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Everything I Know About Tipping I Learned From Sex Workers

 by Ruth Schneider   Posted on October 27 2013

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A former sex worker friend of mine has a proverb: "Hookers are the best tippers." She said sex workers know better than anyone what tips mean to a member of the workforce: A basic living wage.

I'd be inclined to expand the saying -- anyone who has worked in the service industry knows the importance of tipping. While I've never been a hooker, my resume as a waitress, barista and starving writer lends itself to knowing a thing or two about tipping.

But feel free to correct me, or to completely disregard my advice. I'm OK with that.

  1. Always tip food service workers. Period. There are many states that have reduced minimum wages for workers in the food service industry, forcing workers to depend even more on the tips. In many states, the minimum wage is little more than $2 an hour for workers who earn tips. Tipping makes up for the difference in wages.
  2. Calculate the tip based on their service. Good service is 18%-20% of your bill. If it was average, drop down to 15%. Even the worst service deserves a 10%-12% tip. Exemplary service deserves to be rewarded -- you can tip up to 25%.
  3. When tipping bartenders, one easy rule to remember is to tip $1-$2 for each drink served, either in cash when the drink is served, or at the end of a tab. A simple whiskey and Coke get a $1 tip, but if you are ordering an $18 margarita, consider a $2 tip.
  4. When you are traveling, it's a good idea to keep a small amount of cash on hand for the folks who help you along the way. Give $1-$2 per bag to bellhops or doormen who help with bags. Give the housekeeper $2-$5 per night during your stay. If a concierge helps with reservations or tickets, offer $5-$10.
  5. The guys who run (literally) valet parking services should usually get about $2-$3 when you pick up your car. Base the tip on the effort it took to retrieve the car. Feel free to bump it up if the valet service is free.
  6. Beauticians and estheticians typically should receive 15%-20% for keeping us looking our best. If you get a $50-$60 haircut, leave a $7-$10 tip. Tips should be calculated into the cost of a tattoo or a body piercing as well. I believe in tipping the person who performed their art on you, not the owner of the establishment, but that's a personal preference.
  7. Baristas and coffee shop workers do not depend on tips. But if they have a jar out, it's nice to drop in the change from your drink. Getting your barista to like you may mean free drinks down the road.
  8. Cabbies in New York City earn about 15.5% per ride, according to the New York Times. If the taxi driver goes the extra mile to offer travel tips and advice, you can reward him with up to 20%, according to USA Today.
  9. Many movers get tips for doing the heavy lifting. It's common to tip about 5% of the total cost of the move, after the crew has unloaded the truck. Some people also hand off extra furniture to movers. (My father-in-law, a mover, once came home with a record-playing neon jukebox.)
  10. And finally, yes, sex workers deserve tips as well. A standard gratuity is 15%-20%. This applies to the girls at the local topless club and people who work in the world's oldest profession. (Full disclosure: I did my master's project on the effects of the recession on sex workers. I've talked to a lot of sex workers.)

The service industry workers depend on our tips. It's not simply courteous; it's part of their living wage. Plus, it's good karma. You get what you give.

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