New York City, with its vibrant culture and fast-paced lifestyle, also has its unique tipping customs. Tipping isn’t just about rewarding service; it’s an integral part of service workers’ income.
Understanding when, where, and how much to tip can ensure that visitors contribute positively to the livelihood of those who make the city’s service industry thrive.
Tip: Visit Top of the Rock
If you do only one thing here, then visit the best observation on the 70th-floor deck in NYC. It offers by far the best-unobstructed views of the city! No tipping required here.
Why Tipping is Important in NYC
In NYC, the base pay for tipped workers can be significantly lower than the minimum wage. Therefore, tips are not just a bonus; they’re a necessary part of workers’ salaries. For example, waiters and waitresses often rely on tips to make ends meet, given the high cost of living in the city.
How Much to Tip
As a rule of thumb, tipping 15-25% of the pre-tax bill at restaurants is standard, depending on the level of service. A quick tip calculation method used by locals is to double the sales tax, which gets you close to an 18% tip.
For exceptional or long service, tipping towards the higher end is customary. Tipping is not a space to express dissatisfaction with issues not controlled by the server; always speak to a manager for significant concerns.
Where Tipping is Expected
Tipping customs in NYC vary by the service provided. Here are the places and situations where tipping is anticipated:
- Restaurants: Always check your bill, especially in tourist-heavy areas like Times Square, as gratuity might be included. This is less common in other parts of the city unless you’re in a large group.
- Taxis and Car Services: With electronic payment, suggested tips start high, but 15% on a card payment or 10% in cash is acceptable. Add more for help with heavy luggage.
- Beauty Services: A 15-20% tip is expected if you’re happy with the service.
- Hotel Staff: Doormen get a couple of dollars for hailing a taxi, potentially more in bad weather.
- Tour Guides: For a free tour, $15 per person for a two-hour tour is generous. If it’s a paid ticket, 10% is fine.
Understanding Tipping at Various Food Spots
Tipping in NYC varies depending on the type of food establishment you visit. Here’s a detailed look at different scenarios:
- Full-Service Restaurants: When dining in at a place with waitstaff service, a tip of 15-25% of the pre-tax bill is standard. This is because waiters often share tips with bussers, bartenders, and others.
- Buffet Restaurants: If there’s a server refilling drinks or clearing plates, a tip of 10% of the pre-tax bill is customary.
- Fast Casual Restaurants: In places where you order at the counter and serve yourself, tipping is not required. However, if there’s a tip jar by the cash register, it’s a nice gesture to leave some change or a dollar or two.
- Take-Out: No tip is necessary when picking up your own food. However, for a large or complicated order, a small tip for the staff preparing your order is appreciated.
- Food Trucks: Tipping is not expected, but it is appreciated for good service or great food, usually in the form of spare change or a dollar.
- Coffee Shops: If you’re just ordering a drink, tipping is optional but appreciated, especially if the barista adds a personal touch, like latte art.
- Delivery: When food is delivered, a tip of 10-20% of the bill is recommended, depending on the difficulty of the delivery (consider weather conditions, stairs, etc.).
- Bars: Whether you’re ordering a simple beer or a complex cocktail, $1-2 per drink or 15-25% of the total tab is typical. If the bartender provides a particularly memorable service or free drinks, consider tipping at the higher end.
In every case, remember that tips are a significant part of the compensation for service workers in NYC. Your generosity helps them to earn a living wage.
A NYC Local’s Tipping Guide
My advice as a local and host in New York City: In NYC, it is customary to tip 15-25% depending on the level of service and the length of time at a table. Most locals double the Sales tax, which gives you 18%.
In Times Square and very touristy areas of Midtown, some restaurants will include it in the bill automatically, so always check. You can request to have it removed or changed. This is because many tourists do not tip, and locals would complain loudly if done to them. This practice is very rare in the rest of the city except for groups of 6 or more, who also can have issues remembering to tip.
It is not acceptable to punish the server for a kitchen-related error. In that case, request the restaurant manager explain the situation, and whatever is horribly wrong may be comped. Now if the server was rude, or bad, then lower that tip.
Buying something at a counter and serving yourself? No tip is required, unless you feel like leaving the change or a dollar in the tip jar. Example: The deli clearly adds a lot of extra cheese on your sandwich at no charge – leave a buck.
Taxis and car services: In the past, it was about 10%. Now that you can pay electronically, the suggestion tips start way higher. I tip 15% if paying by credit card and 10% if cash – Cash will most likely not be taxed. If you have a lot of luggage and the driver actually helps, add on a bit more if you feel it is deserved.
Bartenders : Same as waiters or at least $1-2 per drink, If buying a round for say 4 people, give them $5
Beauty Services – Tip 15-20% if you are happy with the service.
Doorman: A couple of dollars if hailing a Taxi for you, more in bad weather. Typical is between $2 and $5.
Tour Guides: If it is a free tour and they only earn on tips, I would tip $15 for a 2 hour tour per person. If you bought a ticket, 10% is fine.
How Tipping Works
Whether paying with cash or card, you can leave the tip directly with the server or on the table. If paying with a card, you’ll often find a line on the receipt where you can add the tip.
Tipping Etiquette for Various Services
Remember that tipping is about appreciating the service. Be fair and considerate, and when in doubt, err on the side of generosity, particularly given the high cost of living in NYC.
By following these guidelines, visitors can navigate the tipping culture in New York City with confidence, ensuring a smooth and enjoyable experience in the Big Apple.
Consequences of Not Tipping or Tipping Too Low
- Waitstaff may confront the diner: In some cases, servers have been known to follow patrons outside to ask about the lack of a tip, especially if they felt the service was adequate.
- Reputation among staff: Regular patrons who consistently tip poorly may find that restaurant staff remember them and may not prioritize their service in the future.
- Awkwardness: A patron might experience an awkward silence or receive a cold demeanor from the server when they next request assistance or visit the restaurant.
- Slower service: Bartenders might prioritize other customers over those who don’t tip well, leading to longer wait times for orders.
- Less hospitable service: The friendly chat or the extra effort in making a drink might not be as forthcoming if the bartender remembers a patron as a poor tipper.
In Taxis or Rideshares
- Verbally addressed: Some drivers might directly ask about the tip or even challenge the customer on why the tip was low or nonexistent.
- Service refusal: In extreme cases, regular riders known for not tipping might find it difficult to get service from drivers who recognize them.
In Beauty Salons
- Disappointment: Stylists might express their disappointment either directly or through body language if they feel their effort hasn’t been adequately compensated.
- Booking difficulty: A customer who regularly tips poorly may find it difficult to book future appointments, especially during busy times.
- Decreased enthusiasm: Hotel staff like bellhops or housekeepers might show less enthusiasm or attentiveness to guests known for not tipping.
General Social Impact
- Social discomfort: Friends or acquaintances who observe a person not tipping or tipping poorly might feel uncomfortable and less inclined to dine or go out with them in the future.
- Negative assumptions: Service staff may make negative assumptions about a person’s understanding of local culture, their generosity, or their satisfaction with the service.
It’s worth noting that these outcomes can vary widely depending on the individual staff member, the establishment’s policies, and the specific circumstances of each interaction. However, in a city like New York, where tipping is deeply ingrained in the service industry’s culture, tipping appropriately is seen as a sign of respect and appreciation for the service provided.
Handling Poor Service
Encountering poor service can indeed be disappointing. If you’re considering not leaving a tip due to this, it should be for service that was exceptionally poor.
In such instances, leaving a tip of about 10 percent can signal your dissatisfaction. However, if the service was truly unacceptable and you feel that a tip is not warranted, it’s constructive to communicate with the restaurant manager.
Discuss your experience calmly and clearly, providing specific feedback about why you feel a tip is not deserved. This approach is more effective and considerate than simply walking away without tipping, which might leave the server confused and unaware of their shortcomings.
It’s important to be fair and specific about the issues when speaking with management, as this can help improve the service for future customers.