Tips for tipping

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I was a waitress my entire time in college so I'm giving away my age when I say I earned $1.65 per hour as a food server. Trust me when I say I DEPENDED on tips to make rent and pay my bills as a broke college student. So, these tipping tips, have a special place in my heart.

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Lisa mentioned this topic to me when her step-daughter, who has a job as a food server at one of the nicer Valley restaurants, told her that people seem to be really cutting back on their gratuities, even if they are still going out to dinner. It's a way they seem to be dealing with the lagging economy. But, it sure makes earning a decent living difficult for hardworking service people.

So, I thought it would be a good time to take a look at tipping standards and expectations in varying situations. Some are where tipping is expected and others lie in the "gray area" where you're just not sure.

Here's what I learned in typical Live and Learn style - by talking to people, researching the experts and talking to some experts as well.

Dining Out Tips

Always tip! The food servers depend on the tip more than you know. In fact, in Arizona the minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. But employers are legally allowed to pay service personnel who receive tips up to $3 less per hour. So, these days, they're making $4.25 per hour.

The standard tip is 15 - 20% of your bill. There's some disagreement about, before or after tax, but it usually only amounts to a small percentage more. I say if you have good service, tip 15 - 20% of the total tab. Plus, if you're lucky enough to have a gift card or even an offer for a free item of food or drink, please tip the server the percentage of what the tab would be without the offer or gift card. They still are working just as hard - it's not their fault that you have a freebee.

Also, keep in mind that most often, the server is having to "tip out" to bus people, hostesses, even the kitchen and share a percentage of her tip with others who contribute to your experience. A newer situation is with the newer twists on take out - like a curbside to go feature. Here the experts say to yes, tip the person helping put together and deliver your meal to you or the car - doesn't have to be as much, because their work ends when they hand it to you - but a nice 10% is a good idea. They too are getting a server's wage and are packing up and delivering.

What about your favorite Barista at your coffee stop? Usually it's a tip jar. Try to toss in about a $1 - $2 tip for the crew to share if they are pleasant and complete your order well. And, let's talk about the dreaded "bad service" dilemma. What if the service is really bad? Yes, it's ok not to tip as much. But keep in mind that by stiffing your server they'll just think you're a bad customer, and will probably not attach it to themselves.

The better idea is to talk to the manager or owner and nicely explain your disappointment so they are aware and can correct the situation and everyone realizes why your tip was not the usual percentage. If you leave your car with a valet, plan on tipping the attendant who brings you your car as you leave, not the person who takes the keys. $2 - $5 is considered appropriate.

Travel Tips

The $1 - $2 per bag rate holds pretty true for anyone who helps you with your bag. A taxi driver should get about a 15% tip. If a concierge at your hotel helps you get into a great restaurant or land those coveted tickets, tip whatever you feel is appropriate.

When staying at a hotel, try to leave $2 - $5 per day for the housekeeper. My brother got me in this habit but I first made the mistake of leaving a lump sum at the end of my stay only to realize that the lucky cleaning person doing my room the last day got a bonus that should have gone to more than one person. Try to put it in an envelope with housekeeping marked on it so there is no misunderstanding about them picking up loose cash in your room. This is a very nice thing to do - those housekeepers work hard!

Personal Service Tips

We all love our hairdressers, barbers; nail techs and everyone who provides our pampering or necessary grooming needs. 15% of the bill is a good guideline. But if you purchase product don't include that in your total. The tip should be for the service portion. If you have more than one person working with you during your appointment a colorist, shampoo person, even someone that just blow-dries your hair you may want to ask your stylist what the policy is. Many of them get a percentage of the tip you leave the main stylist. Or, you may want to tip that person separately for extra care that they provide.

Home Service Tips

This one is that gray area that can leave you stumped. But generally, a person providing home services is paid more than the reduced minimum wage of a food server and others who depend on tips for their livelihood. So the general rule here is that someone coming into your home to perform a service such as rug cleaning, handyman, etc. usually doesn't expect a tip. If however, someone provides service above and beyond what is expected, use your discretion to tip a little. We've all run into the person who just does an outstanding job or helps in an unexpected way - that's when you feel especially good about tipping.

Plus, keep in mind that offering a cold drink to anyone providing a service is also a nice touch. And, if the service is not one that feels like a tip should be offered, a call to the employer to tell what an outstanding job they did is almost as good and can result in a pay raise or other recognition - that in itself is a tip when a cash gift is not appropriate.

So, the general rule is... if you know that someone relies on tips for their earnings, please don't skip it to save your budget.

Consider a different type of dining experience - it's just part of the deal so to speak.

And then, use good judgment when it comes to other service people and reward great service. And then there's the holidays - oh no - we're not going there for a long time!

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