You know the gratuity axiom for restaurants (15 to 20 percent, duh!) and for hotel maid service ($1 to $2 per night). But the opportunity and obligation to offer gratuity abounds, and you may be surprised to learn that you're doing it all wrong.
In fact, many people don't even understand the full equation when it comes to gratuity, says Jodi R. R. Smith, an etiquette consultant and author of "The Etiquette Book: A Complete Guide to Modern Manners" ($19.28, www.booksamillion.com ).
"Most people tip because they want to reward a job well done - and that is certainly part of the process," Smith says. "But tips are also to ensure that the service provider is adequately compensated for their time and efforts. And most people don't also realize that tips are an insurance policy on good service going forward."
For example, generously tip the pizza delivery guy on Thursdays (a popular family pizza night) and you're buying insurance that you'll likely get speedy service the following Thursday.
We asked Smith to give the skinny on various scenarios in which tipping rules may elude the average customer.
General rules: The rules of tipping per person per day are based on the price of the hotel, but be sure to leave that sum each and every day of your stay - no matter if you booked the lowest room you could find on Hotels.com or are staying at the Four Seasons. "It makes me crazy when people leave the tip at the end of the stay," Smith says. "You never know who was on shift during your visit."
How much: $1 to $2 per person per day
Insider tip: Leave the cash on the unmade bed to highlight the intent of the money.
GUY WHO FIXES YOUR CAR'S FLAT IN THE RAIN FOR WHICH HIS SHOP CHARGES $5
General rules: "It's not always about the cost of service, but the effort and energy the person put into the act," Smith says.
How much: Maybe $10.
Caveat: Consider whether the person is enthusiastic or grumbles.
General rules: You know that you should tip your hairstylist 15 percent to 20 percent of the bill. However, the old rules dictated that salon owners needn't receive gratuity, though an end-of-year gift was called for. Today, customers are rarely loyal to their salons, hair cutters or colorists, and new etiquette calls for tipping the service provider on each and every visit.
How much: 15 percent to 20 percent of the bill
Insider tip: "If you really are loyal and go to your stylist for years on end, then it is fine to give a lavish gift or generous tip at the end of the year," Smith says.
General rules: Base it on the general price range of the salon - the pricier the joint, the more the tip.
How much: $1 to $5. Less if you are at an inexpensive salon like Great Clips or more for a high-end location.
Insider tip: Give a nice big tip for a scalp massage.
General rules: "There are tip jars everywhere, but that doesn't mean you need to fill them all," Smith says. The lady in the doughnut shop who swivels her waist to snatch a pastry from the heap and drop it into a bag? Nope. The deli guy who carefully assembles a dozen specially ordered sandwiches? Absolutely.
How much: 5 percent to 10 percent of the bill
Insider tip: Make sure to keep cash in your wallet - even if you tend to rely entirely on cards.
GUY WHO BUFFS UP YOUR CAR AT THE CAR WASH
General rules: Tips are supposed to be divvied up among all workers on the shift. Either give money to the person in charge or put it in the tip box.
How much: $5
Insider tip: In any situation, feel free to give extra to someone who goes out of his or her way. In this case, if someone hoses off a mat covered with your child's vomit, tip accordingly.
General rules: Tip a percentage of the fare, similar to that at a restaurant.
How much: 10 percent to 15 percent of the fare. For anything under $10, there is a $2 minimum.
Insider tip: Friendly service, help with luggage and the absence of constant cellphone conversation warrant an extra buck or two.
RESTAURANT WHERE YOU ORDER AT THE COUNTER OR GET FOOD TO GO
General rules: "There is no reason to tip unless they go above and beyond - like in respecting an order for someone with allergies," Smith says. "Even if there is a line on the receipt for a tip, just write a slash through it and sign." This applies to restaurants where there is a dine-in option like Macaroni Grill.
How much: For extra-special orders, give 5 percent to 10 percent of the bill.
Insider tip: "In any situation, if a tip is not appropriate, the best thing you can do is refer other clients and customers to the business," Smith says. "Also, it can be important to write a letter of thanks that they can display in their store."
AIRPORT CURBSIDE BAGGAGE HANDLER
General rules: Tip outside, not inside. Union and employment practices differ on the inside versus the outside of the airport. Inside, employees usually get health insurance, paid sick days and other benefits, while outside, there is less job security.
How much: $1 to $2 per bag, depending on size
Insider tip: "Even though the gate agents and the skycaps seem to be doing identical jobs, their situations are totally different, and the guys outside are working for tips," Smith says.
General rules: If you get inked regularly, consider an end-of-year gift.
How much: If you insist: 5 percent to 10 percent of the bill
Insider tip: Feel free to give extra if you are especially thrilled with the work, but ask permission first to avoid offense. "Say, 'May I tip you? I am thrilled with the butterfly on my butt,'" Smith suggests.
BARTENDER WHEN YOU'RE SITTING AT THE BAR
General rules: The $1-per-drink rule is outdated in most situations, Smith says. "If you're in Manhattan, drinking $18 cocktails at a crowded place," you should be paying much more than if you are at a motel bar in the rural Midwest.
How much: Tipping $1 is fine if the bar is not crowded and drinks are $5. Otherwise, at least $2 to $3 per drink - and likely more if you're occupying a prime barstool all night.
Insider tip: "Consider the real estate," Smith says. "If you're sitting at the bar for a long time on a busy night and only tipping $1 per drink, you are greatly impacting the bartender's income."