People You Should Never Tip

According to a Bankrate study, a whopping 66% of Americans have a negative perception about tipping, with 41% chiming in that businesses should pay their employees a higher salary rather than staff being so dependent on gratuities. That's not to say that Americans aren't prepared to tip when tradition calls for it. For example, waitstaff at a restaurant. In a separate study conducted by the Pew Research Center, 81% of respondents (of the 12,000 people surveyed) said they always tip when dining out at an establishment with servers, while another 11% said they often do.

But what about the barista who prepared your morning coffee to go? Or tipping the counter person or even the kitchen staff when picking up your takeout food order? Nowadays, even some department stores are giving customers the option to tip. Tipping skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic when customers wanted to express their gratitude to essential workers who risked their health to keep commerce going.

Technology is also to blame, with digital payment screens persistently asking customers if they want to leave a tip, even at businesses where tipping wasn't previously commonplace. While certain areas of tipping culture can be blurry, there are at least several situations that definitely don't require you to leave a tip.

Flight attendants

Tipping flight attendants might seem crazy, but a few years ago, it would have been thought equally crazy to tip at McDonald's, yet here we are. And flight attendants do sometimes serve you food and drinks, right?

The good news is that it's totally not necessary to tip flight attendants. In comments made to Travel + Leisure, Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, said, "[A] flight attendant's number one job is safety — and a flight attendant will not dole out aid based on the biggest tips in an emergency situation." Therefore, Nelson doesn't believe that tipping has a place in the profession.

Most major airlines openly discourage or prohibit flight attendants from accepting tips, with one major exception. In 2019, low-cost carrier Frontier started offering the option to tip when purchasing food and beverages on its flights. Frontier aside, if you do feel like being generous to one or more members of a flight crew, it'll likely be appreciated. Speaking to The Washington Post, Ashlee Loree, a flight attendant for Delta, shared, "We are all doing our best and trying our hardest every day, and we are so grateful when that doesn't go unnoticed."

Professionals like doctors and lawyers

Professionals like doctors and lawyers are typically well compensated for their time and may even have an ownership interest in their practice, so tipping isn't necessary. It's more appropriate to reward them with a continuing stream of business, a positive review online, or referrals from friends and family. If you feel a doctor or lawyer has gone above and beyond what was necessary and want to offer a token of gratitude, make sure it's modestly valued and won't cause any awkwardness in the future. In fact, a simple handwritten thank-you note is an effective and appropriate way to express your gratitude.

The same goes for nurses, who may receive flowers or a homemade treat every now and again, but not any tips. According to lifestyle magazine Prevention (via HuffPost), nurses are prohibited from accepting gratuities. Teri Dreher, RN and president of Chicago's North Shore Patient Advocates, told the outlet that a heartfelt note is actually the ultimate thanks for a nurse. "Words of affirmation are precious to nurses," she said.

Mechanics and appliance technicians

Like other professionals, mechanics are a skilled trade and typically well compensated, so tipping isn't strictly necessary. At the risk of sounding repetitive, a heartfelt thank you, a positive review of your experience, or referring new customers will be the best way to express gratitude.

That said, in the age of "tip creep," an increasing number of businesses are adding a tip function to their point-of-sale terminals, including automotive repair shops; although, the tipped amount expressed as a percentage of the repair bill will be lower than, say, a restaurant. One mechanic commented to CBC News that while the occasional gratuity is a nice treat, he skips past the tipping option before handing over the payment terminal to customers on particularly pricey repairs, which can run into the thousands of dollars. That type of customer is already paying enough.

Similarly, the technician who comes to repair your dishwasher probably isn't expecting a tip, either. According to Michigan Appliance Repair, only 4% of its clients give technicians a tip. The company also mentions that while repair professionals won't expect a tip, they also won't be offended if you were to offer one. Per the firm, customers who do tip, typically leave about 10% of the total repair bill, while a great review on social media will be equally appreciated.

Servers in certain foreign cultures

When traveling abroad, Americans are well-advised to do some research on the tipping culture of the country or countries that they're visiting. In other parts of the world, professions like servers and bartenders may be paid a living wage by their employers and not wholly dependent on tips. In the extreme, certain cultures like Japan and China may actually be offended if you proffer a gratuity. They believe that good service is a duty and might even refuse a tip.

On the other end of the spectrum, Mexico, Canada, and the Middle East have expectations of generous tips, similar to the United States. Many countries in Europe fall somewhere in the middle. In fact, you may even find that a modest service charge has already been added to a restaurant bill in Europe, so it's okay to leave nothing. If you're feeling generous or your server did an amazing job, a 5% to 10% gratuity is more than sufficient, not 15% to 20% like in the States. 

In a nutshell, a little bit of reading on international tipping will go a long way toward avoiding an awkward, stressful moment when the check arrives after your first restaurant meal abroad.

Police and other government workers

As you can well imagine, tipping a law enforcement officer usually goes against a code of ethics. Police departments in different cities and states may have different restrictions, but typically, the threshold for a gift is quite low. Like with some other professions where it may not be appropriate to tip, a thoughtful thank-you card or a compliment-filled letter to the officer's supervisor can replace a gratuity as a token of your appreciation. You can also donate to a law enforcement charity in the officer's name. 

Similarly, don't be tempted to tip at your local Department of Motor Vehicles to speed up a driver's license, title, or registration process because it could be misconstrued as a bribe. That's exactly what happened at a California DMV facility in 2021, as reported by the Los Angeles Times, where a DMV manager was arrested for granting driver's licenses to applicants who couldn't legitimately pass their written exams. 

The same goes for local building or construction permit offices and building inspectors who operate in the field. These folks are fairly compensated professionals and gratuities aren't typically necessary. What's more, an outsized tip or gift could be misinterpreted as trying to get a building plan or on-site quality check approved when it shouldn't be.