tipping, tipping etiquette

“Here you go,” you say, handing the bus person at your neighborhood restaurant a couple dollars. He looks at you confusedly before shaking his head and walking away. What did you do? Were you not supposed to tip him?

You encounter it every day: when you take a cab, go out to eat or get your hair done. Tipping is a big part of life in America but most of the guidelines are unspoken. When do we tip? How much is appropriate? Am I insulting someone by tipping—or not tipping—them? It’s enough to drive you crazy, but we can offer some help with our tipping etiquette tips.

Tipping goes all the way back to the Middle Ages and in many cultures the word for tip derives from the word for drinking, since the first tips were given with the intention the tipee bought himself a drink with the money. We tip to reward good service and in general the more upscale situation we’re in, the more we’re expected to tip. Here are some guidelines for common tipping situations:

Restaurants are filled with possible people to tip and it’s hard to know where to begin. The Itty Bitty Guide to Tipping by Stacie Krajchir and Carrie Rosten offers these guidelines:

Host—No tip necessary, unless you want a better table, in which case tipping the host when you arrive could help.
Waiter—15-20% of the bill before tax
Busboy—You don’t need to tip because the server will share his or her tips with the bus staff. If they are very helpful though, you can ask the server to give them extra (which you provide, obviously).
Sommelier—20% of your wine bill before tax if he or she helps you choose wine for your dinner.
Bartender—15-20% of bar bill, or $1 per drink. If the bartender gives you a free round, give him a generous tip.
Coat check—no tip unless coat check is free, then $1
Washroom attendant—no tip unless they go above and beyond
Valet—$2 per car