Top 10 tips on tipping in America

To tip or not to tip?

If you tip, how much do you tip?

America is the land of bald eagles, apple pie, home foreclosures and tipping.

If a hotel porter picks up your three suitcases from the taxi, walks with you to the hotel check-in, escorts you up to your room, neatly unloads the bags, shows you where the thermostat is, how the TV remote works and where the $US12 ($A18.33) can of Coke is located in the mini-bar, how much do you tip the guy for his 15 minutes of work?

You have dinner at one of New York's finest restaurants, the bill arrives and not only is there a section to tip the waiter, but there is space to tip the maitre de' or captain. How much of your hard earned Aussie dollars (currently sitting around a paltry 65 US cents to $A1.00) do you depart with?

You can toss an Aussie in a pool with great whites, crocodiles, box jellyfish and a couple of beaked sea snakes and they would probably happily swim a couple of laps if it meant they did not have to worry about tipping on their next American vacation.

The best tip about tipping in the US is to tip.

It is a reality of life over here.

Sure, it is un-Australian.

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But you're not in Australia!

Leaving a couple of coins with the bill and heading for the exit is not appropriate if the service was OK.

When in Rome eat spaghetti. When in the US tip.

Suck it up. Pull out your wallet. Tip appropriately. Don't let the fear of tipping ruin your meal and your holiday.

When you draw up the budget for your US trip take tipping into account.

I've lived in the US for eight years and it took a good five to work it all out because frustratingly when you ask Americans how much you should tip, they are reluctant or embarrassed to tell you.

But, if you don't tip or don't tip enough they suddenly become quite clear, concise and down right angry about it.

For the waiters, porters, bartenders etc the tips you give them are how they pay their bills.

In California the minimum wage is a measly $US8.00 ($A12.22) an hour.

Aussies often argue they should not they have to make up for America's crappy wages. It is a fair argument. There is a simple way to protest. Don't visit the US.

But, you will find generally the level of service will be higher in the US than Australia because your servers are working for their tips. If you avoid tourist trap restaurants, the food is cheaper.

Here's 10 tips on tipping in the US.

1. THE EXCEPTION: One of the first questions Aussies raise about tipping is: "But what if the service is terrible? Do you still have to tip?" The answer is NO. You don't have to tip. If you decide your waiter doesn't deserve a tip don't be shy about it. If he/she took three hours to serve you, was rude and the food was cold or not cooked how you ordered it, he/she doesn't deserve a tip. Don't scamper out the exit or get angry. Ask for the manager and tell him/her. You may even get a free meal out of it.

2. BE PREPARED: There's a reason why the US has kept its $US1 notes while the rest of the world has moved on to $1 coins. Make sure you have plenty in your wallet or purse. If you find you are in the hotel lobby and you only have $20 notes, that is not an excuse. Don't be shy. Don't shrug your shoulders and say you only have big notes. Ask the porter if he has change. They'll gladly provide it. Or go to the front desk and they will break big notes. Have your dollar notes in a separate pocket.

3. RESTAURANTS/CAFE: The general rule for a restaurant or cafe is to tip 15 to 20 per cent of your bill total. If you are mathematically challenged, there is an easy way to work it out. Most states in the US charge a sales tax of about 8 per cent. it is visible on the bill. So just double the tax you see on the bill and maybe add a dollar to it. If you are splurging in a five star restaurant and it lives up to your expectations, you should tip at least 20 per cent. Maybe 25 per cent. That's a big chunk of change on $US200-plus bill. Just to make it a little scarier, at the finer restaurants your bill will also probably contain a section to tip the maitre de' or captain. That was the man/woman who showed you to your table and maybe came over during the meal to ask if it was OK. Again, give him/her what he/she deserves. I generally tip the waiter 20-25 per cent in a nice restaurant and then $US5 or $US10, or if they deserve it, $US20, to the maitre de'.

4. FAST FOOD/SUPERMARKETS: There is a way to avoid tipping waiters and captains. Eat at McDonald's or the like. There's two good aspects to this. You don't tip if you buy food over a counter (although don't be surprised if you see a cup next to the cash register with a 'Tips Welcome' sign. You also don't have to tip checkout employees at supermarkets. The second positive of this is after a month in the US and only eating McDonald's you'll know exactly what Morgan Super Size Me Spurlock went through.

5. HAIRDRESSER: You are in the US on a holiday and want to go to a famed Beverly Hills or Manhattan hairstylist. If you do, take your credit card and a pocket of cash. My wife loves to tell the story of her first US hair experience. She booked into a famous Manhattan stylist in the Plaza Hotel for a simple blow dry. She sat down in the chair. An assistant asked her if she would like a coffee or tea. She said yes. The tea was delicious. The assistant discreetly left an empty envelope next to her. Another employee washed her hair. After a great wash and massage, the person left another envelope next to her. Then the hairstylist did the blow dry. He left an envelope. My wife did not have a clue what the envelopes were for. Nobody explained it. She paid for her blow dry and left. It was only a few weeks later when she was talking to an American friend she was informed she should have left maybe $US2 or $US3 tip for the tea. About $US3 to $US5 to the person who washed her hair and to the stylist a 20 per cent tip based on the cost of the $US100 blow dry. She hasn't been back.

6. TAXIS: Taxi drivers expect a 10 to 20 per cent tip. If they don't help me with my bags I go low. If they are a helpful, don't smoke a pack of cigarettes, use deodorant and go a direct route, I head towards the 20 per cent.

7. TOUR GUIDES: If you are in the US and go on a guided tour of celebrity homes, historic places etc and you thought the guide did a good job, at the end give him/her $US5 or $US10.

8. BAGS: The answer to the question about how much to tip the porter who takes your bags to your hotel room and points out where the $US12 can of Coke is? The general rule is you pay him $US1 a bag. But if he/she goes above and beyond, throw in a few extra dollars. No coins! Also, porters (sky-captains) located curbside at the airport expect tips. Have you seen the Seinfeld episode when Jerry and Elaine debate about how much to tip a sky-captain? Jerry wants to give him $US10 for their three bags but Elaine thinks it is too expensive. They ask the sky-captain and he says he usually gets $US5 a bag. Elaine gets angry and abuses the sky-captain and threatens to report him for trying to rip them off. Jerry pays the guy. The scene ends with the sky-captain putting the correct tags on Jerry's bags so they will arrive in New York, but he purposely tags Elaine's bags for Honolulu. When it comes to people like sky-captains, it is worth handing over a few extra bucks ... or better still just avoid them and carry your own bags into the airport.

9. BARS: The general tipping rule is a dollar a drink. So even if you get out of your seat and walk up to the bar and order your own drinks, the bartender will expect a tip. If you order more than two drinks you can scale it back a bit. Maybe hand over at least two $US1 bills for three or four drinks. Most American bars have waiters and waitresses so if you remain in your seat and go this option be prepared to pay at least a 10 per cent tip when the bill arrives at the end of your drinking session.

10. GRATUITY ALREADY INCLUDED: Sometimes restaurants automatically include the tip in the bill. This particularly happens in tourist hotels and areas. You don't have to accept it. If the service was not up to standard tell him/her to take it out of the bill. It can also work to your advantage. It takes the mystery out of how much of a tip is OK and the restaurant could calculate it at just 10 or 12 per cent when you were willing to go to 20 per cent.

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