Tipping is tricky. The customs are different for every country, and sometimes even for different regions of the same countries, and tipping too much or too little can be either expensive or offensive.
Moving to the US from Sweden, a country where you only really tip at restaurants, I had some pitfalls finding my way around the tipping system of my new home. For instance, the amazing handyman of our rental company had to sternly tell me, twice (yes, twice. I forgot our first discourse on the matter and tried to tip him again the second time we met) “No, it was my pleasure. Truly.” Lesson learned: apparently you don’t tip everyone! Wise from this new experience, when grocery shopping and seeing staff helping the customers pack their bags, I thought it safer to be sure, and turned to the lady behind me in line and asked if I should tip them. She smiled very sweetly and said “No dear, that would be a little weird.” Note taken.
I wanted to try to get this right, so I started to ask around, to learn what was actually expected. I know there is more than one truth to this, so take it with a pinch of salt, but here’s what I have found:
- If you are happy with a service, 20% is a good amount. This goes for hairdressers, spa services, food deliveries, and restaurants, for example. If you found the service decent, 15% will do, and if you are not very pleased – go for 10% or nothing. If you are buying your groceries online, you don’t have to do this math. Service is sometimes included or can be added at check-out. If not, $5 cash at delivery seems to be the standard amount.
- If you are just buying drinks at the bar, the standard expected is a $1 per drink.
- For some services, like plumbing, bike repairs, etc, it does not seem to be a percentage that’s norm, but more like an extra note to show appreciation. If you are dealing with an employee at a major company, a large auto shop, for example, you are not expected to tip.
- For regular services, like weekly gardening or cleaning, an end-of-the-year bonus, in the form of extra money, or a gift, seems standard. However, some people I’ve talked to also tip an extra $10 per service.
- As for babysitters, most people I’ve talked to round up. If you have a regular sitter or nanny, you pay the agreed weekly amount, but an end-of-year bonus or gift is very common. But tune in carefully, and don’t forget the golden rule of parenthood: if you find a great sitter – keep him or her happy!
- If you are unsure whether to tip or not, in a certain scenario, ask another customer at the venue. Americans are generally incredibly helpful, and I’ve asked several times, and only gotten very nice replies.
I hope this might be helpful, but it does not answer all tip questions for sure, and your financial situation is of course also a major factor. If you can’t afford to tip as much as you might like to, trust that appreciation shown by genuine respect for the work other people do for you, friendly smiles and “thank you” goes a long way.
When I first moved back to the Bay Area the first places to visit on my list were Costco and Target! I had missed the amazing American customer service.