Buffet tipping

Below is a great post from Get Rich Slowly on tipping, but it still doesn’t answer my biggest tipping conundrum: How much do you tip at a buffet where the waiter/waitress only refills your glass?

How Much to Tip (and to Whom):
Note: This article is a reprint. Several readers have suggested that one way for Get Rich Slowly to retain my voice although I’m no longer a regular contributor is to re-publish old articles like this. This is a keen idea, especially on days like today when the staff writer hasn’t turned in his assignment!Every time I get my hair cut, I’m faced with a dilemma — should I tip the barber or not? I usually get my hair cut in a small-town shop. I tip $2 on a $12 haircut. If I get to hear stories about Vietnam or histrionic political rants, I tip $3, even if I don’t agree with the barber’s viewpoints. (I tip because I’ve been entertained.) Sometimes, if I don’t have enough cash, I don’t leave a anything at all. Are these tips appropriate?

What about when I pick up Chinese takeout? Should I have tipped the guys who delivered our new gas range last fall? What about a hotel bellhop? A parking valet? Out of curiosity, I did some research on tipping practices in the United States. There’s actually significant disagreement about how much to tip for even common services.

For example, you know you should tip your waitress. But how much should you leave? Some people claim that 10% is adequate. Others claim that 20% is standard. But I suspect that most of us learned to tip 15%, and to give more for exceptional service. (The wikipedia entry on tipping currently contains the bizarre claim that “18% is generally accepted as a standard tip for good service”.) Which amount is correct?

After browsing dozens of pages, I drafted the following guide. The amounts listed are based on averages or on consensus, when possible.
Food ServiceBarista: No tip required, though many suggest throwing coins into the tip jar.
Bartender: $1/drink (or 15% of total bill). Pre-tip for better service.
Delivery person (including pizza): 10%, $2 minimum (also, also)
Maitre d’: $5-$25 for special efforts
Takeout: No tip required unless something special is done (also, also)
Waiter: 15% for adequate service, 20% for exceptional service. For poor service, leave 10% or less. It’s okay to leave nothing for exceptionally poor service, but only if you’re sure it’s the waiter’s fault.
Hotel StaffBellman/Porter: $1 to $2 per bag, $5 minimum. (Or, just as many places say $1 bag, $2 minimum.)
Concierge: $5-$20 depending on the service. $20 if he does something exceptional. Nothing for directions.
Housekeeper: $2 to $5 per night, paid daily or as a lump sum at checkout. (Most sites suggest you tip daily.)
Parking Valet: A wide range of opinions. Everyone agrees that you should pay when your car is retrieved. Some say to pay when it’s parked, too. Most sites say to tip $2, though some suggest $5.
Room service: $5 minimum (unless gratuity is included in check)
TravelBus driver (not mass transit): $1 to $2, if she handles luggage
Cab driver: 10%, $2-$5 minimum
Chauffeur: 10-15%
Gas station attendant: Nothing. Or $2-$4. There’s no agreement. (I’ve never seen anyone tip a gas station attendant ever.)
Porter/skycap: $1 per bag. $2 for heavy items, or if porter brings luggage to counter.
Personal serviceBarber/Hairstylist: Again, little agreement: 10-15%, 15-20%, etc. One person recommends $5 to each individual who shampoos or blow-dries your hair! (also)
Manicurist: 15%
Spa service: 15-20%
Masseuse: 10-15%
Shoe-shiner; $2 or $3
OtherBuilding superintendent: Varies —read more.
Coat checker: Most sites recommend $1 per coat, though one said $2 to $5 upon retrieval.
Furniture deliverer: It depends. Most of the time $5-$20. Some recommend simply offering cold drinks. (also)
Grocery store bagger: One site recommended $1-$3, though I’ve never seen one tipped in my life.
Mover: $10-$25 per person (also)
What about tipping at holidays? Tipping service people with whom you have regular contact can build goodwill. I found these recommendations:
Holiday Tips

  • Babysitter: one week’s pay
  • Doorman: bottle of wine or box of chocolates
  • Garbage collector: $15 to $25
  • Gardener: one week’s pay
  • Housekeeper: one week’s pay
  • Janitor: $15 to $25
  • Mail carrier: $15 to $20 (up to $20 non-cash)
  • Nanny: one week’s pay
  • Newspaper delivery person: $15 to $25
  • Parking attendant: $15 to $25
  • Personal trainer: $20 to $50 (tip discreetly)

Some points regarding tipping etiquette:

  • If you use a coupon or gift certificate, calculate your tip based on the total before discount.
  • Tip above the norm if:
  • Service is exceptional,
  • You’ve been a burden, or
  • You are a regular client.
  • Don’t tip if it’s not deserved. Poor service should not be rewarded.
  • In some circumstances, if you offer an initial tip — especially a large initial tip — you’ll get better service.
  • If you take up a restaurant table for a long time, tip extra.
  • Tip discreetly.
  • When in doubt, tip.

What about public officials? When is a tip a tip, and when is a tip a bribe? Kris and I tipped the judge who married us, but even then we had trouble deciding how much to give him. (We gave him $50.)
I suspect that tipping practices vary widely from region-to-region and, especially based upon the size of the city. As always, do what works for you.
Other articles about tipping:

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