Two Cents on Tipping: Who, When and How Much

Tipping can be an awkward and uncomfortable situation for many people. How much is too little versus how much is too much? Is it customary to tip your garbage worker and you mailman? What about the guitar playing songstress at your local coffee shop? Luckily there are rules of thumb for the myriad of service industry professionals that rely on tips to get by. We spoke to Coupon Sherpa writer Kate Forgach, who spilled the beans on whom to tip, how much to leave, and what the unspoken rules are of tipping.

Most people know to tip 15-20 percent on dining out, but I think a few people would be surprised that its actually customary to tip your taxi driver 10-20 percent. Where do these numbers come from?

I combined a bunch of different things -- talked to a few professors at the University of Colorado and people within the service industry.

  • Taxi: 10% to 15% is standard and 20% if the driver helps you with heavy bags.
  • Limo: 15% to 20% of the total bill.
  • Long-term parking shuttle driver: $1 to $2 per bag, if the driver assists you with your bags.

After writing this story, did you find that most people tend to undertip or overtip?

A lot of it depends on their age and whether or not they've worked in the [service] industry. People who have worked in the service industry tended to overtip and people who hadn't tended to not tip as much. But the big [varying factor] was with takeout. People who worked in that area would always tip for takeout and people who hadn't would normally not tip.

  • Take-out food: 10% when you pay. Make sure you tip based on the entire check if you use restaurant coupons
  • Mom & pop coffee shops: $1 if you're just purchasing a drink; 10% if you're running a tab or making a meal-sized purchase.
  • Bartenders: 15% to 20% if you run a tab, $1 per drink if you pay each round. Obviously, you'll save more on tips by running a tab but you're likely to drink more.
  • Wait staff: 15% to 20% of the total.
  • Chain coffee shops: 25 cents tossed in the tip jar, if they were nice and you feel like it. More if they made you a complex drink and served it pleasantly. Nothing if you got your own cup and filled it while all they did was take your cash.

As for tipping mail carriers, is it customary to only tip them once a year -- say at Christmas -- or on all major holidays?

No, just Christmas. The same with garbage workers. You can leave money or a gift. I always leave a six pack of locally brewed beer for garbage workers.

  • Garbage collectors: $10 $15 per person but don't put the cash out with your trash.
  • Newspaper carriers: $5 to $15
  • Mail carriers: Government employees are prohibited from receiving money as a gift or gratuity, but the Postal Service tends to turn a blind eye during the holidays. A $5 to $10 tip is sufficient, unless your mail is delivered by a different carrier each day. Even better, write a letter of appreciation to the carrier's supervisor.

I think a lot of people -- myself included -- get annoyed at having to tip extra when I get my hair cut or colored. Why is it customary to tip an additional 15% to 20% on a service that seems like it should be a "pay and be done with it" situation?

I always felt like if it was a special hairdresser -- who does extra things -- it's always worth it. If you don't feel like you've got good service, then don't tip. I don't think you should ever tip if you don't feel the service was worthwhile. Or leave a penny -- that's the big insult. One penny says "you suck."

  • Stylist: 15% to 20%
  • Colorist: 15% to 20%
  • Barber: 15% to 20%
  • Shampoo tech: $1 to $2, depending on the length of the shampoo and if they gave you a nice head and neck massage first.
  • Nail technician: 15% to 20%
  • Makeup artists: 10%

Do you think customers should be responsible for tipping another company's employees? Or do you think that this is a glitch in the system, and that employers should be responsible for paying their employees a higher salary, instead of expecting many of them to make their wages on tips. Does it put an unfair pressure on customers to make up the difference in wages?

I think it is wrong that it happens like that. In Europe, they receive a good living wage and they don't expect a tip. But, as long as that system is in place, there's not much we can do. But to not tip because you say the system is wrong is penalizing the wrong person.

Next: Tips for Tipping: What's Your Gratuity IQ? >>

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