What you need to know!
Such an interesting deep dive into the Castro and Mission neighborhoods, for which we had an incredibly sunny warm summer day. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable, having grown up in the area, and pointed out not only historical places, but beautiful murals, homes and fun nooks and crannies (like hidden stairways to streets) that we never would have seen on our own. We definitely came away with much more of an appreciation for Castro and the Mission (love Dolores Park!) and will seek out other neighborhoods on our next trip!
I had the most amazing time, as a solo traveller doing a small group tour is perfect. My tour guide was very knowledgeable and friendly. He gave us lots of fun facts along the way and the whole experience was very interesting. Bring your walking shoes we started at 10 am and finished at 6 pm, I highly recommend you do this tour. We went to places tourist didn’t go.
My Boyfriend and I booked an all Day SF tour with Christofer and had an amazing time! He knew a ton of history which we loved and we were able to see a ton. We loved it as it had been our first time visiting. Would highly recommend to anyone wanting to be shown around the city.
Did a wonderful tour with these guys while I was in San Francisco on business. I’d also done a tour with the sister company in Los Angeles several years ago. Kevin, who was the guide, was great and it was so nice to be outside. We learnt tons about SF. Definitely recommended!
Our guide Damien was so very knowledgeable about the area and history of SF. We experienced different methods of transport (avoiding those big hills!) and areas we would not otherwise have known about.
Damien was the best! Friendly & very informative. He took into consideration our interests & made it very enjoyable. Great exercise- best way to see SF. Liked Haight Ashbury the most.
We had a two day layover in San Francisco, so we wanted to make the most of our time there. It’s always been somewhere we wanted to visit and on this tour we got to all the places we most dreamed of going – downtown, Nob hill, Castro, Haight Ashbury, painted ladies, Lombard St, North beach and Chinatown. It was only a small group and the guide was amazing. It wasn’t tiring at all and we had a great time jumping from trains to buses to cable cars. AWESOME DAY!!!
Tipping in the U.S.
One of the most confusing things about traveling to the U.S. is having to figure out when and how much to tip. As Winston Churchill (might have) said it’s a riddle wrapped in an enigma, inside a mystery. Sometimes it seems like everyone has a tip jar just waiting for you to drop a gratuity in, so where is the definitive list of workers that one should tip? Is it ever appropriate not to tip? If it’s such a big deal why isn’t the gratuity included in the bill? Why, for that matter, aren’t workers in the U.S. hospitality industry not paid enough, so they don’t need tips? Tipping in the U.S. is a social minefield. An ethical dilemma from which there’s no escape while you’re here. Bars, restaurants, hotels, taxis – at any moment it can strike. Is this waiter really expecting me to leave 25%? What if I leave 15%? Will they jeer me out of the restaurant? Or will they just look at me with cold disdain? Even Americans can find it confusing.
Intimidated? There’s no need to be! We at Real San Francisco Tours have written this handy guide to tipping etiquette, that will help you find your way through the minefield and resolve the existential paradox that will hit you when you get back to your hotel room and find some nice chocolates sitting on top of your freshly made bed. To tip the chambermaid or not to tip the chambermaid? That is the question. To find the answer read on.
A SHORT HISOTRY OF TIPPING IN THE U.S.
To address the whole issue of tipping in the U.S. we have to first understand where this custom came from and why it is so prevalent in the U.S. (because it’s without question more common to tip here than anywhere else). Funnily enough Americans got the habit from Europeans, and particularly the British. If you watched the TV series Victoria you would have noticed Queen Victoria tipping her servants – that’s where tipping in the U.S. comes from.
Wealthy Americans who traveled to Europe in the nineteenth century would observe the British aristocracy doing it and when they returned, to show how sophisticated they were, began tipping in the U.S. Gradually it became commonplace to do it here – even as it became much less common in the U.K. and Europe. Why is that?
The U.S. has an overwhelmingly immigrant culture, people from all over the world moved here, some willingly and some not. These people had different languages, cultures and customs. Something was needed to unite them. Of course students of American history will tell you that this is where the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Pledge of Allegiance all come in. Devices that Americans are taught to revere and which have the effect of binding the people together as one.
Of course this is true – to a point. You do need all of these ceremonial, governmental and even mystical elements to make a country such as the U.S. function. But you also need a language that everyone, no matter what their background, religion or culture can understand. As we all know English is America’s lingua franca (although Spanish is now making significant inroads), but a language comes with it’s own cultural background, embedded in its DNA. You need something more neutral, more a-cultural if you like. And that something is money.
Money really is the universal language. It’s math. One and one equals two, two and two equals four. Everyone can understand that. So really money became the U.S.’s official language – which is the main reason why it’s the most capitalist country on earth. In other countries people’s place in society is based on complicated factors to do with class, profession, education and, of course, money too. But in the U.S. that’s the major factor.
Why? Because it’s the only element on which everyone can agree. There are other countries, which have immigrant cultures to one extent or another, Australia for example, but in those countries there was always a dominant culture – in Australia’s case it is Anglo/British. For the U.S., after the Revolution, that wasn’t the case anymore. That doesn’t mean Americans are interested only in money and lacking any other cultural expression. Americans are typically friendly and polite and usually generous to a fault. It’s just that they use money as a way of communicating. U.S. culture is very deep, rich and varied.
WHY TIP HERE?
So, what does that mean to you, as you reluctantly ponder whether to leave a gratuity for the chambermaid? Just this: at Real San Francisco Tours we believe in being respectful of the different cultures that we come across. That’s the whole point of the kind of traveling that we enjoy. It’s about accepting and learning from different customs – not imposing our customs on the countries that we visit. When in Rome do as the Romans do.
Probably where you come from it’s not customary to tip. Here it is. So do it. Really it’s no different to leaving your shoes at the door in Japan. Or when a German says “danke” you must reply “bitte”. Or understanding that Indian restaurants don't have steak on the menu - the cow is sacred.
It’s true that the federal minimum wage in the U.S. is ridiculously low (it’s $2.31 p/h, which is insane), but that’s a separate issue – you can’t change that, only Americans can. You can only accept the way it is or try to ignore it and leave a lot of unhappy workers in your wake.
Look we totally get it – tipping in the U.S. can be expensive, but that’s the deal. It’s also expensive for your waiter, bartender or chambermaid. Especially because they live here. Remember, it’s not just about the money (funnily enough like everything that involve money), your gratuity is sending a message, a good tip means you’re happy and no tip means you’re NOT happy – so neither should they be.
How Much to Tip in San Francisco
Since we’re Real San Francisco Tours, our guide to tipping in the U.S. is based on what we tip in SF.
Restaurants: 15-20%. An easy way to estimate the tip is to double the sales tax (in SF it's 8.5%).
Bars: $2 per drink. Be generous when ordering cocktails, especially if you want to be served next time.
Chambermaid: $5-10 whenever they change the sheets.
Hotel Porter: $5 per bag.
Valet Parking Attendant: $5 when you leave.
Taxi: 10%. Previously you couldn’t tip ride-sharing taxi drivers. Now you can.
Car Wash: $5-10. This is given to the guy who does the detailing on your car.
Hotel Concierge: They usually get commission on bookings they make, so it's not necessary to tip.
Tour Guide: 15-20% of the per person ticket price (what did you think we’d say? Tour guides work hard).
IS IT OKAY IF I DON'T TIP IN THE U.S.?
You can do whatever you want. Of course you can leave nothing if if that's how you roll, a gratuity isn’t obligatory. But it's very impolite. Unless you had bad service it isn’t cool. If that happens it’s normally best to try to resolve the issue with the server/bartender etc first. But this kind of situation’s unusual – mainly because the practice of tipping in the U.S. is so ingrained, service is nearly always excellent.
The Los Angeles Times' Marisa Gerber has written a great article about this important U.S. courtesy (for which she joined our sister company, The Real Los Angeles Tours, for a tour), here.