The H1B and I are always trying to work out where all our money goes in the financial drain that is New York. So it came as a great shock find out from some American friends that we have been recklessly over-tipping.
The thing about tipping is, as ingrained as it is in the culture (indeed, it props up the economy), it’s still fairly arbitrary in application. And conveniently full of those potential social trips-ups that us Brits find so terribly, terribly embarrassing – something which I’m sure many establishments exploit.
My first hiccup with tipping came on a Christmas holiday to New York when I went for a pedicured. It cost something like $20 and I tipped the attentive, non-English-speaking lady who spent 40 minutes scrubbing and trimming and polishing my hooves a dollar tip. I’ve spent the subsequent four years wondering if my unwittingly miserly gratuity led to her children not having a new pair of shoes that winter (the snow was very deep on the ground), and even since then have erred on the over-generous tip, especially with something as bourgeois as getting my nails done.
But as the cringe-worthy memory fades, I’m more concerned about the amount of cash in my wallet. I must be turning into a hardened New Yorker.
So when I told my American friends that I’d given a Chinese masseur a $15 tip the other day, they laughed, saying $5 would have been generous enough, and I discovered that we’ve been over-tipping in just about every aspect.
For example, they told me that when in a cab a New Yorker will round up to the nearest dollar and then throw in another buck. That’s a lot less than the 20%-30% tip the in-car credit card machine suggests.
(That’s allowing for the fact that in Manhattan most taxi rides are on average around $10-$15, whereas a taxi ride from Manhattan to Park Slope, Brooklyn, is around $15-$20 – so it’s seems only fair to give them a bit more. But we’ve been tipping between $5 and $10 – depending on how sozzled/merry we are – so that’s around a 30% tip.)
When it comes to restaurants we’ve been handing over a gratuity of 20%. Say an average meal for two is around $80, that’s $16; but what most New Yorkers would do is simply double the tax – which is around 8% – so in this case the tip would be $13.60.
Drinks are easy, because it’s simply a dollar per drink. Or $2 if you think the service is very good or they have gone out of their way to make you an excellent cocktail or you are in a classy establishment (they’ll remember you and you’ll never have to wait for a drink again, sometimes they give you one on the house just because you’ve tipped generously – this is called “pay-back”).
(BTW: leave cash on bar, the barman will not pick it up until you have left or finished your drink at least.)
But then we’ve also discovered that we’ve been radically under-tipping delivery men and other service people. I didn’t tip the grocery delivery guy for weeks when I should have been tipping him around $5. The very helpful man from Time Warner could have got a tip too.
We need to get this right as otherwise we’re going to spend the rest of our time in New York either feeling guilty or broke.
How Much Should You Tip in New York?
- Taxis: In Manhattan or a short ride, round up to the nearest dollar and add a dollar. Longer journeys, 10%.
- Restaurants/food: Double the tax on your bill
- Bars: 1 dollar per drink
- Delivery guys: $5
- Nail salon: $5 for cheap place, more for a hotel salon, maybe $15-$20
- Hairdressers: $15