Tipping etiquette: when to tip and when not to

Etiquette expert Louise Fox gives advice on when service entails tipping and when your payment is enough.

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Photo, iStockphoto.


Dear Louise,

I am confused about tipping.  Of course I know I need to tip in a restaurant, but who else is expecting a tip?  Do you tip for take-out?  What about your nail tech or massage therapist?  Whom do you tip?

Based on merit, you tip those people in the service industry who generally make your life easier. You are showing your appreciation and gratitude for a job well done. It improves the morale of the service person, supplements their income and generally brings you better service.

However, if and when to tip can be complicated and very circumstantial. For instance, you normally don’t tip for take-out but if you regularly pick up take out at the same establishment, you may establish a service relationship with the staff. They remember the extra sauce you always ask for, give you extra cheese, make sure you get napkins, handle your order quickly or remember your name and greet you with a smile. Then you may choose to tip them. If your take-out is delivered to your home, you tip the driver. Generally he is working just for tips.

You tip your nail tech and hair stylist but not your massage therapist. RMTs are professionals and just as you don’t tip your doctor, dentist or teacher, you do not tip your massage therapist.

When a service person does something extra or goes the extra mile for you, even if you would not normally tip them, you might chose to do so. For instance you might not tip the movers you hired to move your apartment, but if they have to carry your piano up two flights of stairs and don’t break anything, you might show your gratitude and tip them.

If you are in doubt whether you should tip, you can ask “What is the tipping policy?” or “How is tipping handled in this establishment?” Remember too, the tip is not the ultimate reward. How you treat the person on a regular basis is more important than the amount of the tip.  I believe a person would rather have a smaller tip or no tip from a person who treats them with respect and consideration than a wad of cash from someone who is rude and condescending.

What can you do if you are short funds for a tip?

Write a letter to their employer or management commending the performance of a particular employee.

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Louise Fox, recognized as Canada’s Etiquette Expert, is the owner of The Etiquette Ladies and She has over 20 years experience in hospitality and special-event-planning industries, and is Director of Eastern Operations of Civility Experts Worldwide and Certification Panelist and Master Trainer for the International Civility Trainers’ Consortium. She is a frequent guest on Breakfast TelevisionEntertainment TonightMTVBusiness News NetworkGlobal News and many others.