America, the land of the free. Unless you're eating or drinking in a restaurant, that is, when it becomes America, the land of the gratuity.
Granted, you are not legally bound to tip anyone at all in the United States, but because of the way the system is set-up, it's akin to a crime against humanity not to.
Most waitstaff in America work for a pittance and rely on their tips to bring that pittance up to something like a minimum wage. You could argue the politics of this all day – that such a system lets the employer off the hook in terms of paying a decent salary – but until it changes, it's best to tip anything from 15 to 20 per cent on the total of the bill (and up to 25 per cent in high-end establishments).
My well-travelled friend says the easiest way to calculate the tip is to double the tax you see on the bill, then round it up. "It usually works out around 18 per cent," she says. "And the best way to know if you've done it properly is to look at the face of the server – it's going to be very obvious."
She pays tips in cash, and suggests always having a stack of small bills on your person. "You need small bills more than big ones, for people like bathroom attendants, and porters. I also leave cash in the hotel room for the housekeeping staff."
At a bar, leave a dollar a drink at the counter, or 15 per cent of the bill at a table. Taxi drivers expect 15 to 20 per cent, porters $5 a bag, parking valets $5, and hairdressers and beauty therapists are the same as restaurants, expecting 15-20 per cent.
In Australia, we regard tipping as an indication of how much we enjoy our experience, and are usually happy to leave a 10 per cent tip. Elsewhere in the world: an optional 10 per cent is pretty standard throughout Europe, but in France and Denmark, for instance, you will find the amount has already been added to the bill as a service charge, so round it up or leave a few extra Euros or kroner on the table.
In Britain, most restaurants include a 12.5 per cent service fee in the bill, but beware – a few of them will leave the tip column open as well, just in case you've had three martinis.
Otherwise, may I suggest you book all your holidays in countries that don't encourage tipping at all: mainland China, Japan, Vanuatu, Fiji and Denmark.
(For those who have found this information helpful, I accept cash and credit cards).