Tipping is one of the most asinine things in American culture. Unfortunately, however, it is a necessity. This is because most of these service industry low-lives are getting paid like minors, and count on your tips to pay the rent. Also, stiffing certain people will guarantee disaster for you later. However, it does suck to feel ripped-off because you tipped too much.
These are not be-all-end-all tipping rules, but rather the best way to get by in NYC in my experience. Since I am not a wealthy socialite frequenting day spas and operas, I may have left some of those high-end tipping etiquettes off my list. Here we go...
Cab Drivers$1.00 + Change
So, if the fare is $9.70, you give him $11.00. The reason these Pakistanis tear through the streets, running red lights to get you to your meeting on time, is that they want a tip. Well, that, and they want more customers to get more tips.
It's not an easy job and the NYC cab drivers are usually on point: knowing the best shortcuts and tactics to save you time (which is probably why you're taking a taxi anyway). They make the city run, and ensure less traffic on the streets. This is not a negotiation: even if he drives slow or goes the wrong way, he's probably just new.
There are two exceptions:
- Borough to borough: A trip to Brooklyn is $2.00 plus change.
- Airports: $3.00 plus change. This way, he'll take your bags out of the trunk, making you look like a boss.
Yes, the deli guy has a tip jar, but it's only for suckers. Even if he hooks you up with a monster sandwich, he doesn't expect a tip. He is being paid a fair amount already, and, let's face it - he has an easier job than his delivery guy compadres.
The exception to this rule is if you frequent the deli. If this is your deli, and you get sandwiches at least twice a week, it's best to drop a dollar in the jar every 3 or 4 sandwiches. Be sure, however, that the deli is not packed with other customers, and that his back is not turned. He must see you drop the dollar in his jar.
A good rule of thumb is tipping the deli you frequent only when it's dead. This is important because he will be sure to make your sandwiches first and remember your stupid requests.
Delivery Guys$2.00 Plus Change
You have to tip these guys. This is the worst job in the food industry.
They bust their ass walking up stairs, finding impossible locations, and riding their bike through NYC traffic while wearing a silly neon vest. Not to mention, although they don't remember the apartments that tip, they do remember the apartments that don't. If you stiff the delivery guy, be prepared to wait an hour next time you order from that place.
Bad weather = $4.00 plus change.
I don't care if it's the worst service you ever had, tip that bastard 20%.
If he was a true asshole, he wouldn't have a job in NYC as a waiter. Maybe he's having a bad day? Maybe he's busy? Who cares?
Waiters are the life blood of the city. Believe it or not, most of them have aspirations besides serving you lousy pasta. These are the actors, singers, artists, and musicians that make New York great, and they count on your tips to keep doing the things they love to do.
Not to mention, if you forget your bag in the restaurant, that tip is going to guarantee he puts it in the lost and found.
Bartenders$1.00 Per Drink
Some people would say: Only tip the bartender for your first drink. But they are complete buffoons.
If you tip $1.00 per drink, you'll get a free drink for every five you order. Therefore, you're actually saving money. Not to mention, if a fight breaks out, wouldn't you want the staff on your side?
Speaking of free drinks - if the bartender gives you a free drink: the rule is the same. $1.00. Not $2.00. Not $3.00. $1.00 for every drink that goes into your hand. Period. (Unless you're really drunk and forgot what money is)
The exception to this rule is a packed dance club: If you just paid a $35 cover, and are now paying $14 for a mixed drink, there is no need to tip. They won't remember you anyway.
Bathroom Guys$1.00 The First Time You Go
Unlike bartenders, the bathroom guy should only be tipped the first time you go.
Sure, their job sucks (quite possibly the worst job in the service industry), but let's face it - they're not really going anywhere with their lives. They've basically given up. You shouldn't feel bad for them at all.
Stiffing these guys is not cheap. Did you ask this bastard to turn on the faucet? Did you ask him to hand you a towel? No. But he did it anyway. It's actually more awkward than anything.
He will, however, remember your face. It's best to throw him a dollar the first time you piss, to make a good first impression on the off-chance you need a drunken favor in the bathroom later (no homo, I'm talking about letting you do coke).
If you have to pay off the bouncer to get inside of a club, it's probably not a good idea to even enter. You don't fit in and there's a reason you're not invited.
Any decent bouncer wouldn't take your measly $20.00 anyway.
If you really must get into that club, and aren't with any hot chicks, why not get creative? Have your buddy run a diversion while you scope out the names on the list. Then return later, saying your name is the one you spied.
Quite often, the guy putting your pizza in the oven is the owner of the shop. This means that he is probably making more money than you do. So why give him even more?
Even if he is not the owner, putting pizza in an oven and taking it back out is not qualitative work. No one says "Damn, that pizza guy really knows how to throw a slice in the oven!" This job is the same across the board. No one pizza guy is better than another at it, which negates the entire purpose behind tipping.
Tipping these guys would be like tipping an assembly line worker.
(Note: Scummy Chinese food joints and other ethnic/culturally specific "joints" do not need tips either)
This one is tough. Normally I'd advise not to tip these slackers, but convention has defeated me.
If you don't tip in trendy coffee shops, you will look like a complete asshole to everyone else in line. To me, the dollar is worth it. Not to mention, if you plan on hanging out there and using their wi-fi like a yuppie you might want the barista to fix it if it goes down.
The exception, obviously, is chain coffee. I have no idea why someone would tip at Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts. All that does is encourage the government to lower minimum wage.
You'd think this would be obvious, but I've actually seen these guys with tip jars lately.
Ok, so, the guy hands you a pre-heated hot dog. He is selling it for $2.00. He then tries to rip you off on water by also selling that for $2.00. You will never see him again in your life, and even if you do, there is no way he would ever remember you. He has no boss and pockets all his profits.
Oddly enough, they have dollars in their jars. Tipping street vendors is about as low as you can go.
Door Men$1.00 Per Cab Hailed
If you're staying at a New York hotel, the doorman will hail you a cab. When he does, give him $1.00. That's the understanding.
If you live in a building with a doorman, ask the neighbors what the custom is. Often, the neighbors will take up a collection and then divvy it up amongst the staff at Christmas time. If they don't do that, you live in the ghetto, so you should give each guy $20.00 the week before Christmas. They will remember you and let you have wasted friends over anytime.
Only an idiot would give him a dollar each time he opens the door. That is just his normal job. Everything else he does is extra, and worth the money.
If you're too lazy to carry your own bags, be prepared to tip, or avoid the lobby for the rest of your stay.
Some say you should tip bellhops $1.00 per suitcase, but I say that is too much, unless you have a bag of bricks or something.
If you're staying in a hotel, the bellhop will assume you are from out of town, and don't know the procedure. Giving him $2.00 is meeting him halfway. He probably gets $5.00 from some guests, and $1.00 from others. $2.00 is that sweet spot where you can feel like a decent member of society, but also feel like you weren't ripped-off.
(Note: If you're staying in the hotel for a few days, you might wish to leave $5.00 for the maid when you leave in the morning to ensure a clean room, but this is unnecessary. The room will not be any cleaner for your tip.)
Parking Attendants$1.00 If You Drive a Nice Car
According to the Internet, parking attendants make only $23,000/year. But guess that? Parking in NYC costs $23/hour. No one wins.
The rule is simple: if you drive a nice car - and by nice I mean a car that is currently worth $25,000 or more, you should tip the parking attendant $1.00 upon arrival. You can probably afford a dollar to ensure it won't get scratched.
If you drive a p.o.s., tipping is completely optional - you're already paying more money than you have to these vampires.
(Note: It should go without saying that fancy valet guys get $1.00 per car move regardless)
Building Super$40.00 at Christmas
If you live in a co-op like most New Yorkers, and your neighbors don't take a collection at Christmas, get ready to lose $40.00. The good news is that if you have a roommate, you can split it.
Your building supervisor is one of the most important assets you have. What if the toilet overflows on a Sunday? What if the heat goes out in the middle of the night? Who's phone call do you think he'll answer?
These guys are typically hard-ass veteran New Yorkers, and will probably never be your friend, but you don't want to make them your enemy. Sure, they're annoying as fuck, talking your ear off about pipes and cracks and blah, blah, blah, but you need them on your side. Do you really want to get yelled at for flicking cigarette butts on the front steps?
The week before Christmas, pick up a family-oriented Happy Holidays card, and write "Happy Holidays to (name) and your family." Then include a compliment. Perhaps "Thank you so much for fixing my sink last May. It's worked great ever since!"...or... "My apartment is always the right temperature, and the hallways are always so clean. Thank you for keeping our building in great shape!" Then put $40.00 inside, seal it, and put it under his door.
I can't really speak for women who get $300 hair coloring, but in my experience, a simple handshake/hand-off of a five dollar bill goes a long way.
The reason tipping is a must here, is that if you like your haircut, you will return to that salon. If you happened to stiff them the last time, why would they give a shit this time? You'll end up looking like a suburban for the next month if they don't put any effort into the cut.
Work it out, if you get very expensive haircuts, tip even more, but this is one person that needs to be tipped for your own sake.
(Note: I have never had a manicure/facial/etc, but I assume the exact same rules apply)
Laundry Guys$20.00 at Christmas
This is the guy who washes the cum stains out of your socks and then matches them one pair at a time. He knows more about you than most.
The week before Christmas, go to Duane Reade and pick up a Happy Holidays card. Put $20.00 inside and a handwritten "Thank You".
Or would you rather him "lose" your favorite jeans and bleach your work shirts?
Coat check actually depends on where you are, so look out for a tip jar. If you see a jar, put a dollar in it.
Some places with huge amounts of traffic, like museums, won't have a jar, so don't tip them. Don't make the embarrassing move of trying to hand them money.
Why tip the coat check you ask? Well, in a small venue, they are probably friends with the owner, and volunteering their time to do it, hoping to at least get a few bucks for their trouble. Carrying your coat through a party makes you look like a fuck-up, so just pony up like everyone else and give them the dollar.
(Hint: do this when you arrive, not when you leave, which would miss the point of them guarding your shit)
Masseuses$10.00 (or $30.00 for Happy Ending)
To be honest, they probably only expect a $5.00 tip, but just think about how much that job would suck: Sweaty, hairy men turn up at all hours of the night and moan and groan and order these women where to rub them next.
Most of them are probably victims of human trafficking, and have no real skills or choice in the matter, so why not give them a little sense of achievement in their lives?
If you get a happy ending out of the deal, give her an extra $20.00, making $30.00.
These days, there aren't many prostitutes roaming the streets of New York: it's all done online.
Since you'll be calling to arrange the rates and directions anyway, it's best to sort out the tip over the phone as well. When they say the rate, act like it's too expensive and you aren't sure you can afford it -- then ask, "Does that include tip?" They will say it does. This way there's no confusion.
Tipping a hooker is absolutely pointless, anyway, unless you plan on seeing them again. It's all done via barter system, and you'll simply get what you pay for. Just be sure that when you show up, you have the exact rate in cash in your wallet. Hide your cab fare, or they might ask for it as a tip.
Every once in awhile in New York, some homeless guy will hold a door open for you, sing for you, or try to wash your windshield, and then expect money for it.
Giving these outcasts money is worse than flushing it down the toilet. At least flushing it doesn't cause more harm. These people need serious help, and buying more Old English won't solve their problems.
If he opens the door for you and you feel bad, buy him a bag of chips. Buy him a coffee. But do not give him money. He will buy beer and then piss in the trash can in front of children.