4 Tips for Tipping

People often wonder about the etiquette for giving tips and gratuity.  “How much do you give someone if…?”  “Do you tip someone for that?”  In some professions, tips are expected, particularly in service industries like restaurants, hotels, salons, etc.  But what about that awkward in between?  There’s the expected tip, but what about additional, extra tips?  There’s not always rhyme or reason to the whole thing, but here are my 4 tips on tipping (in no particular order).

1. Tips are expected but they aren’t mandatory.  Tip appropriately based on the quality of service, but still tip.
I work in an industry where most of the people survive on tips.  Restaurants pay their employees below minimum wage because it is anticipated that they will make extra on gratuity.  Depending on the industry, I tip regardless of how good or bad the service is.  10% is a low tip, by standard, 15% means it was good, 20% is great.  I usually tip around 20% unless service wasn’t good. Service has to be horrendous for me to leave no tip, but I have left a small amount, which also acknowledges a lack of happiness with service.  If something was bad enough not to leave any tip, you should probably be contacting a manager of that employee rather than leaving nothing and never coming back.

2. If someone is paying for a service for you, make sure they’ve covered tip.  If not, you should be tipping on the total, original value of the service.
Let’s say your friend gives you a groupon for a massage.  The original value of that massage was $100.  Your friend bought it for $45 and you’re getting it for free.  What no one remembers to read in that fine print is that the person giving you that massage has bills too.  They are giving you the same service they would have given a customer who paid the full $100.  So make the effort to see if your service includes tip either when you arrive or by calling ahead. Don’t tip on $45, tip based on $100.  Have cash ready for the full, original amount.   Keep in mind, most establishments can’t just charge your credit card without an actual charge/service attached to it.  And even so, the numbers on the book could deduct the cost of the service automatically which may result in the worker losing some of that tip.

3.  Money can not replace genuine gratitude.
While you shouldn’t be cheap you also can’t overdo it.  Not everyone deserves money for every little thing they do.  If a hired help assists you doing something extra, it’s polite to tip them but be careful because sometimes trying to give someone money can also appear insulting.  It’s a fine line between these 2 things and honestly, it’s a case-by-case kinda thing.  Money is not meant to replace genuine gratitude.  Once at one of my jobs, I retrieved a woman’s bags and helped her carry a few things to her car.  The place wasn’t even officially opened for the day yet but she just stopped in early.  What I do remember was the slightly pompous way she walked around and after the task was finished, she reached in her expensive purse and shoved a $20 at me.  Maybe it was because I was still new to the whole thing, but it seemed excessive.  I got a sense she was trying to get me to feel indebted to her for such an unnecessarily generous tip.  Clearly she must be very wealthy if she’s handing out 20s like grandma’s holiday cookies.  So I refused it.  I think we managed to offend each other.  Catholic schooling taught me to be helpful for the sake of being helpful…for free.  In retrospect it probably wasn’t so terrible, but the combination of obligation and the need to show off wasn’t something I missed.  Was it wrong to tip me in such a situation?  No.  But there’s something to be said for looking someone in the eye and saying “thank you.”  I’m not saying don’t tip, but if you are, make sure that it’s meant to be a genuine thank you and not a “here, peasant — have a gold coin for your troubles” kind of thing.

4. Personal versus Professional
If your friends move you into your new house, you usually buy them pizza and beer and promise to do something nice for them.  If you have a moving company you pay them based on how much stuff you have and how long it will take.  Most people know that tipping is not something you do when a personal relationship is involved.  Thank you cards, maybe a gift card perhaps some gas money…  When you think of it though, we tip people we know, just not always with cash.
Example: I live downtown, 3 blocks from my job and within a 5 block radius of my apartment are 3 grocery stores, a starbucks, nail salon, bank, post office, public transit and a mall.  It would take me more time to find a parking space than it would be to simply go to my destination by foot.  Needless to say, I don’t have a car.  So when I took the 2.5hr train ride to my parents’ house every weekend 5 weekends in a row to help out when my sister was sick, my best friend would drive 45 minutes out of her way to pick me up from the train station and drive me to my parents house which was in the complete opposite direction of her own.  Every trip I brought her a bottle of wine, especially picked for her from la bella cita.  It became a creative challenge for me and something she enjoyed — or so I think.  I’d try to throw in some of Potbelly’s amazing oatmeal chocolate chip cookies (my favorite & hers) every now and then.  The idea being to do something nice or special.  I think the essence of tipping is doing something nice or special and that people on both sides of service often forget that.  When questioning whether to give someone money think did (s)he do something that earns it? If the answer is yes, then ask yourself is giving this person money appropriate?  If not, think of something else to do that is nice.  Get a business card, send a letter to the company.  Making good effort to inform someone’s higher-ups about how great they’ve done is important as well.  But use your judgment and always make tipping part of a courteous act.

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