-friendly option to travel between the big cities of the northeast is by bus.  There are several different bus companies that are connecting the Northeast cities; and depending which route you take, tickets can be as cheap as $12 one-way. Thanks to the increased number of bus companies, there usually is enough time to book your ticket online 24 hours in advance, unless you are set on a specific time schedule or travel with a larger group.  Also, bear in mind, rush hour departures/arrivals around 9am and 5pm can add another hour to your trip if your bus gets stuck in traffic.  Here are some suggestions:

  • Boltbus – a crowd pleaser with guaranteed seating, and easy boarding process, they usually book out last minute, so book early.
  • Megabus – offers a lot of departure time options, as their fleet departs more often than the others
  • Peter Pan – another great budget option and especially popular for Boston trips
  • Greyhound – the classy and a little more pricy option with more flexibility for refunds; make sure you arrive 30 minutes early for boarding to grab a good seat
  • DC2NY – as the name suggests they operate between NYC and DC; if you like a little more upscale bus ride experience; only rides twice a day; during the summer months, they also offer travel to Rehoboth Beach in Maryland
  • Washington Deluxe – operates between NYC and DC; great if you want to be dropped off in Brooklyn

Connecting Washington DC – Chicago – New Orleans – Charleston

First, check with your airline or flight search engines, such as Kayak, you might be surprised to find a sweet deal for a flight.  If flying is not an option, your best bet to connect these longer distances might be by train.  Going by train will certainly feel like an adventure itself and it is a more relaxing way to see the country compared to sitting in a bus, because you can walk around, read a book, etc. and let’s face it, sometimes the journey itself is the reward of travel.  Make sure you book your ticket at least 3 weeks in advance, because last minute travel by train can get really pricy. Check with Amtrak for times and prices. Here are the current estimates:

  • Washington to New Orleans – 26 hours; $147 one-way
  • New Orleans to Chicago – 19 hours; $127 one-way
  • Chicago to Washington – 17.5 hours; $94 one-way
  • Washington to Charleston, SC – 9 hours; $97 one-way

Greyhound also connects these cities, though you might have to add on some extra travel hours and transfers.

Free Tours by Foot is looking forward to seeing you soon at one or more of our many tours. Save travels!

New York Stadtführungen; New York walking tours

FREE NEW YORK CITY: Best Free Things to Do in New York City

Posted by & filed under A Blog on Visiting New York City.

FREE NEW YORK CITY: Best free things to do in New York City

Free Tours by Foot will always encourage you to take advantage of our favorite free activities: our New York Tours.  However, there are so many free things to do in New York City.  We list the top things our tour guides have come up with.

Ride the Staten Island Ferry

Staten Island Ferry Free Tours

This free commuter ferry runs frequently every day of the week and offers amazing views of lower Manhattan and Wall Street’s skyscrapers, Governors Island, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.  Each way is about 30 minutes so allow yourself at least an hour to enjoy one of the best free deals in the city.  Just head down to the Staten Island Ferry terminal located near Battery Park. Nearest subways are J/Z to Broad Street; 1 to South Ferry; 4/5 to Bowling Green. Click here for the official ferry website with schedules and additional information. A great way to relax after taking our Lower Manhattan walking tour.

Museums for free or by donation (check out our full blog post)

Many of New York City’s museums are free or “pay what you can” by donation. Those that are not free do offer free hours on certain days of the week. Check this complete list, but here are just a few:

  • The American Museum of Natural History has “suggested admission” and it is quite steep. We believe in supporting the arts, but we also know that admission fees can add up. Don’t let that prevent you from seeing some amazing art and artifacts. Pay whatever you feel is appropriate and within your budget.
  • The wonderful National Museum of the American Indian is always free (and perfect to visit before taking our free Lower Manhattan walking tour!)
  • Our pick for best deal: The Museum of Modern Art offers free admission every Friday from 4 p.m. to 8p.m. Go early as there will be a line, but it’s worth it. Admission is regularly $25.

Movies under the stars

A favorite summer activity of New Yorkers is watching movies outdoors for free in select parks throughout the city.  There are so many offerings you could see a different movie almost every night of the week for the whole summer and not pay a cent!  Most popular is the Bryant Park Wednesday Movie night.  Our fave is the Thursday night series at Brooklyn Bridge Park.  Our Brooklyn Heights Sunset tour finishes right nearby- perfect timing! For a complete schedule of all city movie locations, see this Free Outdoor Summer Movie Guide.

free outdoor movies

Watch a TV show taping

See some celebs and maybe be one yourself if you get a camera close up as you sit in the audience at one of the many shows taped here in New York City.  Some shows are so popular you must request tickets in advance (Jon Stewart, Saturday Night Live), but may shows have standby options if you’re willing to wait in line. Click here for more information on dozens of show tapings.

Music & concerts

From top pop stars to local musical talent, you’ll find free music all over the city this summer. A comprehensive list can be found by clicking here Free summer concerts, but these are our favorites:

  • Summerstage- for almost 30 years, Central Park has been the place to see music of all genres, from around the world, from Calypso, to punk rock to folk music and so much more.
  • Celebrate Brooklyn!  Brooklyn’s splendid Prospect Park hosts this annual series of performances each summer which offers New Yorkers an amazingly diverse range of both legendary and up-and-coming artists. At both series, most concerts are free while some charge admission to benefit charities.

Street Fairs

It’s almost impossible to NOT go to a street fair in New York since you stumble upon them every weekend. They are great for trying out some food trucks, buying cheap stylish sunglasses, jewelry, handbags, clothing – you name it and you can probably find it at a New York City street fair. Why wait to accidentally discover one. Find out where and when to go by looking at this Guide to Street Fairs. Our pick: Brooklyn Flea, located on Saturdays in Fort Greene, Brooklyn and Sundays in Williamsburg (perfect to check out after our 10 am Williamsburg Walking tour!)

Hit the beach

It’s all too easy to forget that New York City lies along the Atlantic Ocean and has dozens of clean and easily reached beaches. Among them are famous Coney Island in Brooklyn, Rockaway Beach in Queens or Robert Moses State Park in Long Island. You can be walking on beautiful white sand and jumping waves in less than an hour from Manhattan. For all beach listings, hours and directions see NYC Beaches.