Tipping guide: The ins and outs of tipping for service

Wednesday, December 5, 2012
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Tipping is standard at most places where services are rendered, but the etiquette factor can be tricky. Sometimes service isn't up to par -- and who hasn't left in a hurry and forgotten to tip at all? Diane Sides has studied etiquette for about 20 years, and she puts it into practice daily in her roles as assistant to the president at Southeast Missouri State University and assistant secretary to the Board of Regents. Here, she explains protocol when it comes to tipping:

Flourish: What should we do if we're not pleased with the service provided?

Diane Sides: You should unobtrusively and quietly ask to speak to the manager or the person in charge. It's best to be straightforward and professional when detailing a complaint regarding service. Try not to be emotional and state only facts. I have personally been in situations where the manager or person in charge was not on the premises at the time I wished to lodge a complaint. In those cases, I've been known to send a personal letter outlining the poor service and directed to the manager, with copies sent to the CEO at the corporate office if the business is a franchise. In every case, I've received either a personal phone call or a letter from the manager with apologies and in some cases, with gift certificates. If you receive poor or inadequate service, I do believe that most business owners/managers are eager to have that information so they can make changes.

Flourish: Is it a major faux pas if we forget -- or choose not -- to leave a tip?

Sides: If you choose not to leave a tip, it must mean you did not receive the service you desired and you should alert the business owner/manager so they have the opportunity to make adjustments. If you forget to leave a tip, by all means, stop by the business later in the day or the next day and admit your faux pas and leave the tip. It will be very welcomed and appreciated.

Flourish: With the holidays coming up, what do we need to know about giving bonuses to people like our hairstylist, newspaper carrier and so on? Are bonuses expected?

Sides: No one ever has to give a holiday bonus. You should do it because you appreciate good service and you understand the hardships that must sometimes be undertaken to provide you with good service. Whether or not it's expected tends to depend on where you reside. It tends to be more expected in bigger cities and metropolitan areas. But it's certainly a great gesture, and if you're receiving excellent service, I'd highly recommend it.

You could also consider giving an actual gift, especially if you've become personally acquainted with the person. There's nothing better than unwrapping a gift that someone has personally chosen for you. If you do decide to give a monetary gift, you can generally base the amount on the amount you spend with that person in one setting -- the price of one session with your hairstylist; $10 to $30 for your newspaper carrier, depending on whether or not you have tipped that person at other times during the year; one or two nights of pay for the baby sitter, etc.

Flourish: Is there anything else we should know about tipping etiquette?

Sides: There are many written and unwritten guidelines for etiquette. But the bottom line is that good etiquette means treating people with respect and working to make them feel comfortable. So remember the Golden Rule -- do unto others. If you'd want to receive a tip for a service you rendered, expect to tip for a service provided to you.

General tipping guidelines


Wait service (sit-down): 15 to 20 percent, pretax

Wait service (buffet): 10 percent, pretax

Host or maitre d': No obligation for greeting you and showing you to your table; $10 to $20 for going above and beyond to find you a table on a busy night, or occasionally if you are a regular patron

Takeout: No obligation; 10 percent for extra service like curb delivery or a large, complicated order

Home delivery: 10 to 15 percent, or $2 to $5 for pizza delivery

Bartender: $1 or $2 per drink, or 15 to 20 percent of the tab

Tipping jars: No obligation, but do tip occasionally if you're a regular or the barista provides something extra

Restroom attendant: 50 cents to $3, depending on the level of service

Valet: $2 to $5 after the car is returned to you


Skycap: $2 for first bag, $1 per additional bag

Doorman: A smile and thanks when he opens the door; $1 to $4 for carrying luggage; $1 or $2 for hailing a cab, plus an extra dollar if it's raining

Bellhop: $2 for the first bag, and $1 for each additional bag; $2 or $3 for additional services, like room delivery

Housekeeper: $2 to $5 per day, left daily with a note marked "Housekeeping -- thank you."

Concierge: No obligation for answering questions; $5 to $10 for tickets or restaurant reservations; $15 if the tickets or reservations are hard to get

Taxi driver: 15 to 20 percent. $2 for the first bag, $1 for the second


Hair: 15 to 20 percent, split among those who served you

Manicure, facial, waxing or massage: 15 to 20 percent

Source: The Emily Post Institute