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When should you tip and just how much? One etiquette expert weighs in

Tipping culture in America has led many people to wonder the same thing: What services are worth tipping for?

PORTLAND, Maine — Tipping culture in America has led many people to wonder the same thing: What services are worth tipping for? Whether you're grabbing a bite to eat or even a coffee, if you're feeling like you're seeing tip screens everywhere you go, you're not alone.

"Every establishment seems to flip the screen and ask you for the tip," one person in downtown Portland said. 

"I've learned to expect it, so it's kind of like I'm always ready to pay a tip," another said.

Nearly one in three Americans think society's tipping culture has gotten a bit out of hand, according to a survey from Bankrate.

NEWS CENTER Maine spoke with one etiquette expert, Thomas P. Farley, who goes by Mister Manners, who said there are some situations a person should tip, and sometimes, it's okay to say "No."

Dining at a restaurant

When grabbing a bite to eat at a sit-down restaurant, his rule of thumb is to tip 20 percent. The servers are working for what's called a "tipped minimum wage" at $6.90 an hour, and tips are the only way their income can reach the minimum wage.

Farley said the national average for tipping sits just below 20 percent, so "if you're thinking that you're being generous by tipping 20 percent, what you're actually tipping there is baseline standard."

Counter service workers

If you've just bought a coffee or sandwich from a worker behind a counter, Farley said you're not mandated to leave any sort of gratuity since they're already paid the minimum wage.

"If it's simply someone scanning a barcode and handing you a bag of potato chips or a bottled water, and you then see a 25 or 30 percent tip screen pop up, I recommend you hit no tip unless you really feel in that instance the employee gave you above and beyond service," he said.

One downtown Portland coffee shop owner said three-quarters of its customers typically tip.

Farley said it's clearly completely up to the customer, but individuals like baristas who know your name and spend several minutes creating the perfect drink could deserve some extra gratuity.

Delivery drivers

If you're the type of person who would rather order in, Farley said you should tip delivery drivers no less than $3 to 5. He advises customers to tip 10 to 15 percent of the total bill for deliveries and also advises people to consider what the drivers are up against, like the weather or distance driven.

Avoiding consumer guilt

To avoid any consumer guilt if you choose not to tip, Farley recommends bringing cash to avoid the tip popup screen that comes with paying with a credit card.

"More and more consumers are tipping for more and more things that they never tipped for before," Farley said, acknowledging many people feel they don't have a choice to decline tipping.

"I think it's an important thing that we, all of us, do as consumers [to] make an educated decision about how we want to spend our money," he said. "Knowing that somebody who's ringing you up in a counter transaction is being paid a fair minimum wage, that you are not obligated to tip them anymore."

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