One of the biggest culture shocks I encountered when I first came to America was tipping. In Australia tipping is not expected nor customary. In America it is customary to tip many service personnel that you come in contact with. The problem I didn't know who I was meant to tip and how much. Thankfully Amanda was able to help me with who I was supposed to tip so it didn't take too long to work it out.
|A restaurant in Bar Harbor, Maine.|
So who do you tip? Well that part is fairly easy once you get used to it. Pretty much anyone who provides you with service will accept and sometimes rely on your tips. These people include servers (waiters and waitresses), bartenders, delivery drivers, maids, bellmen, taxi drivers and hair-stylists. You don’t need to tip the cashier at a fast food place so feel free to order that extra double cheeseburger and Big Mac without fear of being obligated to fork out an extra 20%. Though if you order too many of those you may regret it later with a queasy stomach from all of the grease or being a regular customer at your local cardiologist.
How much to tip? Well many guidebooks and travel experts recommend around 20% of your bill. That is a good place to start and you can always tip a little more if you get exceptional service and a little less ,or a lot less if your waiter(ess) is horrible and spends more time smoking in the back room than ensuring your meal is delivered on time and your drinks stay refilled. You may ask why you should be asked to tip someone when you are already paying for you meal. The reason for that is that many of the service personnel that you tip rely on that for the majority of their wages. Their employers are required to pay them something and although it varies somewhat from state to state it is usually around $2.00 per hour. Without some decent tips these people will be going home and having to eat 3 minute noodles for dinner by candlelight as they wont be able to afford anything else.
So even though it feels like diners in the US are basically supplementing the incomes of our service staff I believe it is a wonderful thing. The service you receive in a restaurant or anywhere you are expected to tip is normally exceptional and usually better than the service you receive in areas where the wait staff are being paid a set wage and not dependent on tips. This became quite evident on one of my last trips to Australia. While we were there in the winter of 2006 (Australian winter that is) we dined out at several different restaurants as we were on the road a lot plus we also wanted to try some of our family and friend’s favorite eateries. On most occasions, particularly in areas where tourism is a major industry the service was quite good. However there were two restaurants in my hometown where the service we got were less than satisfactory.
|One of our favourite pizza places in Washington DC.|
The first one was a popular Italian restaurant in town. It had been highly recommended to us by family and friends and we looked forward to going. We all sat down, placed our orders and got our beverages. Since many of us ordered pizzas it took a while to bake the pizza and we finished our drinks. We expected the server to come by every so often and see if we needed anything but she never came by. She did not come by until she brought us our food and it seemed that she did not want to do anything more than she absolutely had to. Luckily for her she was working on a set wage as I would have not left her a tip besides a smart comment about her trying to find a new job since she wasn’t very good at this one.
The second experience was at another popular restaurant in town. We went in and waited to be seated. The person seating us was the guy processing payments as well. There were several people checking out but at no point did he look over and acknowledge us. He continued to have lengthy conversations with the people paying and totally ignored the growing line waiting to be seated. After 10 minutes of being ignored we left along with several other patrons. It seemed this guy was more concerned with his buddies then providing the customer service he should be providing. Again he was not dependent on tips so he probably figured talking to his mates would pass the time quicker.
After these two experiences I have appreciated the service staff here in America even more. You may feel a little weird leaving a tip for service staff whilst in America but you will find that you will get a better level of service. Also tipping gives you, the customer a direct hand in rewarding the staff who go above and beyond to make your experience more memorable, and not the slackers who don’t give a hoot about you. It took me a while to get used to it but now I love it and couldn't imagine it any other way.