For tourists who come to NYC from countries with no practice of tipping or of having taxes added on top of the ticketed price of goods in stores are often taken aback to discover the ‘cost’ of their meal, new coat or that drink in a bar is more than they had bargained for. Or to discover their cabbie is exceptionally grumpy because they have just paid the exact dollar on the amount on the meter. Here is a comprehensive rundown of tipping and taxes in NYC so you don’t get caught unawares.
Taxes are relatively straightforward. On top of the ticketed price of goods you will pay New York City Sales Tax of 8.375% on everything except food at grocery stores, footwear and prescription drugs. For clothing and footwear over $110 New York State taxes of 4.375% also apply. If you pick up a good quality shirt in a NYC store and it has a ticketed price get used to knowing that price is not the final price you will pay. You can always ask ‘What is the price with tax added?”, so you know beforehand what you will be paying. This is a shock to people used to having taxes alreadyincluded in the ticketed price but it’s straightforward once you realize the system just works a little differently.
Tipping is not so straightforward. Despite it not being compulsory to pay tips, see the attached video, it is an entrenched part of New York City life such that if you don’t tip, the quality of service you receive in any number of places will drop off drastically. Look forward to the bartender mysteriously just not hearing your next drinks order no matter how loudly you yell. And the reason the bartender is not hearing you is his/her livelihood depends on him/her not hearing you. His or her wages are set at a very low level to take into account the tips received. If his bar was filled with blissfully ignorant non tipping tourists or anyone else not tipping he won’t have enough money to live on. Harsh but true. Tipping is theoretically not compulsory but it is built into the wages everyone receives in such a way that you are, in most cases, seriously impacting someone’s livelihood when you don’t, and surprize, surprize people deprived of their tips retaliate. There are ways of handling the poor service issue, which you don’t want to reward but as will be explained not tipping is usually not the way.
Tipping in NYC is divided into tips for ‘substantial service’ versus tips for ‘brief services’ Our bartender is a good example to explain the difference. You can tip a bartender 2 ways, $1-2 per drink or $15-20% of the whole tab. Per drink is a brief service but if you are at the bar the whole night with 6 in your party and he looks after you extremely well (you will probably have made sure of that by slipping him a $50 at the beginning of the night anyway to ensure that brilliant, devoted service), then you will tip him 15-20% or higher at the end of the night in reconition of the effort he has put in.
Services that attract 15-20% of the bill or higher are Room Service in a hotel, Waiters/Waitresses, Headwaiters or Maitre D’s and Sommeliers (per bottle) in restaurants, bartenders (on the whole tab), Taxi Drivers, Barbers, Hairdressers, Spa Service, Manicurist, Masseuse. I’m sure I’ve missed some out but you get the idea. A service which takes time, or is related to specifically to your personal needs that’s what gets the substantial tip.
Brief services are Hotel Doorman ($1 per bag), Hotel Bellhop ($1-2 per bag), Hotel Concierge ($5-10 for getting you a Broadway/Sports ticket and way more if it’s very hard to get), Valet Attendent ($2-5 per trip to the car), Pool Attendent ($1-2 per service), Coatroom Attendant ($1-2) Washroom Attendant (50c- $1), Bartenders, per drink ($1-2), Cocktail Waitresses ($1-2 per drink) Taxi Driver ($1-2 per bag), Showroom Maitre D’ ($1-2 per assigned seat), Grocery Loader ($1-2 per bag, more if lots) Shuttle Driver ($2 per person), Skycap at Airport ($1-2 per bag), Tour Guide ($2-5 per person, if a large group $10 per person), Tour Bus Driver ($5-10 per person) .
Delivery services to your hotel room or place you are staying are a special case. Normally the tip would be 10% of the bill but if they slug through deep snow, torrential rain or a blizzard to get your food to you then 20% of the bill is more like it.
When you come to NYC, come prepared for tipping. Have $30 in $1 notes and as soon as you land, get off the train or whatever you hand out those $1 notes for every bit of assistance you receive. Those people who give that assistance are very poorly paid and your tips are part of their wage. Unfair perhaps compared to other countries who handle minimum wages differently but that’s how it is in NYC