Tipping is a difficult concept if you've come from a country that doesn't have it, I know. You can have all the philosophical and political debates you want, but the fact is that it is a big part of the culture in the United States, and there's no better place to see that than with New York City's tipping culture.
When I first moved here, I was just as frustrated as you probably were (or are). You see a price on a menu, and that price doesn't include “tax and tip” so is probably significantly less than you're actually going to be paying when you walk out.
That being said, just because you don't like something doesn't mean you can ignore it or argue that you shouldn't have to take part through some argument of logic. It exists, and no matter how many times you explain to me that it “perpetuates a system of racism, classism, and poverty” – you still have to do it.
Side note: To all the budding New York legislators out there reading this. Hop to it, and start fixing the systemic issue. Minimum wage improvements in New York State are a great start, so keep on going!
So after all that, what should you remember when calculating a tip in New York?
1. Tipping less than 15% isn't an option
You do have a say in how much you tip, yes. However, that does not extend below 15% though.
The general rule of thumb is:
- If you were just passingly pleased with the meal, you tip 15%;
- If you were content and happy with the meal you tip 18%; and
- If you were over the moon about the service, you tip 20%+ (subject to the below considerations, too).
2. Double the tax (rounded up) is a great way to calculate
Sales tax in New York State totals at around 8.875%. Double 8.875 is 17.75% which is pretty close to the recommended 18%.
If you round up a little, you've hit the buzzer right on the nose.
3. Every venue and service is different
At a bar, you can tip $1 per beer. At a restaurant, if you had a beer with your meal, you should be just including it in the total tip of 15-20%. If that bartender is also making you a cocktail, you should consider the time it took and tip more.
Every different situation has its own set of rules, and don't be afraid to ask other people around you (or check out my cheat sheet to tipping).
4. You don't have to tip extra if gratuity is included
If you do receive an included gratuity on your check (for example big groups will include a 20% automatic gratuity), you do not have to tip extra.
You certainly can if you really loved the service, but it is not expected (even though there will still be a tip line). Don't feel bad, you tipped 20%!
5. Tipping should take into account large groups or weird circumstances
You will notice that if you book 6 or more people at a restaurant there will usually be a 20% gratuity added to your bill. If there isn't, you should consider it. Again, you can pick whatever you'd like, but the bigger the group, the more work generally for your waiter to ensure you have a great night.
If you're a group of people who have broken a plate and spilled pasta all over the floor… maybe also consider adding extra!
Just remember… You WILL get used to it
I'm not saying this is a good or bad thing, but when you travel back to your home country, you'll feel strange when you don't need to tip, and you'll feel strange that you feel strange. It's a whole cycle.