What You Need to Know!
This was a fascinating tour!! We had 3 more days in town, so we started with it in order to get the lay of the land. Our guide, Kevin, was so incredibly knowledgeable & was a perfect fit for what we wanted to accomplish. We traveled to & learned about places that we never would have thought of to check out. I can’t say enough about this great city & tour guide. It completely exceeded our expectations!!!
This tour was great! I wish we did it on our first day in SF instead of our last day, because our tour guide, Kevin, gave us so many suggestions for dinners & things to check out. I loved how we were able to take all the different forms of transit and see so many different things that you wouldn’t normally, if you were exploring on your own.
THE REAL DEAL
Our tour with Kevin was GREAT! He is a fabulous tour guide & shared all sorts of fun facts & hidden SF favorites. He didn’t rush us, but made sure the tour ran smoothly. His personality was extremely engaging & made the group feel like old friends. The tour was strategically designed to cover maximum highlights & built in breaks when we took public transit. This tour could not be any better!
BEST TOUR OF OUR USA TRIP
Tour is amazing. Our guide, Kevin, was knowledgeable, friendly, courteous & fun. He knows the insider tricks to get the best out of SF – from hidden stairwells, to lost tunnels, to the best street art. Also free fortune cookies :-). We got to ride historic cable cars, MUNI & BART. We got amazing views of the bay, hills, Golden Gate Bridge & many must-see sights, from unique vantage points beyond the reach of a bus tour. This tour is really good value – all transport is included.
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.
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. And 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.
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 reply “bitte”. Or when a Russian offers you a glass of vodka. You can’t say it’s eight o’clock in the morning and you haven’t had breakfast. You have to drink it! 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 just the deal. It’s also expensive for your waiter, bartender or chambermaid. Even more so because they live here. Remember, it’s not just about the money (funnily enough like nearly all things 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 the worker be.
So How Much Should I Tip?
Since we’re Real San Francisco Tours, our guide to tipping in the U.S. is based on what we tip in S.F.
Restaurants: 15-20%. An easy way to estimate the tip is to double the sales tax (in San Francisco it's 8.5%).
Bars: $1-2 per drink. Be generous if you're ordering several cocktails, especially if you want to be served next time.
Chambermaid: $5-10 whenever they change the sheets.
Hotel Porter: $3-5 per bag.
Valet Parking Attendant: $3-5 when you leave. It’s also not okay to throw your keys at them - unless you’re driving a Ferrari.
Taxi: 10%. Previously you couldn’t tip ride-sharing taxi drivers. Now you can.
Car Wash: $3-5. This is given to the guy who does the detailing on your car.
Hotel Concierge: Nothing. If you’re booking a tour with them they’re already getting a kickback (we don’t use them).
Tour Guide: 15-20%. Come on! What did you think we’d say? Tour guides work hard.
Is it ever okay to not tip? Of course you can leave nothing if you want, a gratuity isn’t obligatory, but unless you get 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 that situation’s unusual – mainly because the practice of tipping in the U.S. is so ingrained, service is nearly always excellent.