Why I am still puzzled by Tipping Etiquette

Trip Start Jul 03, 2012
Trip End Dec 16, 2012

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Where I stayed
Broadway Hotel and Hostel New York City
Read my review - 4/5 stars
What I did
Maria Bonita

Flag of United States  , New York
Friday, July 13, 2012

New York has been terrific, however I have a bug bear I just need to get vent about and its associated with 'Tipping Etiquette'. 
It is the most inconsistent and confusing custom I'm yet to encounter here. We've had many discussions about this issue and I've gone to a number of sources to try and find the official 'rules of tipping ettiqute'.  I'm still at a loss to figure the whole thing out

This morning I left a thank you note in our Hotel for the Maid with a $4 tip. The custom is $2-5 dollars a day for each day at the hotel, as per the rules I've researched. So far all seems ok, the money was gone and none of my clothes have been cut into shreds; but then their was no note saying 'your welcome' either. It kinda feels like your just sending money off into space without knowing if its required, appreciated or if its actually unsatisfactory.

The question is this. I'm a traveller on a budget although I'm happy to reward good service and I also understand that many service staff have low incomes and rely on tips, the whole process is very complicated and requires mental calculations that should never be attempted after a margarita. Weighing up if Tipping 13% instead of 15% because you've run out of small notes will make your waiter hate you? Also tipping should be done in cash, requiring you to have $1 bills on you and the crisp clean notes are preferred to damaged ones.
How do we tourists manage to tip appropriately? While New Yorkers seem to tip with an innate sense of finesse having grown up with this custom, I feel like as clumsy as a bull in a China closet.

At the end of the day I guess I would just like to be told what to pay and then pay it. Simple, effective and then everyone is happy. However, when in Rome just go with the flow and hope that your doing the right thing.

Here are just some of the rules I've found, every service has it's own tipping rule: 

General rule: 10%  usually means you are very unhappy, 15% usually means all was ok,  20% for excellent, and 25% for outstanding. 
Restaurants with table service
: Tip 15% of the bill, based on the quality of service. If you receive exceptional service, 15-25% is customary.  In major cities of the U.S. however, 20% is considered to be a "good tip".Unlike many countries, service is usually not included in the bill with the exception of large parties (typically six or more people).  If you're with a large party, be sure to check your bill just in case. 15% - 20% is often automatically charged for a large party (six or more).  If the tip is included, the breakdown of the bill will read "gratuity", which means that a tip isalready included.  As always, if you feel you did not receive 15% service, inform the management before paying your bill and have it adjusted to the adequate amount.
It is worth mentioning that New York restaurants have started adding automatic gratuity even though the number of people eating is far less than 6. Even with a group of three, gratuity of 20% may be automatically added both in restaurants and in 'pubs'. The automatic gratuity is also becoming common in areas that are highly tourist-oriented, such as the Grand Canyon.   It is important to always check one's bills!

 It is even more complicated at Bars:
 Bartenders: $1 - $2 per drink, or 15-20% of the total bill. If you tip well and consistently at bars and pubs, you are likely to recieve a drink on the house, known sometimes as a "buy back." This typically occurs after the 3rd drink you buy. Some bartenders will still use the "old school" signal of leaving an upside-down shot glass near your spot at the bar, especially if you are engaged in conversation or if the place is very noisy, but it's not that common anymore. Turn the shot glass over when you want the free drink. Even though the drink is free, the labor isn't. Don't forget to tip on the "buy back."
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Anna on

I love exploring NYC. I use the guide book 365Guie New York City www.365guidenyc.com It lists restaurant deals and bar specials. Saves me a ton.

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