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New York: A guide to tipping for foreign tourists

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New York City bar
Tip your bartender at least $1 per drink. Photo: Caro Scuro

New York business owners and workers consider foreign tourists notoriously bad tippers. To be fair, many tourists are visiting from countries that don’t expect substantial tipping. And face it, eating, drinking, traveling and getting beautiful in New York is already pretty expensive, even without the gratuity thrown in at the end.

Although tipping can stretch the traveler’s budget, it’s really quite important. Most waiters don’t make a living wage, so they rely upon the tips to balance out their income. The same goes for taxi drivers, whose tips make up roughly 25 percent of their income.

Tipping isn’t hard or complicated. Here’s a quick overview of how much to tip in New York:

Paying for your taxi by credit card. Add 25%, 20%, 15% or whatever you like. Photo: Wayan Vota

Taxis

Even New Yorkers find tipping taxi drivers difficult at times. It’s no secret that cabbies face long hours and dangerous working conditions. That said, some drivers can be pretty rude, refusing to drive to outer boroughs or ignoring you while chatting on their hands-free phones. Still, you’ve got to tip.

Most passengers tip around 15 percent of the fare. The credit card machines available in all yellow cabs give passengers the option to tip 15, 20 and 25 percent. Don’t panic, Cheapos. You can still tip as you see fit using the keypad.

Restaurants

This is the big one, and applies to all restaurants where a waiter brings food to your table. (This does not apply in fast-food restaurants where you order at a counter and take your own food to a table.)

After paying your bill, leaving a 15-18 percent tip is standard. If service is outstanding, reward your waiter with 20 to 25 percent. You can add it to your bill if paying by credit card, or simply leave the money on the table, if paying with cash.

Always look carefully at your bill: The tip should not be already included. However, we’ve heard that certain swanky establishments like the Gansevoort Hotel have started adding 18 percent gratuity for everyone.

Larger groups (more than six people) should expect to have gratuity automatically added to their bill (usually about 18 percent). Make sure you check your bill carefully, and ask if it isn’t clear.

Note for foreign visitors: We’ve noticed, with some frustration, that gratuity is sometimes added to bills when it’s obvious that the diners are foreigners. It’s annoying, as it sends a message that just because the waiter or manager overheard the table speaking a foreign language, the diners will be unaccustomed to adding a tip on their own. Be aware and check your bill carefully — especially if you’re speaking another language.

Coat check

If you hand your coat, bag or purse to an attendant to be checked away while you dine or attend an event, giving a $1 tip is customary when you pick up your item.

At some bars, you’ll pay a small charge per item when you drop them off. This is a sort of preemptive tip. Feel free to drop off another tip when you pick up your item, although it won’t really be necessary.

Note that tipping is not required (and may be forbidden) when checking items at museums.

Bars

For a drink under $10, a $1 tip per drink is common. Go up from there depending on the quality of the bar. Most bartenders agree there’s a difference between pulling a beer tap at a dive bar and muddling fresh ingredients to make a top-notch drink at a lounge—and they expect customers to tip accordingly.

Tipping in bars has more to do with making sure your next drink comes faster than it is about service. But by all means, give the cute, friendly or super-efficient bartender a couple more dollars.

Salons

In the land of $7-manicures, feel like a big spender with a 30 percent tip—it’ll only set you back $2 extra.

When it comes to the other services at hair salons and day spas, the standard 15 to 20 percent rule applies.

Getting a 90-minute massage? Feel free to go over 20 percent for your tip. You’ve just spent quite a bit of time with a complete stranger!

Your tips?

Have any advice on tipping to add to our list? Tip us off in our comments section.

Also in our guide: Heading to New York and looking for great, affordable places to sleep? Check out our reviews of the best cheap hotels in New York City, all visited, inspected and reviewed by our team of editors. Read more in our New York hotel guide.

About the author

Desiree Browne

About the author: Desiree Browne is a Brooklyn resident who can't imagine living anywhere but New York. An assistant at a parenting website, she loves spending her free time in more grown-up pursuits, like dancing salsa, searching for the best cafe au lait, and sampling the tastiest cocktails. Desiree also loves filling her Netflix queue with old movies, many of which she writes about on her vintage pop culture blog, Pop-o-matic Deluxe. Her work about her love of New York has appeared in The New York Observer, Metromix New York and The Awl.

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6 thoughts on “New York: A guide to tipping for foreign tourists”

  1. Although it may not be optional, just always be fair in giving tips. Not too little but not too much as well. New York is not just known to have the best restaurants and hotels but here you can also find the best museums, art galleries, nightlife, beer gardens, and more. Visiting New York for the first time? Go around town hassle and trouble-free by renting a car service from a local owned company instead of going over big names. Better selection and flexible rates.

    Reply
  2. How do you feel about tipping tour guides?

    I’m a tour guide who gets paid a flat rate. It doesn’t matter how many people (10 – 30) are in my group, I get the same amount. I spend 2.5 to 3 hours with people telling them great stories and interesting tidbits. At the end of the tour, I often give them directions or suggestions on good places to eat. I spend many hours of my own time (unpaid) researching for my tours. I am constantly surprised at the number of people who just thank me and walk away.

    Reply
    1. These people have already who do not tip you have already paid a pretty hefty price for being on the tour. If you feel like you don’t make enough money, ask your bosses who take $30 + for bus tours to up your cut, instead of pressuring tourists into subsidising your wage.

      Reply
  3. I live in France but come from New Jersey just outside New York City. I wouldn’t think of tipping less than 20% in a restaurant in the New Jersey area much less New York City. I only skimp on a tip when I’ve had poor service and I will leave more than 20% if I’ve had superior service. I know a lot of people who work in the restaurant trade and it’s a tough living for someone in New York where it is so expensive to live.

    I have had friends (particularly Brits) say to me that they wouldn’t think of leaving a tip in an American restaurant. I say to them, then don’t go there. Most restaurant waiters and waitresses are not paid the minimum wage and are exempt from those laws. Their hourly wage can be as low as $2.50 per hour. Their living is totally based on tips.

    Reply
  4. Jeff the Perthian

    what a lot of nonsense! Invariably the justification offered for the obligation to give tips is that “most waiters don’t make a living wage, so they rely upon the tips to balance out their income.”!

    Is that a justification to induce guilt on patrons, or what?

    Truth be told… American workers should demand their employers to pay them a decent living wage. Why should the employer’s obligations be shifted onto tourists and patrons whilst employers get away making a profit by not paying decent wages?

    American workers… wake up! This is not commie garbage. It’s common sense.

    How have American workers have allowed this idiotic state of affairs grow into a social obligation is beyond my understanding.

    A tip, a gratuity, should not be expected. And even less if the service is bad. And it should not have a percentage minimum. It should be at the patrons discretion.

    The expectation of receiving a tip is more in line with very poor countries. It should not be an expectation in the land of the free, home of the brave.

    Reply
    1. Hey Jeff.

      Tipping really isn’t a hot-blooded topic. Think of tipping as paying a service fee because that’s what it is. The standard service fee is 15% for waiters and barmen. You get to choose if the service deserved 5% more or less. Most countries, including Australia, have a practice of either charging the customer openly or in the price of the food. In America, the customer gets some leeway. The restaurant and the bar aren’t really keeping that profit. So don’t feel put off by it. In this country, a barman or waiter can make an honest living, albeit a hard one, but an honest one.

      I was a waiter and barmen in the States for 8 years and I made more than a working wage. I moved to London and got paid minimum wage with no tips, and I rightfully felt exploited. It’s all about context.

      Reply

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