Tipping Etiquette: When and How Do People Tip?

By Bridget Quigg, PayScale.com

Has your tipping etiquette changed so that you give a little less these days? Americans’ household budgets have been under stress in the last few years and people’s willingness to tip bartenders, hairdressers and other people in the service industry has gone down and stayed down, according to data collected by online salary database PayScale.com.

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Need to know who and how to tip? Check out these tipping guidelines.

Curious about who relies most on your tips? See PayScale's tipping chart.

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PayScale tracks income from tips every year for nearly 100 service jobs. Last year, 2009, was one of the toughest of the recession and tip amounts dropped significantly. This year, while they didn’t drop more in most cases, they didn’t go back up. How has this trend affected people who rely on tips to pay their bills?

For many, lowered gratuity has dramatically cut their income. Some workers depend on tips for over half of their pay. “For a lot of jobs where workers receive tips, you are their boss, not the employer they work for,” says Al Lee, director of quantitative analysis at PayScale.

For example, the waiter or waitress serving your hot coffee and eggs for breakfast relies upon tips for 69 percent of their income. Can you imagine if your boss suddenly cut your pay by more than half, even though you were doing the same work? That’s what skipping the tip can feel like to your hardworking server.

Below is a list of the major trends from 2010 that PayScale’s team has observed for job positions that receive gratuities. 

Observations from PayScale’s Tipping Etiquette Study

1. Range in tips across the jobs is fairly wide. Gaming dealers report the largest tips with $12.60 per hour, while swimming pool and spa technicians report the lowest tips at $0.30 per hour.

2. Highest median hourly tips. The three jobs with the highest median hourly tips are gaming dealers ($12.60), butlers ($11.40), and sommeliers ($9.80). Remember that these are just median tips and it is possible for workers in these jobs to receive much higher or much lower tips.

Over 50 percent of the total hourly income for gaming dealers comes from tips. The only other jobs where over 50 percent of their totally income comes from tips are bartenders (56%) and waiters and waitresses (69%). In comparison, only about one third of the total hourly income for butlers and sommeliers comes from tips.

3. The spread in reported tips can be very wide for certain jobs. For example, the bottom 25 percent of sommeliers are tipped less than $5.10 per hour, while the top 25 percent are tipped more than $13.50 per hour. This results in a spread of about three fold between the 25th percentile and 75th percentile of tips, which is not uncommon among tipped jobs. Over 80 percent of the jobs included on the list have a spread of at least three fold.

Jobs that have at least a 7.5 fold spread include: baggage porter or bellhop, dog walker, doorman, hotel floor manager, housekeeper or maid, makeup artist, newspaper delivery driver, parking attendant, and more.

4. Median hourly tips rose for butlers and building superintendents. Median hourly tips reported for butlers more than doubled from last year making them one of the top jobs for tips. Last year butlers barely cracked the top 20 for highest median hourly tips and this year they are in second place.

Building superintendents also saw a significant rise in hourly tips (over a 100 percent increase from last year). However, only about six percent of their total hourly income is from tips and, thus, their overall pay increase was minimal.

5. Traveling for the holidays? Make sure to tip your chauffer, van driver or taxi driver. All of them earn at least 15 percent of their total income from tips. If you plan on taking a tour while on vacation, don’t forget to tip your tour guide. Their median hourly tips make up about 20 percent of their total income.

6. Want to freshen up your look? There are many people who can help you look great and are often tipped. These include makeup artists, tattoo artists, barbers, hairdressers, estheticians, nail technicians, and cosmetologists. For all beauty positions, tips make up to a quarter of their total income.

8. Prepare for your holiday party. For entertainment at your holiday party, you might want to hire a DJ, musician or singer, but don’t forget to tip them for a job well done. Bringing in a catering company? You will need to tip both the catering manager, as well as the food servers. For some of those big parties you may choose to hire a parking attendant. Make sure that your party-goers tip them, as over 20 percent of their income comes from tips.

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