Tipping in California: Guide to how much and when

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Tipping in the USA can be baffling!

Americans are used to navigating the highly subjective world of tipping. Like it or not, it’s how their famous “service with a smile” culture is funded. 

Most service jobs pay less than $10/£6.30 an hour (minimum wage in California is $8.35/£5.30). That’s not very much if you consider the knowledge of say, a professional sommelier, or a ski instructor. A tip is the recipient’s way of recognising exceptional service.

It can be baffling to British travellers, who are used to *begrudglingly* leaving a couple of quid at the end of a meal, or 10% if they are feeling generous. I’m basing this on my Scottish husband’s views, so please don’t be offended if you leave more.

I know some people that are more frightened of “not doing the right thing” in regards to tipping, and offending someone more than they are of getting mugged!

The general rule is that if someone is providing a service – there is usually a tip involved.  A good guide is leave 15 – 20% of the bill’s total when eating out or for someone that performs a service, such as a hairdresser or masseuse. 

Make sure to check the bill to see if a tip has been included. This can often happen for parties of 8 or more.

Most staff are grateful for any type of tip, but they usually make allowances for foreigners. When I worked as a waitress in California, we would always fight over who *didn’t get* the UK/European customers!

What happens if you don’t tip? Dirty looks as you leave. My husband was once chased out of a restaurant, his British accent aparently not enough to charm the French waiter.

Tipping in California: Guide to how much and when

Guide to tipping in California, USA - when and how much

Thank you to Patrick Hynes for his insight for this article. Patrick is an Australian who has been in the United States for more than 40 years. His career in the hospitality industry has included waiting tables, bartending and managing casual and fine dining restaurants . He has also spent more than 20 years in guest services and public relations in boutique hotels and major hotel chains.

Image: Shutterstock

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  1. 18/12/2014 / 18:32

    It took me three years living in the States to realise that you’re meant to tip the bartender. I couldn’t understand why they were never charmed by my accent and wondered if I was just really ugly compared to the American women in the bar…..

  2. 18/12/2014 / 16:20

    I adored the States when we have visited and wish I could get back more often however tipping was our nightmare, I wish I had seen this and printed it off before leaving the UK, it would have been such a great piece to keep inside a tour guide or purse.
    I hope your image is downloadable and printable!
    Marianne recently posted…Mini Christmas pudding trifles – leftovers!My Profile

  3. 13/12/2014 / 22:48

    This is very useful as it’s hard for us Brits to know what the right thing is to do in the US. Could we take this as a general guide for the whole of the US do you think?
    Mums do travel recently posted…A family trip to AthensMy Profile

  4. 13/12/2014 / 17:16

    Found your list v useful, fascinating in fact, but hate the whole tipping thing. I always think I’ll do it wrong, give too little and err on the side of more rather than less, but just wish it wasn’t something expected. 15 to 20 percent on a service/bill really adds up – and it’s a stressful experience too!

    • 14/12/2014 / 08:13

      It’s totally stressful! I can see both sides of the story, and I’ve heard of some progressive restaurants in NYC banning tips outright. However, I think that is a long way off across the board. Given the price of food in the US is relatively affordable (as opposed to say London or Paris) with a little guidance it can be stress free.
      Susanna recently posted…Tipping in California: Guide to how much and whenMy Profile

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