To Tip or Not to Tip: Etiquette and the Service Sector

Technology and industry changes have altered service sector etiquette, including tipping practices

To Tip or Not to Tip: Etiquette and the Service Sector in the Gig Economy
Image: Pixabay
September 4, 2018

Tipping is one of the things that's a no-brainer for some people and a source of instant anxiety for others. It's getting especially complicated now that a lot of businesses include a tip line on the receipt or you are presented with a tip option on the display at the register, all which the clerk is watching you. When is it right to tip and when should you just take your stuff and go?

Tipping is an American Tradition

It has long been customary in the United States to tip. But now that more places are giving you the option to tip, you might feel compelled to do so. But it's not necessarily the same if you are traveling. Some countries do not practice tipping, and tipping in other countries may even be viewed as offensive. When you are going to be traveling, do your homework.

Tipping is Sometimes Confusing

Let's face it. Even if you are a regular tipper and consider yourself knowledgeable about tipping, you probably don't know exactly how much you should tip, when you should leave it, or whether you should even leave anything at all. Of course, answers to these questions typically depends upon where you are, as well as a number of other variables. For instance, you typically don't think twice about tipping a waiter in a restaurant. But you probably ignore the tip jar on the counter.

Sit Down Restaurants

Tipping a waiter or waitress is easy. If you are sitting down at a restaurant and being served, you should tip. Waitstaff depend upon tips in order to survive, making significantly less than minimum-wage as an hourly rate. So unless the whole experience is a total disaster, you should be tipping at least 10%. Consider tipping 20% if your service was outstanding.

buffet restaurants

Whether to tip at a buffet restaurant gets a little trickier. If servers are not bringing food but still refilling your beverages and clearing your plates, you should tip. You don't need to tip as much as at a full-service restaurant. You can do a strict percentage of up to 10%, or a dollar per person at your table.

Restaurant Carry Out

If you are getting carry out from a restaurant, you might consider tipping up to 10% when picking up. Obviously, picking up from a high end restaurant is different then picking up a pizza from the local pizza joint. So tip when appropriate.

Delivery Services

Delivery services should typically be tipped. While newer services, like grocery delivery, can present a little bit of a challenge, 10% or a few bucks should be OK. But keep in mind that not all delivery services allow the delivery person to collect a tip.

Pizza Delivery

Pizza delivery is something we should all be familiar with. Regardless of the order size, you should tip at least $2 - $4. While many pizza joints assess a delivery charge that is not a tip to the driver, the driver still gets it. But that's usually not enough to cover the low hourly wage, the wear and tear on the car, and the gas. If you have an especially large order, you should tip a little extra. You should definitely tip extra if the driver pushed through piles of snow to get dinner to you.

Valet Parking

It's customary to tip a car valet when a car is returned to you. The customary tip is between two dollars and five dollars.

Hair and salon services

It's also customary to tip a hairstylist or your barber. Consider tipping between 15% and 20% of the service. This also applies to manicures, pedicures, massages and the like.

The maid at the hotel

Tipping the maid at a hotel is something many of us don't do, but appears to be expected. If you do decide to tip the maid of your hotel, leave a few dollars every day because it's not always the same person making up your room. If you stay five days and tip only on day five, you might be ignoring the person who cleaned on days one and two.


It's pretty easy to tip a bartender. You should leave one dollar per drink or two dollars for a drink that's a little bit more complicated. If the bartender gives you a glass of water, you probably shouldn't leave a five dollar tip.


A lot of people feel compelled to tip the concierge at the hotel for everything. If the concierge gave you directions to the corner store, don't tip. If the concierge gave you something really special that you could not get on your own, you should be handing over $10-$20 for their assistance and connections.

Taxi and Ride Share Services

Tipping a cab driver depends upon the length of your trip and how well the driver performed. Did the driver take a longer route than necessary? If so, your fare just went up and your tip should go down. A general rule of thumb is about 10% to 15%. If the driver was careless and reckless, tip nothing. The same rule applies to Uber and Lyft drivers.

Counter Tip Jars

There's a tip jar on most counters these days. For example, you might see one at the coffee shop. If you ordered something that didn't require a ton of preparation you shouldn't feel obligated to tip. If you ordered some fancy drink, you should consider tipping something, even if just your loose change.

You see these jars popping up in more and more places, such as at casual dining restaurants. You may even be presented with the option to tip before your transaction is allowed to complete. This can be a little awkward, especially if the cashier turns the pad to you and asks you to select an option. If the service provided to you is taking your order, ringing it up, and dropping at your table when it's ready, don't feel compelled to tip. It's a different story if you are making a lot of special requests and at least getting someone to refill your beverages.