It is not easy to find your way around the jungle of customs for leaving a tip in New York. As a European, I grew up thinking that if you receive a proper service, a tip is the acknowledgement for this effort. If the service was bad and the food barely eatable, there is no reason to tip. You will not come very far in New York with that mind-set. Well maybe you will, but you will provoke many uncomfortable encounters, you will be yelled at, threatened and you will feel rotten. I do not know if I am right, but based on my observations of the locals, I now have elaborated my strategy for tipping.
New York is expensive, very expensive. The wages of people working in the service industry are low, very low and they do not cover the cost of living, even if you work two or three jobs, like many do. Basically, the tips are part of the income people count on and if they don’t get them, they feel the void. There is almost no relation between the quality of the service and the tip you give.
Coming from Europe, the level of tips that are customary is scary. We are talking about 15–30%. Incredible!
In a restaurant, a taxi cab, at the hairdressers, you add this percentage to the total you pay. Nevertheless, smaller tips are also expected for the porter, the baggage storage, upon deliveries and so on. It is quite obscure and leaves you feeling unsettled. I would definitely prefer having the tip included in the price. But this is a mystery in New York anyway, because nothing you buy will be charged at the price it was advertised (except at the airport). Different types of taxes and fees will be added.
I had the feeling, that I finally managed to see through the system of tipping correctly. But my findings were turned upside down as I took a yellow cab from JFK to the City Center. The fee for a cab-ride is clearly indicated on the outside of the taxi. But my chosen cab was filthy, the driver unfriendly and speaking on the phone for almost the whole ride, so at the end I decided on a tip of 5$. But my door remained closed. I could not get out. My driver resolutely told me, that this is not enough and that I should give more. I couldn’t believe it and thought it was a misunderstanding, but he kept on repeating his demand. If we would have been parked in a deserted side street, maybe I would have given in. However, at the Grand Central surrounded by people, I refused to because he was simply being rude since the beginning.
We stayed seated; he repeatedly said the tip was not enough. I persisted and was curious how this would turn out. All of a sudden, he gave in and got out of the car. My door was unlocked. I expected further difficulties when it came to him handing over my suitcase, but that was not the case. He was polite and even smiling at me.
I couldn’t grasp what had just happened. But this is how it goes. There are many cultural pitfalls and if you are not familiar with them, you are in for a surprise.
Welcome to New York, the city of the horrendous tips.
Image source: Jens Kühnemund / pixelio.de