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Tipping in New York City


New York Stay Apartments and Tipping

One of the advantages of staying in a vacation rental apartment, rather than a hotel, is that they are not designed to nickel and dime you everytime you walk in or out and nowhere are hotels more adept at extracting tips than in New York City.  A dollar here, two dollars there, it all adds up.

Far more than the money, the problem with constant tipping is the whole bloody fuss of having to think about it, having to recognize yet another situation in which a tip is expected and the constant nervous checking to see how many suitably small bills you have remaining.

Personally, I prefer to keep mytravels as simple as possible, so that I can actually enjoy the cities I visit. Playing the part of lavish tipper can be fun for the first night or two, but it soon gets old and you find yourself resenting to over-the-top friendliness which so reliably indicates that a tip is expected.  There are times when you would just like to carry your own bag or open the door yourself, and that is when you truly value the privacy and comfort of having your own apartment for the night.

Tipping in New York City


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Tipping is a subject that always guarantees a fierce debate and, of course, it is one of the major points of friction for visitors to New York City, many of whom are unfamiliar with how important it is and are sometimes shocked by how forthrightly the New York natives respond to bad tipping.

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This article will help you to avoid that unpleasantness by explaining 5 things:

1. Why tipping is so important in New York City.

2. The situations in which a tip is expected.

3. The amount that should be tipped in various circumstances.

4. Whether you should add the tip to credit card payments or give it separately in cash.

5. How to know when you should avoid tipping, either because you have already been charged for service or because it is inappropriate ... or even illegal!


Of course, ultimately it is up to you to decide how you will approach this issue but, hopefully, the right information will help you to at least know what you are doing - whatever principled objections you may have to the phenomenon of tipping, you need to understand that it is an immovable fact of life in New York.


Why Tipping is So Important to New Yorkers


Tips were originally supposed to be an optional, occasional thing, a small gratuity given to recognize particularly good service - indeed, it is often claimed that the word "tips" itself is an acronym for "To Insure Proper Service" - but, over the years, it has become such an expected practise that, in the USA, employers in certain industries are allowed to pay below the (already very low) minimum wage, on the assumption that tips given by customers will more than make up the difference.

It also true that certain jobs, in which the tips are especially lucrative, the employee has to pay a hefty bribe to keep the position, often far more than the actual wages.


So, with some justification, these service industry workers feel "stiffed", that they are actually losing money when they spend their time and effort providing a service to you but then receive either a paltry amount or no gratuity at all.  It is an ongoing issue and the sense of unfairness has led many New Yorker service providers to feel particularly aggrieved about visitors from certain countries, even to the extent that waiters can be reluctant to even take an order from customers who seem to be from India, France or other countries reputed to be "cheap".


In fact, some restaurants in tourist areas have given up and now simply include the tip in your bill, even if you aren't in a group - as we explain further down, you should always check your bill before tipping to make sure that a service charge has not already been included!

Tipping is now so expected that you should even tip when you receive bad service in a restaurant - tipping "only" 10% rather than the usual 15% of the bill (excluding tax) is sufficient to send a pointed message that you are unhappy with the service, or you can even complain to the manager, but we strongly advise that you not simply skip the tip on principle - it may be a valid principle but it simply won't be worth the argument.


When Are Tips Expected in New York?

Essentially, any situation in which you are being rendered a service above a normal retail experience.  For instance, fast food which you stand waiting for and which is served over a counter would not require a tip.  Any restaurant or cafe that offers table service would require a tip.  You would not tip your cashier at a supermarket, but you would give a couple of dollars if a bagging clerk carries your groceries out to your car.

Some services, such as getting your haircut, will obviously require a tip but it is very easy to miss the fact that you are also expected to tip the hair dressers assistant or the person who washed your hair - yes, the whole thing can get quite complicated and wastes so much time, it is no surprise that visitors to America often find themselves wishing that the cost of service was simply included in the price … but … when in New York, you’ve got to go by New York rules.

It should not be necessary to tip for services that are not your responsibility.  For instance, if the air-conditioning in your hotel room is broken and the hotel handyman is sent to fix it, you would not be expected to tip him.  If, on the other hand, you needed help with something - for instance, you don't understand how to use something in the room - you should probably give a couple of dollars to the staff member who comes to your room to show you.


There can be situations in which you are receiving a free service, such as a complimentary minibus pick-up to your hotel, when it is appropriate to tip your driver.  Different businesses have different policies, with some specifically forbidding their staff to accept tips but, even in these cases, your gesture of attempting to tip them will be much appreciated.

Keep your eyes open and watch what other people are doing.  There may often be signs telling you that tipping is appreciated.  For instance, if an attendant is sitting outside a toilet, he or she will most likely have a small dish to collect tips of 50c or a dollar.  If there is no dish or indication that a tip is expected, just keep walking - on the whole, people won’t be shy about letting you know when they expect a tip.

Pizza and other food delivery: don't presume the delivery charge goes to the delivery guy - you can ask when you phone in your order but, if you don't know for sure, give the guy a few extra dollars.


How Much Should I Tip in New York?

Waiters and waitresses: 15% of the bill excluding tax, up to 20% if you feel you have had exceptional service.  If it is a fancy restaurant, with a head waiter who sees you to your table, you may also want to tip him directly.  Otherwise, he may get a cut of your waiter's tip, so, it might be a good idea to add some extra for that.

Sommelier: about 15% of your wine's cost.

Buffet servers: around $1 each or around 10% of the bill if they fetch you drinks.

Bartenders: one or two dollars per round or 15 - 20% of the overall tab.  If you tip well, some bars allow the bartender to give you your 4th round "on the house" - the idea is that it creates a sense of congeniality, encouraging the customers to see the bartender as their friend and increasing the chance that they will become regulars.

Cocktail Waitresses: one or two dollars per drink brought to your table.

Toilet Attendants: 50c - one dollar

Coatroom attendant: one or two dollars per item.

Valets: Between two and five dollars per trip i.e. one tip when he parks it, another when he returns it to you.

Doormen and bellhops: one dollar per item for help with luggage (two dollar minimum if you only have one), $1 for hailing a cab.  You can, of course, choose to handle your own luggage but, really, unless you are staying at a budget hotel, it is probably better to just let them do it - after all, you are probably going to be seeing quite often during your stay!

Hotel room cleaners: two - five dollars per night, no need to tip in person, just leave it out.

Tour guides: if service charge is not already included, two to five dollars per person.

Taxis: 10 - 15%, an extra dollar or two for help with bags.

* Handy Idea: Have both the fare payment and your tip ready so that you aren't obviously confused about what bills to give; many New York cabbies won't hesitate to "help you" by picking out the wrong amount, knowing that they will have driven away by the time you have the chance to check how much they actually took.

I once spent the entire trip to JFK airport listening to the driver, a Maths Phd from Delhi, complaining about how dishonest Americans were.  When we got to the airport, I naively fumbled with a handful of bills and he deftly took about $60 more than the fare - nothing wrong with that chap’s split-second mathematical abilities!

How to Tip in New York: Cash or Card?

In restaurants and cafes, it is perfectly acceptable to add your gratuity to your credit card payment but your server will particularly appreciate cash.  I tend to tip generously but, for my own convenience, I prefer paying it by card when possible.

Obviously, there are situations in which only cash is suitable, such as doormen or toilet attendants, so, try to allows have a certain amount of change and dollar bills handy.


* Handy Idea: Keep your dollar bills in a different pocket or a separate fold of your wallet - United States paper money is probably the worst-designed in the world and it can be all too easy to hand someone what you think is a one dollar bill but is actually a higher denomination.  Your vacation is going to end up being pretty expensive if you wander around accidentally handing out twenties to doormen but, on the plus side, you're going to have some spectacularly solicitous door-entry experiences.


Some New York taxi drivers accepts credit cards, some don't.  Again, if paying by card you have the option to add your tip to that, the driver would prefer the tip in cash but it is up to you.


When Should I NOT tip in New York?

In restaurants, read your bill carefully, because a service charge may already be added and, if you miss this and add more, the restaurant will simply treat that as an additional tip and not warn you that you have already tipped.

It used to be that only groups of 5 or more would have the tip added to their bill (because groups tend to be a lot more likely to skimp on the tip) but, as mentioned above, some restaurants in tourist areas have started doing the same even for individuals (because tourists tend to be just as likely to skimp on the tip).  Look for the words "gratuity" or "service charge".  If added, the service charge will probably be 15% but, of course, the problem is that they are setting the amount, so, pay attention.  You should definitely challenge anything above 18%.


Tips are NOT expected in fast food restaurants such as MacDonalds although, of course, if someone is particularly helpful i.e. if you spill your meal and they clean up after you, a few dollars would be a very nice way to say thank you, as they are not paid much.

You would not tip in a normal retail store, although it can be appropriate and appreciated if someone has spent more than a few minutes giving you a great service, as opposed to just being super-friendly.

Often, in public places frequented by tourists, street hustlers will approach you if you are looking a little lost or trying to figure out a ticket machine or whatever.  They will offer to help you and will be quite forceful about it because, of course, if they help you, they will expect a tip.  Unless you actually feel their help is worth a few dollars, simply say "Thank you but I do not want any help" and, if they do not back off, repeat it more clearly: "I do not want any help, please leave me alone".  You should NEVER feel obliged to tip when someone is forcing their "help" upon you.


It is never acceptable to tip public officials and police officers in New York.  Visitors from other parts of the world, such as Thailand, can often become confused because, back home, the police are basically a bribe-collecting mafia.  In America, corruption operates at a higher level, involving corporations, lobbyists and politicians, so, don't attempt to tip a police officer unless you are a major drug-dealer or CEO and can afford to do it properly.  If you do accidentally tip a police officer and end up spending the night locked up, don’t forget to tip the prison guards when you leave the next morning.