How To Tip In These 10 Confusing Situations

Furniture delivery, coffee shops and hair salons all come with unique sets of rules.
The tip jar is not an obligation, but it’s a nice perk for staffers when you receive special service.
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The tip jar is not an obligation, but it’s a nice perk for staffers when you receive special service.

Tipping has been around since the 1700s, when it applied to the monetary rewards that rich people gave their servants.

And no, at least according to Snopes, it is not an acronym for “to insure prompt service” ― which makes sense if you think about it, since we tip after we receive good service, not in advance. And at the risk of stirring the grammar hornet’s nest, wouldn’t it be “ensure,” not “insure,” anyway?

But the bottom line is that there’s a whole variety of ways to pay for services these days, leaving many of us confused about just when we are supposed to tip and when we really don’t have to. To help sort it out, HuffPost culled information online and reached out to an etiquette expert for advice.

And thanks, but no tips are necessary for our service.

Your morning cuppa joe

If stopping at a coffee shop is part of your daily routine, you undoubtedly have encountered the baristas’ tip jar. Sometimes there’s a digital tip jar, giving coffee drinkers the option of tipping 50 cents, $1 or $2 through the coffee chain’s app.

Now, you may have thought, “Isn’t it a bit crazy to tip $2 on a cup of coffee that already costs an arm and a leg?” While $2 may be steep, etiquette expert Diane Gottsman of the Protocol School of Texas told HuffPost to consider this: If you’re a regular customer, employees probably call you by name and have your order memorized. The tip jar is not an obligation, but it’s a nice perk for staffers when you receive special service.

She added, “It is certainly polite to tip each time you make a purchase, especially when your order is large or complicated. Sometimes they are juggling a long line and still remember you prefer no foam or an extra pump of caramel. Their attention to detail and excellent service should be acknowledged.”

The takeout food counter

You may have noticed a tip line on the electronic check, making you wonder, “What service am I actually tipping for when no one even brings me my order?”

Gottsman said that tipping for a takeout order is discretionary. If the server has carefully bagged your order, added extra utensils or carried it out to your car, a tip is a nice gesture.

“Any time someone provides an exceptional level of service, you can’t go wrong by showing your appreciation with a few dollars,” she said.

A dollar in the tip jar is appropriate. For large orders, if an employee has exerted time and effort, think $2 to $5. But no, not 18 percent if table service isn’t involved.

The fast-food drive-through window

Fast food workers are paid an hourly wage and do not rely on gratuities as part of their income. No tip is necessary, Gottsman said.

Nor do you need to tip the Geek Squad technician, who is being a paid an hourly wage and therefore is not expecting a tip, she said. “But if you would like to acknowledge service that is above and beyond, do so in an online review or ask to speak to a manager,” she added

The dog groomer

The short answer is yes, you should tip the dog groomer 15 to 20 percent of the final bill, said Gottsman ― whether she goes to you or you take Fido to the shop.

“A tip shows your gratitude for their effort in making your prized possession beautiful, shiny and clean while working hard to keep your baby calm,” she said.

If you have an elderly dog, one with sensitive skin, a matted coat or behavioral issues that the groomer had to deal with, tip a bit more, she suggested. Neurotic dogs often need special attention.

If your house is hard to find or takes extra time to get to because of road construction, figure that into your tip as well.

Of course, if your pup winds up looking lopsided, tip at your discretion. But first, you might want to ask the groomer to fix the bad cut.

The hair salon

Confusion reigns when it comes to tipping in the salon. In part, it’s because we tend to develop a relationship with our stylist. We talk, share confidences and leave the salon feeling uplifted by our new look. We don’t tip our therapists, but when our “therapist” also cuts our hair, we should start with a 20 percent tip and go upward.

But not much is set in stone, and there are plenty of variables, noted Today. Women in and around big cities tend to be a bit more generous, even though the services cost more. Women with supershort hair, which they get cut and colored every four to six weeks, don’t always give a huge tip because their annual beauty bill is so high to begin with. Stylists who work in mall shops or salons that don’t require appointments are less likely to have a loyal clientele and sometimes get smaller tips.

But 20 percent is a good place to start. For a $15 haircut at a walk-in shop, that’s just $3. When the haircut is $150, $30 is reasonable as a tip ― more if your stylist squeezed you in, you were late or couldn’t get a sitter and had to take your toddler with you.

You can ask what your stylist’s policy is on splitting tips with the shampooer. Some clients compare it to dining at a fancy restaurant with a wine steward and a waiter, giving one tip and assuming the restaurant divides it.

A better idea is to tip everyone separately, according to salon owners. If the shampooer does more than just wash your hair ― gives you a to-die-for scalp massage or applies toner or extra conditioner ― you should tip more. In big cities, start at $3 to $5.

Hair salons have changed a lot over the years. Often the individual hairstylists rent their space from a salon and aren’t employees of the shop anymore. Tips are definitely part of their income, and a 20 to 25 percent tip is pretty much standard.

It also used to be that you didn’t tip the salon owner if he or she cut your hair. Nowadays, you do.

Package and mail delivery drivers

Generally speaking, you don’t need to tip UPS, FedEx or postal delivery people when they deliver something. UPS drivers are directed to politely decline any material expressions ― particularly money. While the drivers do not want to offend a friendly customer and they would probably appreciate a drink of warm cocoa on a cold day, they are discouraged from taking money or any elaborate gift. When in doubt, refer to the UPS code of business conduct and use your best judgment when offering a gift, said Gottsman.

FedEx employees may accept gifts valued at $75 or less, but cash of any amount may not be accepted. And government regulations forbid U.S. Postal Service workers from taking cash gifts but allow nonmonetary gifts under $20.

Flower delivery people may be tipped, especially if your house is hard to find and they went out of their way to ensure the flowers were protected from the elements. Teleflora suggests a $2 to $5 tip on an average-size arrangement, more if multiple arrangements are involved.

Food delivery services? GrubHub co-founder Matt Maloney pretty much laid out the standards for tipping delivery people in a Facebook post. GrubHub’s website recommends a $5 tip or 20 percent of the bill, whichever is higher. Emily Post recommends tipping $2 to $5 for pizzas, depending on the size of the order and difficulty of delivery.


Do you tip the valet who takes your car or the one who returns it to you in one piece ― or both? Even when there is a hefty fee for valet parking?

Yes, valet parking is expensive, said Gottsman. But as she noted, if there is an on-site valet, you are probably going to a hotel or restaurant with a higher price point anyway. “Yes, it’s appropriate to leave a tip,” she said, suggesting “$2 to $5 when they bring your car up to the curb.” You can tip in advance as well if you request a special service like leaving your car by the entrance while you run into your room to change, she said.

Furniture delivery

If the furniture doesn’t fit in your building’s prewar elevator or delivery people having to climb five flights of stairs on the hottest day of the year, that qualifies as service above and beyond the call of duty. Give the delivery guys $5 to $10 a person ― more if they’ve assembled it and carted off your old things. Make sure you offer them plenty of water and your undying thanks, said Gottsman.

Peeps at the hotel

If the concierge is just giving you fast directions to the nearest coffee shop, no tip is expected. For general theater tickets or dinner reservations, tip $5 to $10 ― and $20 and up for scoring hard-to-get tickets or reservations.

Housekeepers, who depend on tips, should be tipped $2 to $5 a night — more if there are more than two people occupying a room. When the maid brings you extra towels, blankets and more shampoo for your teenager, it’s worth handing her a dollar or two.

Breakfast buffets that are included in the price of the hotel room also can confuse us. Do you tip the people who keep the food trays filled, or is that just their job?

“Attendants who walk around and fill your water glass, retrieve an additional bread roll, utensil or clear your dishes should be accommodated with $1 to $2 dollars per diner,” said Gottsman.

Teachers and teachers’ aides

Tipping is not necessary. In fact, it’s inappropriate. Gottsman said instead of tipping these professionals, give them a gift during Teacher Appreciation Week or the holiday season. Avoid giving cash and instead contribute to a class gift or gift certificate. A tip or cash gift looks like a bribe.

Others who you would never tip: bankers, lawyers, dentists, doctors and chiropractors.

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