As the Aussie dollar continues to soar (and the American economy continues to self-destruct), Australians are now travelling to the United States in record numbers. In fact, in May this year the USA became the #1 overseas travel destination for Aussies, even eclipsing nearby spots like New Zealand and Indonesia*.
As an American who lived in Oz for a couple of years, I loved sharing tips with my Aussie friends travelling to the US for the first time, as I was away from home long enough to recognise potential pratfalls and cultural roadblocks. I'm going to kick off my “Top 5 Survival Tips” with a topic of much consternation for Aussies visiting the US -- tipping.
Here’s the bottom line: when you pay someone for a service in the US, you MUST tip them. This is most crucial in restaurants, where waiters are paid less than minimum wage and rely on tips to make a living (I would know, I used to waitress). Never tip a waiter less than 15% of the post-tax bill, although in major cities the standard is usually 20-25%. I’m referring to sit-down restaurants here - if you order at Maccas or Starbucks tips aren’t necessary, though spare change is often appreciated. On the flip side, fancy restaurants will often add the gratuity to the bill beforehand (this will be specified on the bill), but tipping on top of that is considered a nice way of showing your appreciation for a great meal and spectacular service.
At bars, generally tip $1 per drink ordered (every round!), but all bets are off at a flashy club or bar-of-the-moment on a Saturday night, where you might need to wave a tenner or $20 to get someone’s attention.
In taxis, around 15% is generally appreciated. If you pay by credit card in a New York City taxi, there’s actually a handy screen that auto-calculates 15%, 20% and 25% and allows you to add it to the bill.
In hair and nail salons and spas, 20-25% is pretty standard. At a fancy hair salon be prepared to separately tip the hair washer ($5), the colourist and stylist (25% each) and the blowdry specialist ($10-$20). Look for little envelopes by the counter when you pay, this is a discreet and handy way to avoid an awkward exchange of cash.
At hotels or the airport, tip around $2 per bag to a bellboy or usher. If a hotel doorman calls you a taxi, tip $2-$5. Tip $2-$5 per day for the housekeeper. If a hotel concierge gives you some useful information, tip $5. If they get you reservations at the hottest restaurant in town on five minutes’ notice, or track down replacement buttons for a suit, use your discretion but I’d recommend $20-$50, maybe even more.
Tip valet parking attendants $3 or more, depending on how swanky the setting is, how long your car was parked for and how much you actually care about your car (if it’s a rental, probably not too much). I think $3 is fine but my husband, who parked cars in high school, swears $5 should be the minimum and $10 is actually pretty common.
For more information on tipping in the USA, check out TripAdvisor’s handy guide.
Click here for Part 2: everything you need to know about eating, drinking, shopping and sports in the US.
*Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics