Taken from my Food & Drink information page and my page on tipping.
Yep. It’s weird and new, and you’re going to hate it for a while but you’ll get used to it, I promise. You have to tip. No questions.
Long story short: 18% at the end of the meal of your pre-tax price is fair. If you order a beer or glass of wine, it’s $1 per drink. If you order a mixed drink/cocktail, you pay $2-3+ per drink depending on how long it took.
A good little trick to work out what you owe is to double the tax on your bill. In most states (I think) that should get you pretty close (thanks Narrelle W.).
If you sit at a bar, the bartender is who will take all your orders, and who you will ultimately be tipping, you can leave your tip each round.
In most restaurants, when you arrive there will be a host who will take you to your seat (generally waiting for you near the entrance). If you sit anywhere other than the bar you will have a waiter who will come to you and take your orders (when you sit down), this is who will get most/all of your tip. You don’t go to the bar to order a drink, they do that for you too. Everything you want for the evening goes through that person. Unlike Australia, you also don’t flag down any random waiter/waitress, you only speak to yours.
The thing to remember is don’t be an asshole. Wait staff here work for very little cash, so if you’re nasty, that’s really not reflecting well on you (or your countrymen). The tips make up most of that person’s wage, hence why there’s no option.
There’s a (really cool) free app for iOS named “Workflow” and with this, I have created a little app that will help you automatically work out your tip (like in this picture). Just click here to get the app and the Calculate Tip Workflow.