June 7th, 2011
03:52 PM GMT
I've just gotten back from a ten day holiday trip in the U.S., which included a lot of meals, bars, baseball games and hotel rooms – which means, of course, a lot of tipping, or not as the case may be.
I may be American by birth, but I have spent 20 years overseas and so I have to re-learn when to tip, how much to tip, and how to get out of tipping when it feels right.
I am also cheap. I hate the pressure to tip but I am quite happy to tip well when the service warrants. I also know well that many an American teenager survive off the tips, something non Americans don't seem to readily understand.
Several British friends were on hand for the first part of the trip as well, and we spent considerable time talking 'tip etiquette'. Clearly this is an issue that concerns people when they travel to the U.S.
But, I am no expert on this. I get it wrong all the time. I once nearly left a 100% tip at a bar in the Time Warner Center in New York. I was bold enough to ask for it all back and start again.
Do you tip everywhere?
I gave the young lady on a yacht day trip $5 because she was really attentive. I assumed many other people would and she would clear $100 or so. I didn't see anyone else tip and my British friends would not have even considered it.
Then at a baseball game a few weeks back, I bought a $7 beer and was pleased that I had exact change (which would be ideal in an English pub). I plunked it down and got the most sarcastic 'thanks' of the week. Clearly I am supposed to put down $10 and then we were expected to play that awkward game of how many of the bills I dare pick back up as the bartender watches (why on earth would I pay $9 for a bottle of beer? I left a buck).
It reminds me of watching people sell beer in the seats in Boston a few years ago. The price seemed to be set at $6.25 so that there are quarters and dollar bills to haggle over. I constantly heard from the young man selling beers say, 'Do you want your quarters?' Most people said no and he happily kept them. Some were very annoyed to be asked and fully expected their change back.
That of course is one of the subtle ways to tip and be tipped. You will often hear 'is there change here?' in a restaurant or bar, and you have to think quick – how much change was there, is it between 15-20% or do I insist on getting it all back and then figuring it all out in front of the waiter or waitress.
I recall one of our British anchors telling me she was followed out of a restaurant and down an escalator being asked what was wrong with the service. Clearly she got it wrong.
So, sadly, I have to carry a tip chart – yes, a well worn tip chart that shows me 15% or 20% on any bill from $1 to $100. I get all prepared before the bill returns especially in a group situation.
Even so, twice I have seen money added to my monthly Amex statement – both times just a few bucks added to top up my terrible tip. Isn't that illegal?
Last year in Boston, I tried to tip the doorman at a hotel who watched my car for ten minutes. He wouldn't take the $10. He said he wasn't allowed. Aren't doorman always tipped in movies??
So, what do you think of tipping when you travel to the U.S.? Does it confound you? Am I over reacting to the annoying but time honored part of American life? And how do I cope with tipping now set at 18.5%?
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