Tipping: What’s the Right Way to Do It, Anyway?

Few financial interactions mystify me more than tipping. Maybe that’s because my tipping experience was limited when I was growing up. You see, I grew up in a rural town and the only tipping I witnessed was when my parents left some extra cash for the waitstaff at the local pizza joint.

Things changed once I was living on my own. Suddenly there were people to tip left and right: fancy hairdressers, people who parked cars, shuttle drivers, gasoline attendants, and the ever-mysterious people who hang out in the bathroom and hand you soap and towels with an expectant look.

Even today, I’m constantly worried that I’m either a) not tipping someone when I should; b) not tipping the appropriate amount; or c) tipping someone who doesn’t normally get tipped (awkward!)

That’s why I went on a quest to put this matter to rest. I called up my social interactions guru, Crystal Stemberger from Budgeting In The Fun Stuff, to settle this tipping matter once and for all. Read on to learn more.

Who do you tip?

Let’s get to the heart of the matter. Who actually gets a tip?

Obviously, wait staff in restaurants should get tips. But from there, it gets a little murkier. According to Stemberger, there are two good ways to know whether you should tip someone or not.

1. Research Your Situation Ahead of Time

The least-obtrusive way is to simply Google it.

“You can read a whole bunch of different articles about it,” says Stemberger. “Honestly, if the majority of people are saying, ‘I tip my hairdresser extra around Christmas,’ then I might do that too.”

Seems simple enough. However, I recently didn’t have time to Google whether I should tip my airport shuttle driver before getting off the bus. So, I asked Stemberger: “What if you’re not able to conduct an exhaustive review of the Internet ahead of time? What if it’s a spur-of-the-moment situation?”

2. Just Ask

For this perplexing scenario, Stemberger has a brilliant solution.

“I 100% just ask,” she says. “Just go, ‘Hey, I was wondering, does this (tipping) normally happen? Do you usually get tipped or is that not accepted? What’s your deal here?’”

Genius. According to Stemberger, no one has ever mutated into a nine-headed hydra and attacked her for asking this question. In fact, she says folks have been straight-up and honest with her.

How much are you supposed to tip?

Again, the protocol for wait staff and other people who make their wages based primarily on tips is very simple. TripAdvisor advises tipping 15-20% of the bill.

Everyone else? It seems that just a dollar or two, or even a few, suffices for most cases, according to the American Hotel and Lodging Association. This means that keeping a few one dollar bills on hand for unexpected tipping situations is probably a good idea.

“Valet service people get a buck from me, maybe two, because I know they actually get paid per hour,” says Stemberger.

But, what about people who have to suffer through some dirty work? For these folks, Stemberger says tips are always appreciated. For example, she leaves a couple of dollars each day for those who clean her hotel room.

Speaking as a former hotel housekeeper, I can say that finding a gem of a tip among the hordes of dirty rooms really made my day.

How should you give tips?

Ah, the final interaction—actually making the transaction. This was another factor that mystified me. What’s the best way to do it? Slip it to them like contraband? Do a weird, penguin-esque partnered dance? Have a rap battle?

When you’re closing your tab in a restaurant, it’s pretty easy. Simply add the tip to your credit card or leave cash on the table. And, when tipping other professionals, like hairdressers or manicurists, you can also either add the tip to your credit card or hand them cash.

For hotel housekeepers, you can simply leave money on the pillow because they’re the only people that should be going into your room besides you and other occupants, says Stemberger. I concur. When I was a hotel housekeeper, people left money all around their room and we were not allowed to take it as this could be construed as stealing. The only time we were allowed to pick up a tip was if it was deliberately left on the bed, written on a note, or left in the room after someone had checked out.

Final tip

Regardless of who you tip and how much you give, remember to say “thank you” whenever possible. This will go a long way toward making someone feel special and appreciated. Consider this a priceless tip.

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