If you’re new to America, tipping can leave you confused, embarrassed and clutching dollar notes in restaurants wondering where you went wrong. From taxi drivers to bartenders, and everybody in-between, knowing when and how much to tip is important knowledge to have when entering the country. Here are our ten rules for tipping like a pro in the United States.

And don’t worry - You’re bound to get it wrong at least once.

1. Tipping can vary from state to state

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to tipping; it is different in each state. It’s a good idea before you arrive to get acquainted with what amount is customary, and if there are any special expectations.

2. You’re allowed to tip based on the quality of service

Tipping, at its heart, is a way to reward excellent service. If you’ve had poor service and felt the server doesn’t deserve a generous tip, then perhaps only leave a 10% tip. It’s also worth remembering that not tipping isn’t illegal, even when added directly to your bill, however it is in poor taste not to tip your server. After all, tips make up for the majority of their pay. There’s an old saying in the U.S., that if you can’t afford to tip, you can’t afford the service.   

On the other hand, if your server has gone out of their way to help, or has been very friendly, why not leave a little extra?

3. Don’t accidentally hand over a $100 in place of a $1

American notes can be hard to differentiate and if you have accidently given the wrong amount to a very pleased recipient, it might be hard to get it back. Make sure you’re handing over the correct notes.

4. 15-25% of your restaurant bill (before tax) is expected

Remember servers and people in the hospitality industry are usually paid a very low minimum wage. By paying a decent tip, you’re ensuring they have enough to live off.

5. You don’t have to leave a tip if your bill says ‘gratuity included’

If your bill has ‘gratuity included’ written on it, this means the establishment has added what they see as an appropriate tip to your bill. This generally occurs when you’re a part of a larger group or at touristy places.

6. Bartenders, porters, taxi drivers, and hairdressers all deserve a tip 

It’s not just wait-staff that expect a tip in the States. If someone has served or helped you, you tip them. Think $1 per drink in a bar (or the customary 20% off the bill), $1-$2 per bag if someone is carrying them for you, about 15% of the taxi fare when you’re getting driven around and 20% of the bill for a good haircut.

7. Fast-food chains and takeaway joints don’t expect tips

It’s not common to tip an employee at a fast-food restaurant like McDonald’s or Taco Bell. But if you’re having your meal delivered to your door, then it’s a different story and you should definitely tip your delivery person. Tip as if you were having dinner in a restaurant.

8. Leave a few dollars for housekeeping 

If you’ve got someone cleaning your hotel room every day, it’s normal to leave a tip for them. Pop a few dollars somewhere visible, and if you can, leave a note that says ‘Thank You - For Housekeeping’. 

9. When you’re not sure - ask!

If you’re a foreigner or just unsure, don’t hesitate to ask around. It might seem a little weird to ask how much someone is expecting as a tip but it’s a lot less rude than tipping too little, or not at all. 

10. Don’t forget to carry cash

In a world where we whip out our credit cards for even the smallest purchase, you can easily forget to have some cash on you. Make a point to check you have cash before you sit down to eat. Although don’t stress too much, as many places are able to add your chosen tip amount to your bill if you want to pay by card.

Follow these simple guidelines and tipping doesn't have to be stressful or awkward - It’s all just part of the experience! 


Limits, exclusions and conditions apply. This is general advice only. We do not provide any advice based on any consideration of your objectives, financial situation or needs. Consider the Combined PDS/FSG (available before deciding about this insurance.

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