Every year our clients ask us what the etiquette is on tipping in the USA...
If you don't often travel to the States it can be difficult to know what to do with regard to tipping or the "gratuity" as it is often referred to.
America has a huge service culture & whilst that is great for visitors, it does mean that tipping is more widely expected than in some other countries.
Here's the scoop on what to do & why!
Restaurants are really the most important places to tip of all.
Waiters & waitresses are exempt from the normal minimum wage requirements, which means they are often paid a very low standard of wage of around $2-3 per hour. This is not much at any exchange rate (!), so they really rely on your tips to for almost their entire income.
In restaurants, the standard tip is 15% for decent service & 20% for excellent service. If the service is really bad (hopefully never), but it looks like it's the kitchen's fault & not the wait staff, you can indicate your discontent by giving say around 10%, but you really should still give the waiter something, even in those circumstances.
So here's what to do: when it's time for the bill to arrive (usually a paper bill inside a black wallet left for you on the table), don't say to the waiter "just round it up to $x". Instead, give them your credit card to charge for the bill amount. (By the way do expect them to take your credit card away, they don't often have machines to bring to the table).
Then when they bring your card back with your copy to sign, you'll see there's a line at the bottom where you can add the tip & the total. Sign your copy & give it back to them & they then add the tip you've given them. Sometimes the receipt will help you with the maths by showing example tip amounts of say 15, 18 & 20%, so you can use one of those or add in the amount you'd like.
Alternatively you can just leave cash in the wallet on the table, which is usually preferred by the wait staff!
Now barman do get paid a better hourly wage usually, but do still expect to make good tips - it's a pretty well paid hospitality job if you're a good barman in the US!
Definitely tip a dollar a drink for a beer or wine & more for a cocktail or a round.
If you go up to the bar just leave cash on the bar when you pay or tell them to keep the change if it's a suitable amount.
Many bars do have table service though & if this is on offer, the waitresses will look after you much better if you order all your drinks through them, instead of going up to the bar. In this case you will mostly just run a tab with your waitress or waiter & then should tip her / him a suitable 15-20% of the bill at the end in the same way you do in restaurants.
Several hotels & apartments with hotel services in the USA do offer breakfast, whether it's included in your ski holiday or an added extra - Lodge Tower in Vail or Limelight Hotel in Aspen for example. These tend to be buffet style with hot or cold items which you go up & help yourself to, plus sometimes chefs to cook you tailormade omlettes or sometimes french toast etc.
Obviously if you are helping yourself you don't need to leave a big tip, but if waiters, or "servers" as they are often referred to in America, are clearing your plates away & refilling coffee etc, a couple of bucks (dollars) left on the table is definitely appreciated.
Many people do take a shuttle transfer from the airport to their accommodation when they're travelling to ski resorts from overseas, particulary if you're arriving late & are tired.
Typically if you're on a shared shuttle with other people, gratuity is not included in the price. Particularly if your driver has been chatty & helpful, maybe sharing information or pointing out sites etc, a tip as you leave the shuttle is appropriate.
Usually with private shuttle transfer (just for your group), the base gratuity is included. If they have been very good though an additional tip if you would like to give it is always welcome!
Bus drivers around the resorts sometimes have a bucket out to collect tips - totally discretionary for them!
So the official line from the ski school is:
*Gratuities for coaches are not a requirement but an appropriate and appreciated gesture. A 15-20% gratuity based on the cost of the lesson will make your coach feel very appreciated and valued."
This is a bit of a tricky one. Some people feel that as private lessons are already quite pricey they don't want to pay more, but many Americans do tip their private instructors on top. If you had a really great experience or may want to use the same instructor again a tip is appropriate. In the end it's up to you.
Tipping with children & adult group lessons is less common, but again if you can do it & they have been really good & helpful, a gratuity is appreciated...
As in most top hotels, the bell staff normally do get a tip for helping you with your bags or showing you to your room.
Ski valet, where available, is normally a complimentary service. It can be awkward to tip every morning / afternoon when they're helping you with your gear, so a small gesture at the end of the week left at the front desk or taken to them can be appropriate.
Housekeeping sometimes leave an envelope in your room for you to tip your maid if you feel like you've had good service.
These are the main people to think about regarding tipping on your USA ski holiday. If you've had great service from someone else & you feel like they deserve a little something, of course do give them something that you feel is appropriate.
At the end of the day, tipping is discretionary & totally up to you, but I hope these "tips" help give you an idea of appropriate gestures in the USA ski holiday industry.
We live in the USA, know the ski resorts & accommodation and visit them regularly.
We can give you expert advice and save you time & effort finding the right USA ski holiday for you.
Helen & Rob Brown
UK Tel 01223 655642
US Tel 303 482 1961