Guide to Tipping Your Service People (And When Not to Tip)

All your life society has been programming you to act irrationally. Don’t believe us? We can prove it.

Why do you tip your server, hairdresser and pizza delivery person, but neglect to tip your barista, your McDonalds drive-thru employee or your dental hygienist?

If the question seems silly to you, take a closer look at each profession. What makes any of the first jobs different from the second list? Level of pay? How socially desirable the job is? What common factors make a service “tip-worthy”?

The fact of the matter is that if you break down all the criteria, there really isn’t much consistency to why we tip some service professionals and don’t tip others. Tipping is simply a cultural expectation in some fields.

That’s where a guide comes in handy. While these aren’t the inarguable laws of tipping, the following guidelines will keep you out of trouble, and from getting a less-than-desirable coiffure in your future.

1. If it’s a job society at large considers tip-worthy, you need to tip.

The truth is society has decided some people should receive tips in addition to their base pay. Some occupations’ pay has been adjusted to accommodate this. For instance, in many US states, servers are paid below minimum wage because of the expectation of tips, so if you don’t tip, their pay dramatically suffers.

Other professions are paid minimum wage, but still require tips, either to cover the extra costs of equipment and fuel, or simply because that’s how it is. The usual must-tips are (but not limited to): servers at restaurants, hair cutters or stylists, food delivery persons, bartenders, valets and cab drivers.

Remember, it’s always ok to ask a member of management if someone’s wage is dependent upon your tip. It’s better to ask and find out either way than to assume and accidently ruin someone’s day of work.

2. Be wary about tipping significantly less for bad service.

A common misunderstanding about tips is that they’re only required for amazing service. While that belief makes intuitive sense, it simply isn’t true on a practical level. Tips for the above-mentioned services are always necessary. What is negotiable is the tipping rate.

For tipping servers, 10%-20% of the total cost is the minimum expectation for a hearty restaurant meal. You can go above that for amazing service. For truly poor service, tip 10%. For abysmal service, talk to the manager and you’ll likely be compensated in the cost of your meal, but should still tip.

A bad tip doesn’t do anything to correct bad service except send a message about your stinginess. Talk to a manager or the server if you are disappointed. Use exceptional tips as a reward, not poor tips as a punishment. Do an online search to find expected tip percentages and amounts for each profession.

Finally, try not to blame servers for factors outside of their control. Blame them if they forget to order your food. Don’t blame them if the cooks don’t make food as fast as you’d like.

3. Even if tips are not mandatory, courtesy tips are sometimes encouraged.

The type of tipping we’ve been discussing up to this point is “mandatory tipping,” but there’s also “courtesy tipping.” This is tipping that’s not required, but is good to do under certain circumstances.

For instance, if you come into the same coffee shop every morning and order the same drink, you’re a regular and should probably tip as a courtesy, if just a small amount. Another courtesy would be if the establishment you’re frequenting is especially busy, or if your service required special instructions to complete.

Some final pointers: Know that even a small difference to you probably makes an enormous difference to the person who’s serving you. Second, don’t make a big deal of your own generosity. Trust that you are appreciated.

Finally, the people you are tipping are human beings. They have good days and bad days. They have financial struggles and deaths in the family, just like anyone. Appreciate the people who are serving you, if not because they are doing a great job, then because they’re basically just like you.