After talking to a friend of mine who lives in Australia and just visited the United States, it occurred to me that tipping is something that many people just don’t seem to get right. People in other countries are always confused by the fact that we have tipping at all, but I’ve often found myself adding money to tips in certain circumstances to make everything look, well, more proper.

Why do we tip in this country? Because even though minimum wage for most workers is now $7.25, for “tipped” workers minimum wage is $4.35. And then tips are taxed, which I think is highly unfair, at a rate of 8%. If the employee doesn’t report how much the tips are the restaurant has to take that 8% out of their receipts and pay the government monthly.

Here’s the thing. If a restaurant worker is lucky enough to be working on a busy night they could make pretty good money per hour. If not, tip income can look pretty bad. And by the way, it’s not only restaurant workers that have to deal with this. Any position that could potentially get a tip based on what they do has to pay taxes on it. This means cab drivers, doormen, bartenders, the guys that park your car, even the ladies who do hair are supposed to pay, whether they end up getting tipped or not.

Therefore, it becomes important for us to do our part when we get even relatively adequate service. The standard rate should be 15%, and upwards of 20% or more if the service was good or if there were a lot of people in your party. At many restaurants, if there are 8 or more guests the restaurant will automatically add 18% onto the bill for the tip, so you don’t have to pay more if you’re not inclined to do so.

However, percentages are just numbers to most people. Here are some quick rules of thumb if you want to be fair. If your bill is less than $10, tip at least $2. If your bill is between $10 and $15, tip at least $3, $15 to $20 tip at least $4. Notice I’m giving “at least” figures. I have no problem in paying more than that if service was pretty good.

When the bills start getting higher, you can use a different type of discretion in tipping someone. As long as I tip 15% I feel I’ve given a pretty good amount, though most of the time I tend to tip high. I often have a great relationship with the people who serve me (it’s a smart thing to do; after all, they are bringing your food and it’s never smart to make the people who have your food last before you get it mad at you), so tipping on the high side is often justified. I’ve tipped between 25% to 30% here and there.

Of course, no one is ever obligated to tip. If you were treated badly not tipping or under tipping is a great way to get your point across. If you think you’ll be going back to a certain place it makes sense to tip because restaurant workers always remember the patrons that give lousy tips; always! It’s important to realize just how badly these types of workers are paid and treated by the government; please think about them when you’re ready to pay your bill.

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