Still can't get tipping right in Silicon Valley

By Karina Rook

You eat in a restaurant, you always tip – I’m clear on that one. Pretty similar to back home in Australia, but it’s the subtleties I’m not getting.

A friend and I recently ate in a bakery where we paid at the register and had to come to the counter and collect our food when it was ready. Sure, no tipping, but we also have to clean up the table ourselves when we leave. I think in Australia we would do that in a food court in a shopping mall, or in a cafe when we could see the servers were very busy. But sometimes I forget to clean up. Oops.

I drove into the city of San Francisco earlier this week and it’s common to have valet parking in the public carparks. I struck up a nice conversation with the main attendant, chatted about the weather (of course), and when I accidentally left a compendium in my car he very nicely returned to the car and retrieved it for me. We made more jokes about being forgetful, and he wished me a lovely day. When I returned to collect the car, he swiped my ticket and $17 was displayed, so I handed over a $20. He gave me the change and wished me a nice afternoon again – I walked away and waited for the junior attendant to fetch my car. Then that feeling started again, the doubt and anxiety over whether I should have tipped the senior attendant, even though I was intending to tip the junior guy that I had absolutely no relationship with. Aaargh..what to do….

Handing the tip over to someone is so awkward – I like a tip jar or something less personal (like leaving cash on a table). When I got my haircut recently I knew in advance that I had to tip, but I just couldn’t see how to do it. The hairdresser asked me at payment time if I’d like to donate to some charity (so common here) so by the time that transaction was finished it didn’t feel right to handover a couple of dollar bills to her (just like the charity donation).

And as a recipient of tips through my TaskRabbit work, I never know whether to thank people for tipping me? It’s all done online so I don’t get to thank people face-to-face. I feel it all gets a bit ridiculous, as a tip is really their way of thanking me, so it’s silly to thank them back.

I hope that as I spend more time here I can iron out the tipping tricks and feel confident that I’m tipping at appropriate times, and am a gracious tippee.