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8 Gratuitous Facts About Tipping

In America, the act of tipping — chipping in a little extra on top of a bill in recognition of service workers — is both customary and controversial. How much is polite to tip, and how did tipping even come to be in the first place? Is it just an American thing? These eight facts about tipping help answer some questions about when to tip, how tipping evolved, and where you might not want to tip at all.

Tip” Is Not an Acronym

There’s a persistent rumor that the word “tip,” when used to refer to a gratuity, is an acronym for "To Insure Promptness,” "To Insure Performance,” or “To Insure Prompt Service.” This is false. Around the 1700s, “tip” was underworld jargon among petty criminals as a verb meaning “give” or “share.” It’s been in the mainstream, both as a verb and a noun, since the 18th century.

The U.S. Minimum Wage Is Different for Tipped Workers

The federal minimum wage for most people in the United States is $7.25 per hour as of 2023, but for tipped workers it’s just $2.13. Those tipped workers need to get paid the equivalent of $7.25 an hour once tips are tallied, and their employer needs to make up the difference, but for staff at some restaurants, a tip isn’t always a bonus — up to a certain point, it’s just supplementing staff wages. (Many states and cities have higher minimum wages.)

Tipping Was Imported From Europe

As it exists now, tipping is a very American phenomenon, but it was customary in Europe for hundreds of years before wealthy Americans imported it back home. It dates back to the feudal system in the Middle Ages, when servants would perform duties for their wealthy masters and receive a paltry sum in exchange. Eventually, this evolved into gratuities for service industry workers from their customers. Wealthy Americans who traveled to Europe in the 19th century brought back the practice, just as a wave of poor European immigrants, used to working under the European tip system, were arriving. The idea got major pushback at the time as “un-American,” but tipping picked up after the Civil War because …

U.S. Tipping Has Roots in Slavery

When recently freed former enslaved folks entered the U.S. workforce after the Civil War, many had few employment prospects — so restaurants would “hire” them, but force them to rely on tips for payment instead of a reliable wage. Six states then abolished tipping in an attempt to force employers to pay their employees, but those bans were eventually overturned. When the Fair Labor Standards Act established the minimum wage in 1938, tipping was codified as a way to earn those wages.

Tipping Is a Faux Pas in Japan

In America, tipping is customary to not only say thank you for good service but also to help service workers make ends meet — even in states without tipped wages — so not tipping or undertipping is considered an insult in many industries. Yet at most businesses in Japan, tipping is embarrassing at best and insulting at worst. Many restaurants do implement service charges though, so you should still prepare yourself for something on top of face value when the bill comes.

At Hotels, Tips for Housekeeping Are Customary

When you’re staying at a hotel — at least, an American hotel — it’s customary to tip the housekeeping staff. Don’t worry, the etiquette isn’t to leave 20% of your hotel stay. Expertsrecommend a minimum of anywhere from $1 to $5 per day, and to leave a bigger tip if you’ve been messy, you made special requests, or if there’s a pandemic on.

65% of Americans Always Tip at Sit-Down Restaurants

According to a poll by Bankrate, slightly less than two-thirds of all Americans always tip at sit-down restaurants. Furthermore, 42% say they always tip 20% or more. This doesn’t include takeout or coffee shops — Americans are much less likely to tip consistently there, at only 13% and 22%, respectively.

You Should Still Tip for Takeout

Americans are far less likely to tip when they get takeout vs. when they sit down to eat because they’re not getting table service, but restaurant staff still work to prepare your food and package it up. You may not be expected to tip as much, but a little something is still warranted — after all, the kitchen staff perform essentially the same job whether you sit down or take it to go.

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