Few social situations puzzle even the most mannered etiquette experts so much as deciding how much and when to tip, especially in the U.S., where it’s not always optional and workers can be paid below minimum wage if they’re also receiving tips.  

The history of rewarding good service with additional money is murky, but it most likely originated in Europe, possibly in medieval times, when a serf would receive a tip from his lord for performing well. This practice gained popularity in 17th century England among the upper classes and then spread to the U.S. after the Civil War, when wealthy Americans began traveling to Europe more regularly.

For tipping after a meal in a restaurant, the protocol is straightforward: Leave 15% to 20% of the total check, including tax, for your server. But with the explosion of the gig economy—in which about 57 million Americans are employed—and the rise of service apps such as Airbnb, Uber, and TaskRabbit, the expectations around tipping have become unclear and, in some cases, are still being developed.

According to a Consumer Reports survey of more than 1,000 adult Americans in December, 27% of respondents said there are more situations today where they are expected to tip than there were even two years ago.

“It takes a while for new guidelines to be established in the culture at large,” says David Coggins, fashion critic and author of the New York Times bestseller Men and Style. Of the increase in new service apps, he continues, “I think it’s good to err on the side of generosity. A good tipper has a clear conscience.”

With that in mind, we talked to leading etiquette experts about how to handle tricky situations in which the tipping protocol may be uncertain. 

Extra for Uber
When Uber first launched in 2012, the app didn’t include a feature to tip drivers, which the company said eliminated drivers’ uncertainty around their pay. But in July 2017, Uber yielded to public pressure and complaints from drivers and installed a built-in tipping option similar to those on such competing apps as Lyft and Via.

Diane Gottsman, founder of the Protocol School of Texas, which specializes in executive leadership and business etiquette, recommends leaving 15% to 20% for rideshares, similar to what you might leave in a traditional taxi cab.

“They are putting their own investment in their car,” she says. “The person who is providing you that service is working toward making a living. What might be convenient for us is their livelihood.”

When taking an Uber or Lyft, etiquette expert Jodi Smith tends to leave a bigger tip than when riding in a taxicab, whose drivers may be represented by a union.

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