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Tipping Etiquette [Moved from Manhattan board]

Thanks for the responses to my query about a New Year's Eve meal. Please advise this Aussie on tipping etiquette in NYC. Is it 10, 15 or 20% or more? Is that on the whole bill or the pre-tax bill? Thanks for any advice.

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  1. Search the board and you'll find tipping to be one of the most popular subjects. Well, trying to justify as low a tip as possible is more like it.

    Start, just to start somewhere, at 20% of the total check (what I pay, but that's not the point).

    Other will suggest: take your percentage (seldom as high as 20%) off the check minus tax
    ...or, minus liquor

    or, "It's not m fault the restaurant doesn't pay them a living wage..."

    Or, one of my particular favorites, "I can't afford to eat at such an expensive restaurant and leave a generous tip."

    I'm sure others here will come up with even more imaginative excuses.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Muskrat

      I do 20% on whole bill, but others give 20% on "pre-tax" total. Many people double the tax which is close to 18%.

      1. re: Muskrat

        Well...I would not have said popular subjects...but certainly a hotly contested one for sure, MANY times. And certainly most of the posts are how to rationalize (feel good about) how much great service they want with as little tip they can give and still hold their head up, if they come again.

        I'd say, 20% of pre tax is good. But, personally, I tip as muskrat does.

      2. I always take the NYC tax and double it...that is if the service was good.
        When it isn't, I give a bit less.

        New Year's Eve prices are usually sky-high.

        1. One more thing: If you are a party of 6 or more, a number of places will just add on the tip/gratuity to the bill. Do go over the bill.

          1. Many thanks for the advice - I did search first however now realise I didn't search the "not about food section" - so apologies for asking about a thread which has been so well covered.

            1 Reply
            1. re: tony_brisbane


              For a subject like this one, there could be several locations. Often, as appears to be the case here, the MOD's will move the thread, or break it off. Where to search can be a conundrum.

              FWIW - I am normally a 20% on the total bill person, as it does make things a tad easier. If the service is not up to it, then I downgrade the tip. If someone goes above and beyond, then they may find a little something, when I shake their hand. Same for a sommelier, who really does a great job. In that case, I may tip the crew on the full meal, sans wine, and then tip the sommelier separately. Now, I suppose that the sommelier could pocket that, and then demand his/her share of the tip on the meal, but that is their issue to deal with. I cannot be "my brother's keeper" for the whole world.

              I would not be inclined to tip extra on a holiday, unless the service warranted that. Holidays are not THAT special around our home. My wife was a nurse, and worked most holidays, as we did not have children. Sometimes, she'd pull double-duty to cover Hanukkah, and then Christmas, after having worked straight through Thanksgiving (US). I do not ever recall anyone even bothering to say "thank you," so I do not treat holidays as special - they are just another day for the restaurant.

              Enjoy your trip, and travel safely,


            2. jfood is a 15-20% on the total bill tipper. If service no up to snuff, the it and be lower.

              1. i have not read the original manhattan post, however if this is regarding an holiday special meal, it is worth noting that many americans would tend to err on the side of a more generous 20% (or higher if service is truly excellent) tip, as the server is working to serve others on a holiday. time and a half on $2.13 is $3.30, and all that. more generous tip the default, also, to your bartender and valet, as january/february are very lean months for hospitality workers in the u.s. just a thought, my opinion only.

                1 Reply
                1. re: soupkitten

                  yes but most holiday menus increase the cost of the meal significantly so the nominal dollars received by the server is higher than on a regular night. if the dishes are 50% higher (or a fixe pris only) then you increase ther percentage the server is getting a double-double increase. Not wrong or right but just sayin'.

                2. I'm sure this is really obvious, but just to point out that the double-the-tax technique works well and is really convenient in New York City, but sales tax varies from place to place so if you're traveling elsewhere don't assume it'll work. (I do hope that isn't so "duh" that it insults your intelligence.) And since you're now off the Manhattan board, also perhaps obvious, but tipping culture does also vary and I'd think tends to be higher in Manhattan where I suspect 15% is considered low. I haven't read any of the tipping threads here in a while -- but my sense in general is that 18% is the old 15%, that is, the base for good enough service.

                  1. Tony

                    As someone has already said, restaurants will usually add a service charge to the bill for larger parties. Last time we were in NYC, we found it added even though there was just the two of us (2 dinners out of three, and one breakfast). Being a Brit, I'm used to service charges so it was no problem - but I concluded they were adding this to foreigners bills because visitors often tip as they would in their countries not at the high level usually expected in America. Just something to watch out for, mate - otherwise you can accidentally get stiffed into double tipping.

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: Harters

                      Shades of Casablanca! Shocking that a restaurant would add a service charge hoping that the unaware diner doesn't notice and double tips. Shocking.
                      Note: in California service charges are subject to sales tax...tips are not. So the entire tab at French Laundry ($250 pp)is taxed.

                      1. re: OldTimer

                        I hesitated to make that point in public, OldTimer, as I was unsure whether it was the case.

                        On the one hand, I often read on Chowhound that we foreigners often don't tip to American standard, but in accord with whatever is our own custom. So, on that level, I might understand a resto adding the service charge. However, I'd like to be given credit for being a seasoned traveller who knows the tipping customs in places I visit and act accordingly. Perhaps a place that was being straight with its customers would point out what it had done.

                        It was the fact that I always look at the bill reasonably closely in America, so i can work out what to tip, that I spotted the extra charges. Many tourists, perhaps less used to America, might have just paid up and added the usual tip. Funnily enough, when I posted this story on the NYC board, one of its leading lights rang one of the restos who assured her that they would never do such a thing. In which case, we left a reasonably upmarket restaurant without leaving any tip and not a word being said by the server. Yeah, right.

                        1. re: Harters

                          I don't think it's a scam in hope that you double-tip. A lot of times visitors/vacationers don't tip properly because of different customs and unawareness, so in high tourist areas they might add on the tip. Like I said up-post, people should check the bill. (People should check the bill either way really.)

                          1. re: funniduck

                            I'm sure you're right.

                            Although I might expect that a place that was about to act outside of the cultural norm for that country (only trying to be helpful to its foreign customers, rather than stiff them) might point that out to customers - you know like "Here's your check, sir, we've added a service charge just in case that, in spite of you regularly visiting our country for 25 years, you still don't know about tipping here". Yeah, right. LOL.

                          2. re: Harters

                            Actually, as a resident of the US, I find that I have to be more careful, when in the UK, as there are often added "service charges," on the bill. I do tend to over-tip by UK/European standards, but I still weigh my service, and would never want a great server, across the "Pond" to get less than their US counterparts. However, and especially in the UK, I now see little "charges" on my bill. If there is a question, I just ask about those.

                            Now, and as we have discussed in other thread, the idea of a "cover charge," just to dine at a location, is something that grates on me heavily. Have only seen that silliness in London, and hope that it does not spread.

                            I do understand a visitor to the US, who might have questions, or concerns. I kind of feel the same way in UK/Europe, but let my US sensibilities take over. I realize that many would consider me the "ugly American," but if someone gets US$X for service here, then the same, or better service, across the Atlantic should get equal, in my book.

                            Sorry if this offends some, especially US travelers, who think that they can travel without giving any tips, once across the ocean.

                            Had a wonderful UK cabbie, who did more than double duty with our luggage. He managed to get my wife up to the door at LHR, as she'd just had a hip replacement , and then had the trolley loaded and up to the UAL door. Do not recall what the fare was, but I handed him £10 extra. He hesitated, and said that the fare included all that he had done. I pointed to the picture of his little daughter, hugging their Bulldog, and told him that I had a couple of Bulldogs waiting for me back in the US. That was for his daughter and her puppy. Let's see. In the US, my cabbie from downtown Washington, DC would have charged me the same, as from Mayfair to LHR, and demanded a bigger tip, without lifting a finger with the luggage, and never speaking one word of English. This bloke was personable, and worked extra hard, so who would I rather tip? Go figure.


                            1. re: Bill Hunt


                              It's common for UK restaurants to have a discretionary service charge, that equates to the tip (I think I've seen Americans refer to this as an "auto gratuity"). If they have this policy, it will be very clearly indicated on the menu. It will usually be at 12.5% in London and, generally, 10% elsewhere in the country.

                              10% is the generally accepted "going rate" for tips but bear in mind that is entirely discretionary and, often, people do not tip at this amount and, indeed, do not tip at all. I'm old-fashioned so keep to the cultural norms.

                              Also worth bearing in mind that menu prices (as all other prices here) incorporate Value Added Tax, currently at 17.5%. This is something akin to American sales tax, although it is not shown separately. The cultural norm is, if you are tipping, the 10% on the full tax-included price.


                              1. re: Harters

                                I have not noticed (could just be me) this on the menus, but have on the check. If it is not differentiated, i then ask. Being "daft Yanks," we neither wish to short-change a great UK server, or be played the fools. We also do not wish to create an "international incident," by breaking too badly from the norm. Still, we normally have great service, so do bump things up a tiny bit, as we would do state-side.

                                Now, and I think we have discussed this in another, somewhat similar thread, but there are at least two restaurant "groups" in Metro-London, who also feel that there should be an additional "service charge" of about £10/person, just to dine there. I have also observed that the restaurants in both groups have horrible service and mediocre food. In two cases, the "auto gratuity" has been calculated on the full bill, including VAT, and this "service charge." I have "bookmarked" many of those restaurants, and will not even allow board members to choose any of them. In my humble estimation, there are so many great restaurants in Metro-London, with excellent servers, and i would much rather support those. "Hook" me once, shame of you. "Hook" me twice, then shame on me.

                                Thank you for the insight. I have probably gone a bit over the "norm," but not by enough to call in the US State Department, and never too little to reflect negatively on us Yanks.

                                What does weight heavily on me is when I am given great service in the UK (more often than not), and feel a bit of pressure to not tip as well, as I would have in the US. Maybe I'll get over that one day - or maybe not?



                      2. Thank you to all for taking te time to respond to my question. I travel to either Europe or the USA every year & have found customs and expectations can change quite rapidly. I thought it better to be forewarned than embarrassed! Thanks again - now back to the Manhattan board to find those "special" restaurant recommendations......

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: tony_brisbane


                          You are correct to ask, and especially for particular venues.

                          In the end, my guide is to go with my heart, and not to worry.

                          Enjoy, and travel safely,


                        2. For those visitors to our country who are/were asking a serious percentage question, it is customary to tip 20% of the total bill if the service was prompt, kind, and if any problems were resolved quickly and satisfactorily.

                          My countrymen seem to have problems though...

                          Bottom line is this - in America if service was good, tip 20% of the total at the bottom of the bill. Pre- or post-tax arguments are honestly idiotic as this only amounts in a difference of $1.77 per $100 (list price) in NYC (8.875% sales tax rate on food/booze). If you are seriously stressing over this minute amount - don't eat where you will need to consider tipping... go to freaking Burger Queen.

                          If you have a party of 12, the hostess should announce clearly as you are seated that the gratuity is included in the final bill, or this information will be clearly stated on the menu/bill, or this information will have been passed on to whomever pays the bills/made the reservation.

                          EVEN THEN, whomever pays the bill should add 20% to the final total. So you pay $4 more per person than you already have! Have you thought of how much longer it takes to seat you, take your orders, synchronize your bathroom breaks with your orders, and clean up after your large group? A lot more than 3 tables of four! Get over $4, please.

                          IF you are lucky/wealthy/priveleged enough to eat in restaurants such as Per Se, then these amounts should be even more trivial, should you even be aware of them at all. When I was flush with money I did not even bother with percentages... I simply rounded up to the next multiple of $100 (to keep my accountant from thinking too hard).

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: Engimineer

                            And if you slide to the other side of the purchase price scale the 'plus/minus a few percentage points argument' REALLY sounds ridiculous (i.e. "I'm not sure if that $6.99 omelet breakfast deserves a tip of $1.52, or $1.37, or less?) Really?

                            1. re: Engimineer

                              The American etiquette custom, in descriptive rather than prescriptive terms, ranges from 15%-20% pre-tax,including wine (unless there is a separate wine steward involved, then things get more complex depending on how the server/steward split tips in a given house), for full table service. The upper end of the scale is more typical in dining areas like the downtowns of major metropolitan areas (the 20% trend was first dominant in the lower half of Manhattan, and from there migrated to other dining meccas, but not everywhere); the lower end is still more typical most everywhere else. Customs are funny things; they don't get easily changed prescriptively.

                              1. re: Engimineer

                                I was with you until you said large groups should tip 38% (around here an 18% gratuity is typically automatically added, and you're saying to add another 20%). It's nice if you can manage it and the service has been great, but it seems excessive as a routine practice. It's easy to say "get over $4," but you're actually getting over $48, which could mean the difference between being able to afford the meal and having to go to a different restaurant. (And yes, I agree that you shouldn't eat some place where you can't afford to tip well... but $50 is a big deal to me and I think that extra amount is entirely optional.)

                                1. re: Pia

                                  It certainly does not remotely represent a general custom in the USA.

                                2. re: Engimineer

                                  For me, the pre-tax/post-tax issue just means more work for me. Rather than break out a calculator, I round up, and then will tip on that amount, provided that service warrants it. If the service was poor, then I might calculate things to 8 decimal places, and then round down - so do not do that.