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Learn when to tip and how much to tip for various services performed in Hawaii, and the United States in general.

• General: DIY / How-To • General: Educational

Tipping is an odd little thing that's gotten way out of control. Tipping is being expected in more places than ever before which is just annoying. If it feels like everyone wants to get at your money it's simply because they all do.

In many countries tipping just doesn't exist. Here in the USA anyone will take a tip for anything at all, or nothing at all! This is why when people from other countries come to Hawaii they don't always realize they should tip. Australia is one example that comes to mind as Aussies often don't know that they should tip at a table service restaurant and that means they may get bad service (or worse).

Many will argue that the employees should get higher wages so that tipping isn't needed. The problem is that to make a change like that would require a massive undertaking where all employers increase salaries for employees who get tips all at the same time. They would also have to increase the cost of the items they sell (like food in a restaurant) to cover those costs. So, it will never happen.

Bottom line, forget what's right and wrong with the system overall and make sure you compensate those who provide you with a service where tipping is the norm. Just because you don't like tipping doesn't mean you don't have to do it. This especially important when you consider that many workers are at, possibly even below, the Hawaii Minimum Wage.

But in a country where fast food workers have a tip jar out, how does one know when to tip and how much?

Table Service Restaurants

If you are at a table service restaurant, where somebody is serving you then a tip will be expected. Assuming they take your order, bring your drinks and refills, bring your food, and so on then a normal tip is 15%. If you thought your service was better then consider a 20% tip. If it was bad, go less and let the manager know. Keep in mind that tips are figured on the total of your meal before tax. If you used a coupon you figure the tip before the coupon discount was taken off.

Buffet Style Restaurants

In the case of a buffet restaurant where the server is really just clearing your plates and bringing you drink refills, consider leaving $2-$4 per person. Many buffets will suggest tips from 15-25% but that's a little ridiculous for the service being performed.

Counter Service Restaurants

A tip jar at the local fast food burger joint? Are you kidding me! You don't need tip here unless you want to get rid of some loose change. I hate to offend those workers but it's simply not appropriate to have a tip jar on the counter regardless of how good of a sandwich artist you think you are.

There can be an exception here. If this is a counter service restaurant where you order, sit, and your food is brought out to you and they then clean up after you are done then by all means drop a $2-3 per person in their tip jar if you think their service was good.


Tipping at a luau (see What Is A Luau and our Hawaii Luau Guide) is a hot topic and some believe it is required while others feel like it isn't. A lot depends on the luau, what the servers there do for you, and how good their service was. At many luaus your table will be assigned a server and that server will let you known when you can go to the buffet, will clear away old plates, and so on. It's similar to a buffet which we covered above. If you feel like the service was good (and those Mai Tai's were flowing frequently) then a $2-$4 tip per person is normal. If you don't feel like the server really did much (or anything) then don't feel obligated to tip.

I've read where people think that tips of $10-$20 per person are necessary here. They are not. Sure, those servers are likely to also be the performers in the show but that's why you probably paid $75 to $150 per person to get in compared to $30 or so for just a normal buffet. Of course, if you really liked your server they'll happily take that $10-$20 tip.

Coffee House

The idea of waiting in line to order coffee at a counter and then expecting me to tip is insanity. While I don't do the whole Starbucks thing like many do, on those occasions where I order something I'm not tipping. This is fast food people, so fast food tipping rules apply which means no tip. If you disagree you can always leave $1 per coffee / drink you order.


At a bar and ordering drinks does require a tip. If you have a good bartender and they're keeping their eye on your drink level and are quick and friendly then a $1 per drink tip is normal. Ordering several? Then consider tossing in a bit more per drink. If they are unusually good and not so stingy with the alcohol then $2 per drink would be the high end.

Hotel Valet

When you valet park your car you do not tip the valet who takes your car from you. Instead, you only tip when you are picking up your car. The faster the valet moves to get your car the higher the tip should be. On the low end figure around $2-$3. Assuming the valet is good I like to give them $5. They'll quickly remember you and take care of you for the rest of your stay, and will be expecting that $5 bill each time.

Hotel Bellman

Anytime you are asking somebody to handle your luggage, figure that you should be tipping them around $2 per bag. If you are dropping bags off to be held by bell services you don't need to tip until you pick the bags back up. If a bellman is bringing your bags up to your room for you then consider a $10 minimum tip if they were nice and helpful.

Hotel Maid / Housekeeping Service

When tipping a hotel room cleaning person, a fair tip is usually around $5 per day. If you are requesting extra things then you'd probably make them very happy with a $10 tip. It's important to tip each day and not one large tip at the end of your stay. This way the maid who actually cleaned your room gets the tip. Remember, these are the people who have access to your toothbrush while you are gone. Want them cleaning the toilet with it or leaving it alone? Exactly, keep them happy.

Hotel Room Service

If you are ordering room service so you can dine in your room then first check your bill because chances are good the tip is already on the bill. If not, a standard 15% tip is normal.

Hotel Repair Person

If something in your room is broken and the hotel sends somebody up to fix it you do not need to tip the repair person. Let them do their job and leave, it's a hotel and you already paid to have everything working.

Spa Service

Enjoying a spa day? Then first make sure that the tip isn't already included on the bill. If it is not then a standard 15-20% tip is normal (based on how well the experience was for you).

Pizza Delivery Driver

If you are ordering a pizza to your house / hotel then the minimum you should be tipping is $3. Check the pizza and make sure it is correct. If all is good then the pizza driver did their job so consider a $5 or higher tip if you ordered several items. Remember, if the pizza is "late" this may not be their fault. If you live in an apartment complex or are in a hotel and the driver is bringing the pizza up to your front door then consider a couple of extra dollars for that effort.

And now some "tips" on tipping:

  • Carry small bills at all times. Keep several $1 bills, and the rest $5 bills. This makes tipping a valet driver (etc) easy.

  • Never tip out of guilt. If you aren't receiving great service then you shouldn't be tipping. The entire idea of tipping is based on receiving exceptional service so if you aren't getting that skip the tip and contact a manager. Don't just skip the tip and assume the employee will know why, because they won't.