A difficult part of everyday life in the U.S. for many international students – and even most Americans! - is tipping those who provide a service to you, such as waiters and waitresses at restaurants.
The people you will need to tip most frequently are waiters and waitresses. You should always tip 15 -20% of the pre-tax bill. In large cities or very nice restaurants you should tip 20-25%. If you have poor service, you should complain to the manager instead of leaving no tip or a very small tip. The reason behind this is that wait people are often paid significantly less than the minimum wage, sometimes only $2-3 per hour. This is allowed by law because it is expected that they will supplement their income with a tip.
Tipping does not apply to restaurants where you order food at the counter or a buffet where you get the food yourself.
Please note that for large groups or in some restaurants, the tip may already be included in the bill. Look for a phrase such as “gratuity included” or “service charge included” on the bill.
You should also tip other people who provide you a service. Here are some common examples you may experience.
Hair stylists, massage therapists, taxi drivers, or tour guides: 15-20%
Bellhops (help with your luggage), valets, and maids at hotels: a few dollars given directly to the person or left on your pillow
Food delivery: 10-20%
Bars: $1-2 per drink or the same as you would leave for a waitperson added to your bill
Now, how to give the tip? If you are paying by credit card, there will usually be line at the bottom labeled “tip” or “gratuity” where you add the amount you would like to tip to the bill. If you are paying by cash at a restaurant, you can leave the tip on the table. For other service people, you can simply hand them cash.
If you would like to know more about tipping in the U.S., here are articles you might find useful (Margolis, 2012; Rane, 2015; Richardson, 2014; United States: Tipping and Etiquette, 2017):