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July 5, 2012

The ESC's Guide To NYC: Tipping (yes, you have to)

We are so excited that the BlogHer Conference is coming back to New York City for 2012! Since we know Manhattan can be a bit overwhelming for some out-of-towners, we thought we'd offer some helpful tips to making the most of your stay in The Big Apple. (Tip #1: Don't call New York "The Big Apple".)

Note: Those of you from other metropolitan cities similar to Manhattan might find some of these tips to be obvious or common sense, but you'd be surprised how many people aren't familiar with this type of area and really just have no idea what to do. So we're here to help!

So here's our second installment of The ESC's Guide to NYC:


(Yes, you have to!)

We understand that in some parts of the world tipping is not customary, but in the U.S. - and New York especially - it's not just the custom. It's part of our service economy and taxation system.

The U.S. government taxes servers and bartenders based on an assumption that they made a certain percentage of their sales in tips. So if you don't tip, you're likely costing them money. Also, most restaurants and bars can (legally) pay their employees way below minimum wage (sometimes as low as $2/hour) because it is assumed that the difference will be made up through tips. Considering how high the cost of living can be in New York, it's safe to assume that they rely on those tips as a main source of their income. You can't avoid tipping just because you "don't believe it" or don't agree with the concept. It's just the way it is. The only excuse for not tipping is if you received really horrible or offensive service (and no, if the service is just "slow" that doesn't qualify. We're talking really horrible. See below for more on what qualifies.) Also, remember that servers and bartenders usually have to give a percentage of their tips to bus boys, runners, bar backs, dishwashers, doormen, bouncers, etc.

So we thought we'd offer some helpful basic tipping standards for the attendees coming in for BlogHer12 from places where tipping isn't always the norm.

      At a restaurant

      • Servers - You should tip wait staff at a restaurant 15%-20% of the total bill. Tip 20%-25% if your service was especially outstanding. It is permissible to tip10% for poor service or even 5% for really really poor service. But rarely will the service be so poor that they actually deserve no tip. See the last section of this guide for advice on how to accurately judge the service you received.
        • Many restaurants will automatically include a tip on your bill for groups of 5 or more people. This policy is usually indicated on the menu, but not always. (Sometimes restaurants in "tourist areas" may do this as well, regardless of number of people.) Read your bill carefully and check if there is a "gratuity" or "service charge" of 15%-18%. If your service was excellent, feel free to tip an extra 5%-10% on top of the gratuity.
        • If you have received any kind of discount on the meal (a coupon, or a deal from Groupon or Living Social, etc.) you should calculate your tip based on what total bill would have been before the discount. The server still did the same amount of work, even if you only paid for half of the food.

        • If you're given any free food or drink, you should tip a little extra (perhaps the cost of the free item).
        • A lot of people follow the "double the tax" rule of tipping. New York taxes 8.25% in restaurants, so that would give you close to a 16.5% tip. That tip is acceptable for good service, but if your service was great, you definitely should tip closer to 20%. There are easier ways to calculate your tip if you want to tip more than 16%. See below for more info.
        • If you're eating with small children and make a big mess, you should tip a little extra because they're going to have to spend extra time cleaning it up.

      • Sommelier or wine steward - Tip 15% of cost of the bottle/s.

      • Buffet Servers - Tip at least $1 per head if you get your own beverages. If you order beverages (or more) from the server, then you should tip 10-20% of the bill based on the quality of service.
      • Coffee shops / Sandwich shops - There may be a tip jar at the register. Tipping is optional, but if they went out of their way for you in any way, you should tip a few bucks or at least any coins you received as change. (It is not necessary to tip at fast food restaurants.)
      • Carry-out - If you order food "to go" from a bartender or waiter, you are still expected tip at least 10%. This does not apply to fast food restaurants or drive-thrus.

      • Food delivery - Tip either anywhere from $2-$4 (depending on the size of the order and packages) or 10% of the total bill, whichever is greater. If it was a "difficult" delivery (a very large order, a rushed order, if your elevator is out of service, or if it was delivered in the pouring rain or snow) then you should tip closer to 15%-20% of the total bill.

            At a bar or club

            • Bartender - Tip $1-2 per drink or 15%-20% of the total tab.
              • Tip $1-$2 for the first drink and continue to tip $1 for each subsequent drink ordered. (If you don't tip, then don't expect them to pay much attention to you when it gets busy. If you tip well, you might get your drinks a little faster or even get a free one down the line.)
              • If you've opened up a tab, it's okay to tip 15%-20% of the tab at the end. (Although we still recommend tipping on at least the first round of drinks and it's always preferable to tip in cash, rather than on your credit card.)
              • If you're ordering something complicated, like a Long Island iced tea, you might want to tip a little more than $1-$2, but if they're just opening up a bottle of beer, $1 is fine.
              • When ordering free or discounted bar drinks ("open bar", happy hour, two-for-one, specials, etc.) you should still tip the normal amount. It still takes them the same amount of work to make the drinks, regardless of what you pay for them.
              • If your bartender gives you a free drink, you still have to tip. In fact, you should tip a little extra as a thank you. If you are comped any food at the bar, your tip should be equal to (or at least close to) the amount of the price of the drink or food.
              • Don't tip in coins. The only time it is okay to leave coins for your bartender is if they were part of the change he or she gave you when you paid for your drink. But even then, bills are preferable.
            • Cocktail Waitress - Tip $1-$2 per drink or 15%-20% of the total bill.
            • Bathroom attendant - There should be a tip basket somewhere on the counter. Tip $1 at some point during the night. If you're there for a long time and have stopped in to use the restroom more than a few times, tip more than once. ($1 on your first visit and another $1 at your last visit should suffice.) If they really helped you out with a personal situation (like helping you deal with a stain on your dress) tip extra afterwards.
            • Coat check - Tip $1-$2 in the jar/bowl after you pick up your coat. If the attendant did you a solid by letting you stash a bigger item (like, say, a swag bag) consider dropping in an extra buck. If there is a charge for the coat check, then tipping isn't required.


            At a hotel

            • Bellhop - If they helped you bring your bags to your room, tip $1-$2 for each bag (total of at least $2).
            • Doorman - If they helped you hail a cab or helped you with luggage, tip $1 for each "service".
            • Housekeeping - Leave a tip between $1-$5 on the nightstand with a note that says "for housekeeping, thank you" when you leave each morning (or calculate $1-$5 per day and leave one lump sum when you check out). If you or your kids made a huge mess, leave a little extra.
            • Room Service - Tip 15%-20% of the bill (unless the tip is already included in the bill).
            • Pool Attendant - If they brought you towels or pool chairs, tip $1-$2 for each "service".
            • Concierge - If they helped you get tickets or reservations tip $5 ($10 if they were "hard to get"). You don't have to tip if you're just asking for restaurant suggestions or directions.


            • Taxi driver - You should tip at least $1-$2, or 15%-20% (whichever is more). Throw in an extra $1-$2 if the driver helped you with your bags.
            • Gas Stations - You do not need to tip a gas station attendant unless he or she pumped the gas for you. In that case, $2 is sufficient.
            • Skycap at airport - Tip $1 per bag if you check-in curbside. If they carry the bags to the check-in counter for you, tip $2 per bag.
            • Tour guide - Ask the tour company beforehand whether they accept tips or if tips are included in the cost of the tour. If they are expected $2-$5 per person in your party is appropriate.


              Other Services

              • Hairdresser - Tip 15% to 20% of the total bill. (It is acceptable to tip the owner, unless he or she says otherwise.) Tip the shampoo person at least $2, more if you had a lot of processes done in one sitting and therefore were shampooed more than once.

              • Manicurist - Tip 15%-20% of the total bill.
              • Spa service - 15% to 20%. (It is not necessary to tip the owner, but you can unless he or she says otherwise.)
              • Handyman - Tip is optional but frequently expected.

              General Tips on Tipping

                • Calculating the tip - Many people like to just double the tax, but at 8.25% that's about a 16% tip which isn't always adequate. We have a system that's even easier: base everything on 10% because it is so easy to calculate 10% in your head (just move the decimal point over one place). 10% ends up being $1 for every $10. So, if you want to tip 20% that's 10% doubled. Say your bill is $60. Move the decimal point over one place to calculate 10% ($6). Half that to calculate 5% ($3) or double it to calculate 20% ($12).
                Total = $60
                10% = $6
                15% = $9 (6 + 3)
                20% = $12 (6 x 2)
                25% = $15 (12 + 3)

                • Judging the service - Usually, any issues you had with your experience have more to do with another aspect of the bar or restaurant, than it does with the bartender or server.
                  • If you didn't like your food or drink (or feel that it was overpriced) that's an issue with the chef or the owner, not the server.
                  • If your service was slow, consider whether the entire restaurant was busy and understaffed. If so, that's an issue with the owner or manager, not the server.
                  • If there was an error in your order, that may have been the server's fault - or it might have been a mistake that was made in the kitchen. The real question to consider is what did your server do about it? Did they fix the problem? Did they offer you a free drink/appetizer/coupon as an apology?
                  • You should reserve 0%-5% tips for when the server really did nothing for you at all, but this is rarely the case. In most cases, even the worst waiter will have at least brought you your food and drinks and that's still something.
                  • If they are downright rude and offensive to you, it's okay not to tip, but don't mistake abruptness for rudeness. Restaurants and bars can get pretty busy (and sometimes New Yorkers just sound ruder than we mean to!)
                • Giving feedback - If you have a specific problem, you should complain to the manager, rather than just sending an unclear message by tipping low (or not at all). Complain to the manager or write a review online. If your experience was that bad, you can choose to never return to that bar or restaurant again. You don't have to take it out on your server by not tipping.
                • Cash vs. Credit - Most people prefer to receive their tips in cash. If you're paying with a credit card, it is acceptable to add the gratuity to the card as well. But even then, you should try to tip in cash whenever possible. If you pay with your credit card, they may have to wait a week or two to pocket that money. Some establishments might even deduct the credit card service fee from the tip. Tipping in cash, makes it easier for both your server and the establishment.

                Check out the rest of the ESC's Guide to NYC


                Utopian Retreats said...

                Nice guide dear , thanks for sharing.

                DebontheRocks said...

                This guide is awesome! YES on tipping. Bloggers stacking 5 people to a room should remember that they should each tip the room staff--and that leaving swag is NOT a substitute for a tip. That swag and trash pile is a lot of work for the room staff and cash is the only fair tip because like us, they can't pay rent with swag they didn't even want, period. I usually stay after BlogHer for a day or two, and the hallways/open doors on Sunday when most of the rooms are cleaned are EPIC messes. I just pray that everyone tips well, but I've heard people confess that they didn't, didn't know to, didn't save cash, or thought their booze and swag sufficed. TIP!