Grappling with Gratuities: A Brief Guide to Tipping

published Dec 11, 2016
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The holidays are a season meant for showing gratitude. With gratitude, comes gifts and tips. And with that comes confusion. And that confusion doesn’t end when the holidays do.

There are many rules based on social etiquette about how to tip, who to tip, why and when. These vary by financial circumstances, generations, region and upbringing. You want to show appreciation for services and kindness rendered to you throughout the year, but the whole tipping process is confusing. When is a tip appropriate? How much is enough?

This tipping primer will help you appropriately show your gratitude beyond the holidays.


For excellent service, tip 20 percent. If the service was somewhat lacking, write down 15 percent. Keep in mind: There is more than one person serving you. There’s the busser, the kitchen staff and the hostess, some of whom might receive part of the tip. Tips make up much of these employees’ living, so if service is unacceptable bring it to the manager’s attention rather than skipping out on a tip.

Cab Driver

There are a few factors to consider on how much to tip your cab driver. Did the driver arrive promptly? How fast was the trip? Did you feel comfortable and safe? If you had a good experience, tip 10 to 18 percent.

Hotel Housekeeping

Were the linens fresh? Did you have an overall pleasant experience? Leave at least $1 to $3 per day for standard service and more for exceptional service. Put the money in an envelope and label it. They’ve taken great care of you so you want to make sure they get it!

Hotel Concierge

The concierge has a full plate and strives to make your stay the best you’ve experienced. If they’ve taken care of you during your stay, tip the concierge $10 to $20 as you depart.

Airport or Train Porter

For a job well done, leave at least $1 to $2. Tip more if the porter went above and beyond. Keep in mind: The rules for tipping when you travel may be different in other countries, and even different parts of the U.S., like NYC and California. Do your research, and look around for examples.

Massage Therapist

Your massage therapist is constantly undergoing training beyond basic certification, and massage therapy is considered a complementary therapy to traditional medicine. The standard is to tip 20 percent, especially at a spa where wages aren’t chosen or when a massage therapist comes to your home. However, some massage therapists are strongly against accepting tips in a medical or clinical setting.

Beauty Parlor/Barber Shop Staff

For a barber, beautician, manicurist or pedicurist, tip 15 to 20 percent per service for work you admire. For the stylist and colorist, tip 10 to 20 percent as the standard, depending on how you feel about your results.

Personal Trainer

No need to tip your personal trainer if they’re self-employed and have chosen a set hourly wage. It is nice to tip during the holidays or for a birthday, though.


If you’ve hired a moving company, offer the team at least 5 percent of the total cost of the move. Some companies don’t expect tips, so a steep tip isn’t required, but is a nice gesture for someone who has cared for your belongings. Regardless of if it’s a friend or someone you’ve hired, offer the mover refreshments or a slice of pizza. For someone who’s delivered a newly purchased piece of furniture, tip $5 or $10, depending on the weight of the piece.

Personal House Cleaner

For a one-time visit, $5 per cleaner is an acceptable tip. If you’ve hired a regular maid service, you may skip regular tips, and choose to do monthly or annual tips. Do offer a holiday tip as a bonus for someone you count on throughout the year.

Grocery Store Bagger

It’s not typical to tip the bagger at the grocery store. However, if he or she carries the bags to your car, do tip a buck or two for going the extra mile.


Tip at least $1 for every drink you purchase. If you’re trying several drinks, tip your bartender more for the legwork.

Pet Groomer

Most pets don’t like baths, and it takes a certain person to calm them. It isn’t an easy job, but it is one that deserves a tip. In general, 15 to 20 percent of the total is appropriate. Tip your pet groomer $10, or more, for extra services.

Casino Dealer and Server

For gambling newbies, get into the habit of tipping your casino dealer and server early. Tip $1-$5 for every hand to the dealer, and tip at least $1 for every drink the server brings you.

This primer will get you started for most tipping situations you will encounter. The rules of tipping etiquette are constantly evolving, but many guidelines hold true over time. Did you have a good experience? Are there factors outside the individual’s control that affected the service rendered? What made this an exceptional service?

Typically, you won’t tip someone who has assigned their own wages or who is the owner. If in another region or country, look around you. Is money laying on the table? Don’t be afraid to ask if you’re unsure of the proper etiquette. The idea is to show appreciation for a job well done and to pay it forward in exchange, throughout the year.