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Service Workers Explain Exactly How Much You Need to Tip and When to Do It

The definitive guide.

Tipping etiquette across the globe is a strange beast. The rules worldwide on “when” and “how” to tip vary greatly between countries and cities—and it can be hard to know what a specific country’s customs are without doing ample research, and dealing with myriad varying opinions.

Many travelers are curious about what’s expected for tips when they’re traveling, but are afraid to ask.

Some travel experts even disagree on tipping etiquette for similar services, which can muddle the waters even more.

These American hospitality workers and tour company employees shared their own personal thoughts on how much and how often customers should be tipping them and their counterparts, depending on what their jobs are and how much tips supplement their actual salaries.

*It’s important to note that gratuity etiquette in the U.S. is always changing and still debated amongst hospitality professionals. These sources provided their insight based on their experiences and personal opinions.

The “All-Inclusive” Gratuity Pooling Model

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Some hotels and resorts employ an “all-inclusive” model for tipping, saying it makes it easier to divvy out to their staff and offers an equal opportunity for each employee to be paid out their tips.

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“Here at Cal-a-Vie Health Spa, the gratuity pool is our way of expressing that every employee’s contribution is valuable and appreciated,” said General Manager of Cal-A-Vie Health Spa in Vista, California, Linda Propoggio.

This “gratuity pool” method can give staff members who might not normally receive tips—like fitness instructors—the chance to be paid an extra sum in addition to those positions that would be more traditionally expected to be compensated (like restaurant servers) which can inspire a more collective and positive on-site team spirit.

And those who seek to tip individuals at Cal-a-Vie, such as in gratitude for an excellent spa service, can still do so.

Tour Guide and Instructors

Jenny Adams

Chris Andrews, owner of Bienville Bites Food Tour, shared his insight into how much to tip for a guided tour experience like his 2-3 hour, personalized and locally-led food tours in Mobile, Alabama. 

“The standard for gratuity in the tour industry is 15-20%, which for most tour operators is approximately $10-20 per person. Leaving a gratuity is certainly not required, but it’s a way for our guests to show appreciation for the knowledge, enthusiasm, and effort the tour guide provides throughout the tour,” he says. “For the guest, having a tour guide is almost like having a personal concierge who recommends other activities, dishes to try, places to visit, and other must-see attractions. A generous gratuity encourages the tour guide to maintain that level of excellent service, which benefits themselves, the tour company, and the city in which they work.”

Evan Thompson, owner and instructor of Thompson Surf School in Jacksonville Beach, Florida, shared his insight into tipping for a surf lesson.

“Being the business owner and also the main person teaching the lessons, I don’t necessarily expect to receive a tip. Especially from repeat clients and our local customers. But I certainly appreciate any tips I receive, and I know other instructors that teach with us also appreciate it greatly.”

Captain Randy Laurrell with Red Tag Guide Service, LLC, in Port Aransas, Texas, says, “The standard tipping etiquette for a fishing charter is at least twenty percent. Any additional tips are always appreciated, though never anticipated.”

Although tour guide tipping etiquette is debated, all three guides agree that tipping is not outwardly expected—but certainly more than appreciated for their work. 

Spa Services

Bahamas Ministry of Tourism

Many spa-goers know they’re supposed to tip their massage therapist or treatment specialist but aren’t exactly sure what the etiquette is. Sometimes, a tip is even built into the service. But are patrons expected to go above and beyond what’s already included?

The Spa Manager at The Spa at Terranea Resort, Tyler Monroy, shared his thoughts.

“In continual efforts to streamline the guest experience, a 20% service charge is added to spa treatments,” said Monroy. “A majority of that fee directly benefits our spa provider and attendants. Should a guest wish to extend additional gratuity, their generosity is welcomed, though neither mandatory nor expected.”

Porters, Parking Attendants, and Other Hotel Workers

Guests of American hotels are sometimes in the dark about how much they’re expected to tip their valet, bellhop, or housekeeping attendants.

Many luxury hotels state that while gratuity is appreciated, it isn’t required, but multiple travel media outlets  recommend offering those who help make life easier during your stay (like a bellhop or room service attendant) a few dollars per bag, or a few dollars per day of your stay.

Amber Valle, the Front Desk Manager at Hotel Emma at Pearl in San Antonio, Texas, offered insight into tipping a Luxury Hotel’s Valet services.

“At the highest level of service, a typical tipping etiquette may be $10-$20 for arrival and departure service and $5 for any other car retrieval during the dates of a guest’s stay,” said Valle. “The tip range increases during upfront and at the very end of a car retrieval as the valet team is tasked with removing trash, providing water bottles, and assisting with luggage, directions upon request, and even sometimes the cleaning of the interior.”

Airbnb Tipping?

Aside from hotels and resorts, there’s tipping etiquette at short-term rental properties.

“It is never expected,” said Jennifer Winter, the owner of several beloved rental properties in Big Bear, California. “Every guest pays a cleaning fee, and in our case, 100% of that fee goes to our team… My team is well compensated, and they do not expect tips ever, but on occasion, a guest will leave a gratuity.”

She shared her thoughts on how there’s no need for her guests to leave a gratuity–but some still do—and how some guests even leave small gifts or send “thank you” cards, following their stay.

“I think people really appreciate us creating a home away from home.”  

If anything, most Airbnb hosts would love a positive and constructive review, which will better their long-term business.

Campground and Glampground Staff

S. Widua on Unsplash

Jacob Halverson, General Manager of Mendocino Grove, an awe-inspiring campground in Northern California, says tips aren’t expected—but for those who do want to offer a bit of extra financial love, the property has QR Codes placed around the site for guests who are feeling grateful or generous.

“Here at Mendocino Grove, we pride ourselves on the level of service we provide our guests,  and we hope that our guests really feel the love and energy we put into our work here,” said Halverson.

He recommends, in general, when tipping, a guest should consider whether their tip is for one person and that person’s individually over-the-top service, or whether the tips will be “pooled” together and divided amongst a team—and to adjust the tip accordingly.

“I find myself tipping more when I know it’s going to be distributed among various team members,” he said.

Restaurants Servers and Bartenders

Finally, at the epitome of the United States tipping culture debates are restaurants and bars. It’s widely agreed upon amongst Americans that diners should be tipping their servers at least 20% no matter where they are in the U.S.    

In fact, many servers actually live off of their tips—making less than minimum wage and being expected to supplement their income with the money they make on gratuities.

Working as a server is oftentimes a fast-paced, exhausting job where workers remain on their feet for hours on end and are expected to consistently maintain a positive attitude despite any contrary circumstances, which can be mentally and physically taxing.

Tiffany Henry, who has been working as a server at The Sneaky Beagle in the popular tourist destination, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, since 2019, says that diners should go above and beyond this “standard” 20% tipping rate when they feel like they’ve received excellent service.

“As a server in a busy and fast-paced local restaurant, it is my top priority to provide prompt and courteous service to all of my patrons,” said Henry, who has multiple regular customers on a weekly basis.  “As a server, I play a vital role in ensuring the customer has a relaxing and enjoyable dining experience.”

Mex-Ology Tour
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Henry describes how an evening when the restaurant is hosting an event like trivia can be exceptionally busy, which requires more effort amongst her fellow colleagues. She also points out it’s worth noting that at her restaurant (and many others), servers tip out the bar staff, the bussers, and food runners at the end of the night, sharing their own earnings—which typically equates to 7% of her nightly gratuities.

Ultimately, Henry says in her experience, the typical tip for high-quality service can range from 20% to 30% (and sometimes even higher if the patron feels they’ve received exceptional service).

On the bartending end of the food and beverage service spectrum, Manny Nieves, Director of Beverage at The Delphi Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, says he agrees that tipping a bartender is always a “wild” gray area—and while patrons aren’t obligated to tip, it’s oftentimes a case-by-case basis.

“When I’m behind the bar, and I make a simple round, I don’t expect more than a dollar per drink,” he said. “However, let’s say you sit at the bar. I curate your drinks, food, and experience– without a doubt, I believe that merits 20%… Especially if we don’t go above and beyond to make you experience true hospitality.”

RFN September 20, 2023

The question I haven't seen answered is why tipping percentages are creeping up over the last several years, yet the cost of the services is also going up, compounding the dollar value more more than the cost of the service. The tipping rates on the card scanners used to be 10% to 20%, now you will be hard pressed to find one that offers less than 18% and offers 25% and up rates. Just because some inanimate device says that those are the typical rates, who decided that?

billscheitzach4840 September 20, 2023

I will decide how much to tip, and I will tip only if and when I feel it is warranted – although I might be a little more generous if I'm out with someone and trying to impress them.  But I don't feel that tipping 20% or more is mandatory merely because someone served me a mug of beer, fixed a simple mixed drink (wow... got flagged because I tried to use the word c'tail!), or brought a plate of food to my table, and I'm not going to let anyone shame me into throwing money away just because someone else feels that it is expected.

leadpilot12 September 20, 2023

I travel extensively for work and find it hysterical that you:

a) Wrote an article with a one sided view and not from the receivers view point. b)  attempted to pass this article off as good journalism.  Seriously??Since when is it a given that you get a tip?  I tip plenty but I don't tip for zero service.  Thinking there is a number that one should tip says you have zero idea as to what customer service actually means.  Did you do your job?  Aren't you getting our to do your job?  If you're not getting paid enough, you should be looking for other opportunities that pay better.  As for the companies trying to slough the employees pay off on the consumer, get lost.  Pay your people a living wage.  Did you provide exemplary service, I've got you.  But to the guy "curating" drinks?  Say what?   Dude, you're a bartender.  Get a hold of yourself.  Too funny.  When did a bartender become a "curator" as if he's putting together some art for a gallery expo.  Come on.  Really?  The expectation that people should tip you what YOU think they should tip you makes says everything to me.  You think you should be paid to exist and do a job.  Unreal. What a society we've become.  Reminds me of my kids when they were young and skateboarding.  They wanted to get sponsored. Hahah