How Much Should You Tip At American Flagship First Dining?

Filed Under: American

Reader Marco asked the following question in the “Ask Lucky” forum:

Lucky, what would you consider an adequate gratuity to the server at the American Flagship First Dining? I am flying to LHR from Miami in January and want to do the right thing. Thank you in advance.

It’s an interesting question, so I wanted to address it in a blog post.

American’s Flagship First Dining

This year American has opened Flagship First Dining at three airports — New York JFK, Miami, and Los Angeles. In 2018 they plan to open two more of these, in Dallas and London.

I’m really impressed by what American has done, as they’re offering a true restaurant quality dining experience in an airline lounge. Not only are the food and drinks generally very good, but what I love most about these lounges is how quiet they are. They’re an oasis from the rest of the lounge, and it sort of amazes me that this is a concept that a US airline is offering.

Tipping is a hot topic

Before I answer the question, let me acknowledge that tipping can be a controversial topic, and people have strong opinions on this one way or another.

I understand why many people don’t like tipping. They think it’s silly for people to be reliant on tips to make a living, and that by tipping we’re continuing this vicious cycle.

I don’t disagree to some extent. Do I love the US tipping culture? Of course not. But I care more about people making a fair living and being able to support their families, than I care about making some point on principle and taking a “stand” against tipping.

In restaurant environments I personally don’t mind the tipping culture. Either way servers need to be paid, so either the cost is going to be built into the food or be paid separately, and with the latter method servers have more of an incentive to go the extra mile. For example, I find service in restaurants in the US to be consistently more attentive than in Europe, for example.

But yes, I recognize outside of restaurant environments the tipping culture can get annoying (the expectation that you have to tip someone in a hotel if they open a door for you, etc.).

Is tipping expected in Flagship First Dining?

Based on my conversations with people from American when the first Flagship First Dining location opened, tipping is appreciated but not expected. That’s to say that I suspect the servers are paid at least minimum wage. So they don’t rely on tips to make minimum wage, but they rely on tips to make a livable wage (which in many places is way above the minimum wage, especially in cities like Los Angeles and New York).

So for me, the decision to tip is simple — if I have an amazing meal inside a lounge run by a US airline, I’ll absolutely tip, just as it’s appreciated when you leave the bartender a buck if they make you a drink in an airline lounge in the US.

What’s the appropriate amount? The truth is that I think the servers appreciate any tips, because based on my observations a vast majority of people don’t tip. So I think even a $5 tip would be greatly appreciated. Personally I’ve tipped $20 every time I’ve used Flagship First Dining. In reality that’s probably less than 15-20% of the “fair value” of the meal, given that I have drinks, multiple courses, etc. But at the same time the employees at least make minimum wage, so I don’t really feel like anything above that is necessary. Of course it’s an arbitrary amount, but to me it just feels right.

So personally that’s what I feel comfortable with, and if you’re having multiple courses and multiple drinks, what I’d recommend (if being asked).

Bottom line

Tipping in Flagship First Dining is appreciated, but not expected. I totally respect people who choose not to tip, and for that matter I think it’s worth specifically mentioning that Air Canada’s Flagship Suite in Toronto has a policy of not tipping servers (even though you’d typically still tip in restaurants in Toronto).

While I wish American would pay the servers more so that tips aren’t needed to subsidize their living, I’m happy spending $20 for great service if I have an amazing meal in lounge. After all, we can’t have very high expectations of the service if they’re basically making minimum wage and don’t receive any tips.

Where do you stand on tipping for a dining experience in a US airline lounge?

  1. 1) People usually tip bartenders in lounges in cash. If the drinks are complimentary, often times I tip what I would have normally tipped if I paid for the drink (say I expect to get two $10 drinks, a $4 or $5 tip is normal).

    2) As such, it follows that you would expect to tip a server at a sit down dining area in a lounge. I guess the same policy should apply – if you had a $100 meal, a $20 tip would seem to be OK.

    3) In all of these cases, lounges should make it easy to tip via credit card.

  2. No tips – gar nichts. AA lounge employees (employees of a third party contractor perhaps?) surely do not make minimum wages or else they would not work there – especially since tipping is not expected, much less mandated. Another silly American practice…

  3. $20!? That’s absurdly high for a single person’s meal in an airline lounge.

    Are you really eating/drinking $100 worth?

  4. I have been amazingly lucky in life to be able to live the lifestyle I live. I always tip the bartenders at the lounges in the US. And I always get amazingly strong drinks afterwards. When I get a free breakfast at Hilton Gardens, I always leave at least $5. I don’t do it for better service, but the next morning, I am usually treated like a king.

    If I had a great multi course meal at a lounge, a $10 or $20 tip would easily be justified. You probably are going to come back sometime. And even if you didn’t, it just seems like an easy thing to do.

    While I wish more people would tip in these situations, I actually benefit when they don’t because my tip is more memorable and my service is better. Just don’t get mad when I get better service and stronger drinks than you.

  5. Nada . I don’t worry about them making whatever, why would they end up being there? Tipping thwarted the drive to improve and invest in self- improvement to equip oneself with better knowledge and skills, in order to get a higher pay job. This is not a charity environment.

  6. No tip.

    If the servers make less than minimum wage (which is the case in many restaurants in the US) then I will tip.

    However, when the lounge (or hotels or car service) state that tips are appreciated but not expected. That means to me that the person is making at least minimum wage.

    I do care about people making a decent living wage. But I think it’s unacceptable to expect customers to share the responsibility Of making sure employees are compensated fairly. I pay Airlines (in the form of ticket or loyalty) for lounge access with the expectation that the airline will pay employees a fair wage. If they don’t, then we need to shame the airlines, not guilt customers for not tipping.

  7. $20 seems excessive, for one person.

    If I get good service at Flagship First Dining, I’ll leave a $5 bill. If they don’t expect to be tipped, then that’s a bonus.

    I can confirm that the Qantas lounge employees do not expect a tip.

    Alaska Airline Board Room employees cannot accept tips.

  8. Lucky I really respect you. I used to be a waiter 20 years ago and tips were always appreciated.And I’m sure that the wait staff appreciate your tips. Sure, you don’t have to tip them but it is appreciated. We don’t know how much they make an hour in these expensive cities: LA, NYC, Miami, etc. So the people that tip the wait staff are really appreciated.

  9. I generally tip more than I would outside the lounge to subsidize the folks who don’t (see above) and as a form of gratitude that they have to deal with such a clientele (see above).

  10. Tips are merely an attempt to buy better service or to flash that you’re flush with cash, as such it’s pointless and I love going places that do not expect tips.

    @anthony…you SERIOUSLY tip 40%-50% on drinks? You’re waaaay over tipping.

    And speaking of tipping-privileged workforce, next time you’re in an AMEX lounge just watch how attitudes change when you don’t tip anything. I typically grab a soft drink and it’s like I’m stabbing someone with the looks they give out when I don’t tip….

  11. I just got a nice tax cut along with the rest of the top 10%. It seems only fair to share some small part of it. Especially if they are a minority or immigrant because you know they didn’t vote for the people in Congress who just gave us this nice tax cut. And if I pay in cash, you know they probably won’t have to declare it as income. Win-win.

  12. “While I wish American would pay the servers more so that tips aren’t needed to subsidize their living, I’m happy spending $20 for great service if I have an amazing meal in lounge. After all, we can’t have very high expectations of the service if they’re basically making minimum wage and don’t receive any tips.”

    Why do you think tipping is going to lead to better service?

    At best a reputation for tipping will lead to more people wanting the job given that it has a higher total pay (AA+tipping), allowing American to be choosier.

    Given a larger talent pool to draw from do you have experience which suggests American Airlines tends to sort for strong customer service?

    And of course that’s all about better customer service in the future, when staff turns over…

  13. @ Gary — I think we’re saying the same thing. If servers can expect tips and the overall compensation package is expected to be higher, they can hire and retain better talent.

  14. @ Alan — I’m not sure how tipping after all service has been received is an attempt at buying better service? And as far as Anthony’s statement goes, you might want to read it again. He said two $10 drinks, which would translate to a 20-25% tip.

  15. @ WilliamC — Well one time there were two of us dining, and one time I ordered a lot of different food to be able to try it, so I felt that was fair.

  16. @ Bob — I expect any of the meals I’ve had there would have retailed for $100+ in a restaurant. At a nice restaurant you might pay $15 for an appetizer, drink, or dessert, and $30 for a main course, so if you have a three or four course meal with a couple of drinks, you’re already at $100.

  17. I had my first dining experience at a Flagship Lounge last week and it was superb – exceeded my expectations and I left $10 for the tip.

    I was a waitress in college earning way less than minimum wage and tips really helped me to get started in life and I thank every one of those folks who tipped me for the great lifestyle I enjoy today. It’s sad that restaurant staff are not paid a living wage and that should be changed but until it is, I am happy to leave a little extra if it will help others as I was once helped. And frankly, I feel good doing it.

  18. Actually I’m suggesting that the mechanism by which American could theoretically attract better talent in the future is too speculative to bank on.

    1. If tipping was consistent and lucrative American might simply pay employees less and give us the same service

    2. If tipping increased total compensation and this was known it might attract more applicants, but you’d still have to believe American would choose based on customer service skills

    3. And if American selected from a larger pool based on customer service , you’d further have to believe that the company culture wouldn’t lead that service to regress to current levels.

    In other words I think there’s plenty of reason to be skeptical that greater compensation alone would give us better service.

    I’m not saying “don’t tip” — by all means go ahead! Just don’t self-deceive into believing you’re contributing to a future of better service at American Airlines by doing so…

  19. @Gary, its all about better service. You might not recognize all the people working in the lounges you frequent, but I guarantee you that they recognize you.

    I have been extraordinarily lucky in life, but I have never forgotten what it was like when I worked for tips. We all knew who tipped and who didn’t and responded accordingly. You usually know who is going to tip and who isn’t at first sight. And the service is usually geared towards that expectation.

    We are at full employment. I don’t think there is a huge ‘talent pool’ of people trying to get a job at a lounge where they will be lucky to get a full time week and will not get health insurance. Plus, I didn’t even think they were AA employees, but contracted.

    My travel is self funded and I am usually in the lounge because I booked a business class ticket to go somewhere fabulous on an extravagant vacation. I can afford to tip the waiter and bartender. So I always do. And I enjoy it. Always cash.

  20. How do you tip the people that actually prepare the food, or keep the lounge clean? If tipping is really about the service, then perhaps have a think about how many seconds the servers have spent dealing with your request exclusively and provide a tip for that percentage of a reasonable hourly rate (say $25ph for a quality server) I think you’ll find you’re tipping as a means of ameliorating some kind of class consciousness instead of ensuring that people that make your life better are rewarded appropriately.

  21. It is extremely rare I have personal high quality service in an airline lounge
    Usually the food is as sub par as the service
    Qantas First Lounge in Sydney I have tipped (prob not suppose too 5 ozzie dollars to ten
    The food is very good and the service typically attentive
    I’ve never had good service or quality food in any American Airlines lounge in decades ever
    Not in their First Class lounge or for paying for it.Always rubbish
    And almost always I had to stand up to get something they forgot
    Though I’ve liked many of them personally
    I tip 25 to 30% for great exceptional service in restaurants 18% to 20 on average for the vast majority
    3 x in 40 years i left nothing.Rudeness arrogance, disrespect and horrible service
    Its extremely rare.I find most very professional at the very least adequate
    But when they shine they create a truly great experience

  22. You need to look at this with a german perspective. Then you will get shocked about tipping a restaurant inside an airline lounge. Remember you should also tip the people at the reception if they are nice and courteous to you, ok? #lol

  23. Tipping in this situation is reasonable as, if nothing else, a measure of sympathy that the lounge employees have to endure a clientele of guests like the ones commenting on this post.

  24. So – here’s where I don’t tip: The Pier, The Wing, LH First Lounge, Singapore Private room or the Virgin Lounge in LHR.

    Where I do tip: US Admiral’s Club Bars – including a tip if I order food.

    Now – the Flagship Lounge – I consider that in the first bucket – A First Class Lounge. I don’t think I’d tip. If AA ‘allows’ tipping they are cheapening the experience in my view and not competing effectively with the above list.

  25. @Michael, I think you are conflating decision not to tip with being entitled or nasty to the staff. I think I’m quite pleasant and low maintenance, but I refuse to be guilt tripped into tipping when it is the airline or the lounge operator’s responsibility to make sure its staff are fairly compensated.

  26. The cost of eating in the lounge is already factored in to the First Class plane ticket. If you are in that lounge, you have already paid.

  27. Depends on the server/bartender. I had a great experience at JFK last month and tipped the server and bartender $20 each. The server was outstanding and worked hard to ensure that they protected the brand and showed pride in their work. The bartender was proactive with refills, poured the drinks just right, and also represented the brand well. I know, a bit of an oxymoron with AA, however both clearly stood out relative to AA as a whole.

    Also, I have been in a servers shoes and understand that dealing with people and their food is not an easy job. I also live a comfortable life and will give a little bit extra when I receive genuinely great service.

    Now those outside the US likely think I’m nuts, and I understand where they are coming from. The US and our tipping expectations rival nowhere else that I have been.

  28. I would say that the company should pay them a fairer wage. Tipping should be respected and realized by the various cultures. It is customary to tip in America for good service and to tip more for even better service. With that said, it is not required. However, you do get better service next time around especially when you are a regular or immediate extra service. Some might give you something extra to say thank you or waive a certain unnecessary charge that is within their powers to do so. Also, yes I do get better service when I tip and stronger drinks and cut the queue even if I ordered after someone else. They really do appreciate it. I did this In Taiwan and I got lots of free, stronger boozes, cut the line, and even offered VIP treatment such as next time I am there if there is a line to get in the bar, give him a call and he will help get me in right away. Most servers and bartenders are really appreciative of the tips and not just in the States. However, if the service sucked, you absolutely do not need to tip. It still baffles me that Lucky tipped the rude and dishonest taxi driver in Israel. That warrants an immediate no tipping and no future referral policy.

  29. Lucky, when you eat/drink in the lounge, you won’t get any bills afterwards, so do you just leave the money at the table or give it to the server directly?

  30. It is important to point out that in the US management is not obligated to give tips paid by customers to the employee. Every single time you tip doesn’t necessarily go to the intended person.

  31. My two cents from having lived in the US, as well as Asia and Europe where the tipping culture is completely different. I have received very good service in Nordic countries and there is never an expectation of a tip. Yet these countries score highly in all surveys of welfare, social justice etc. So it does seem possible for servers to earn a living wage without the tipping system?

  32. $20? That sounds too rich, especially since I highly doubt the servers are being paid less than minimum wage, which is the whole justification for the 15-20% anyway (I believe LAWA actually mandates $15/hour). I’d probably go $5/person for table service, maybe more if I go hog wild with the drinks. I also agree that AA needs to come up with a system to tip by credit card. With Square, there’s really no excuse for not offering that option.

  33. We used to own a family restaurant. Thus, our standard tip is 20% in cash; otherwise it must be declared because there is record of the tip.

    The wait staff isn’t getting rich. Often they’re just starting out. If it’s a woman, her children depend on how much she brings home each evening.

    FWIW: Men tip more than women. Whites tip more than minorities. And we tip more generously during the Christmas holidays. My mother, who passed away last year at 101, would tip 35+%. We got fabulous service. She used to sweep into a restaurant and was immediately warmly greeted, asked where she wanted to sit, the chair would be held out for her, etc. You would have thought that she was a celebrity.

  34. @Lucky

    1) Your reference to the Air Canada Flagship (sic) Suite in the Bottom Line should read “Signature Suite.”

    2) No, tipping in the lounge is just wrong. How much do you tip the flight attendant, the Etihad butler, the pilot, the gate agent who gives you an upgrade…? 20% of the cost of the ticket? No!

    3) I really, really enjoy your blog, but please, I implore you, the phrase “a vast majority” is so wrong it’s hurting me. The correct expression is “the vast majority.”

  35. Tipping $20 in an airport lounge with free food (free as in You DID pay for it already with your ticket)? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

    Oh my…

    I think you’ve finally lost it.

  36. I will never ever understand American tipping logic. Ever?

    Where do you guys draw the line? You do realise that waiters often earn more than kitchen staff, i.e. the people who ACTUALLY do the hard work and prepare your food in often really tough conditions.

    So you tip waiters but not souz-chefs or line workers. Do you tip receptionists at a lounge? What about gate personal? How about check-in staff? Do they work $0 worth of your tips vs. a waiter who brings to plates to you is worth $20? Why don’t flight attendants get tips? They serve you to.

    etc etc etc

    I really would love to understand where you draw the line. It just flabbergasts me.

  37. As Americans we just know when to tip and when not to. It’s an instinct that we can sense because it’s part of our culture.

  38. Tipping, is just paying someone to give you an ego boost.

    If you don’t tip the cabin crew, why would you tip the lounge waitress?? So retarded.
    If you don’t tip the check in staff, why would you tip the lounge waitress?
    Etc etc etc

    This is an entry level job – done by a kid. You are not supposed to be sustaining an adults career. It’s like providing buggys for fat people in Walmart – you are enabling the problem, not helping it.

    Pretending to yourself that they are doing something amazing by taking your order, then bringing it to your table – is just your own personal guilt kicking in when face to face with their problem.

    Its just purchasing their admiration, and gratitude as an ego boost. It’s misplaced charity.

    I.e People have no problem with their clothes being made in a sweatshop in China until they visit the factory. You aren’t concerned with their wellbeing are you? You don’t mind the low cost of your clothes, as long as you don’t have to think about it.

    Stop pretending you give a shit about the lounge waitress.

    If you want to tip anyone, to top up someone’s wages out of guilt, then this is the wrong place to do it. There’s far bigger problems out there, and people that deserve your tips far more.

    Just admit, you are paying a stranger to like you. You saw an opportunity to feel better about yourself and you took it. And now you want to boast about it on this blog for even more adulation.

    Everything else is just a bs justification.

  39. If you claim you’re tipping solely to help people reach a minimum/living wage, why does the cost of the meal make any difference whatsoever to how much you tip?

    All that says to me if you’ve deemed someone working in a fancy restaurant more deserving of a decent life than someone working in the equivalent of McDonalds. How on Earth could you possibly justify that?

  40. I am so with you on this one callum.

    It flabbergasts me to think tipping is a PERCENTAGE of the meal. Why? How? So if you get a $15 lunch your plates and glasses carried from the kitchen to your table earn that waiter $3, but god forbid you get a fancy $100 dinner suddenly the same plates and glasses earn $20?

    How in the world does this make any sense? Same work, same effort, same amount of time required…

    If anything the KITCHEN staff should earn more as fancier dishes tend to be more work to prepare.

  41. If Americans really want to solve the tipping problem that they started, because “…they rely on tips to make a livable wage…”, Congress should eliminate the minimum wage completely.

    Business would be free to pay what they choose – if people are willing to work for $3/hr great, if they are not, just like an over booked United flight voucher, the price will continue to go up until it meets an individuals threshold, or the business will close. Market will decide.

    Win-Win for all involved and no more tipping required or expected.

  42. Depends on the service of the server. If they are horrible no tip is fine. If they go out of their way to ensure you are taken care of 15, 20 to 30% is fine.

  43. I thank gullible people like you who subsidize everything with their tips. As for me, I just reap the benefits of the low pricing you enable.

    Thank you.!

  44. “As Americans we just know when to tip and when not to. It’s an instinct that we can sense because it’s part of our culture.”

    @justin h – This is why I have soften my stance on tipping over time. I’m starting to really believe that you should tip on the culture, not because of X, Y and Z reasons. My prevailing thought process before was I will only tip for good service, but did I go to Tokyo and tip for good service…? No because the culture says that people might find that offensive. The culture in the U.S. is that tips are an integral part of a compensation package for a generic bartender or server. It remains to be seen what the culture is inside Flagship Dining, but I presume that will be set shortly by how the collective acts.

  45. @CS, you should know that most restaurants in the US have a policy that tips are shared with all staff. So Ben’s $20.00 probably had to be split between kitchen staff and the staff who clean the tables.

    While I respect that people outside the US don’t understand our tipping and wage culture here, there are lots of things about Europe and other places in the world I don’t understand either, but when I am there I respect the culture and do my best to comply.

  46. Although I hate the tipping culture with a passion, if I am in the US I believe tipping should be relative to the amount of time and effort the person has spent serving you and I match this to what I earn as a highly-skilled and paid professional (noting this is much higher than the unskilled minimum wage serving wage).
    I am not going to tip $20 for someone who spent 5 minutes with/on me as this is $400 an hour which is of course absurd. Similarly a bartender who spends 10 seconds pulling 2 beers out of a fridge behind him and removing the caps does not deserve $720 an hour.

  47. LOL now we are expected to tip at premium lounges in the US? And it’s only in the US I’ve heard of this.
    In some places in some countries even today, trying to give a waiter/waitress a tip would be insulting to them. Certainly not in first class lounges where I’ve spent enough to for the right to use them.
    And I get great service everywhere I’ve been. I do not have to throw cash around to get perfectly cooked food or drinks that are not watered down.

  48. It’s laughable how moronic most people are here. You all can continue not tipping in “premium” lounges, but I don’t want to hear any bitching because a bartender is prioritizing me over you, or if I’m getting special treatment, or if something that’s supposed to be paid is comped for me but not for you, or my drinks are stronger, or etc, etc. Some people just don’t get it.

  49. Why are Americans expected to conform to every single local standard or culture, but the rest of the world expects to be able to come to America and not even make an attempt?

  50. @Conor, I don’t care if your drink is stronger than mine as long as the drink is what I expect it to be.

    However, I will complain if the bartender js prioritizing you over me because of tipping.

    When the lounge says tipping is optional, it should be just that optional. When a bartender decides to break the rule (which i assume is first come first serve at the lounge) then i will make it known.

  51. Wow Conor – Bragging about stronger drinks in a free airport lounge can’t be your finest moment.

    Nobody is impressed with your tipping, other than yourself.

    Sad that you feel the need to get ‘special attention’ from a barman in the airport lounge. You actually value that, don’t you?

    Please continue to subsidise our life’s with your vanity.

  52. I wonder how many people who tip well would tip as well if it were done anonymously with the waiter and anyone else unable to see how much they had tipped.

    I suspect there is definitely a selfish element for some where tipping is a way to show off how much money they have and how generous they are, like a rich socialite making sure everyone knows how much they have given to charity. I’m sure these tippers also care about the person they are tipping but I don’t think it is a 100% selfless act for a lot of people.

  53. @Kai – Sorry, but there isn’t a rule. You can continue to complain away, but those of us that tip will continue to receive better service (generally…not being a jerk also helps). It’s just the way it is.

    @BobbyT – I’m not bragging about anything. I’m saying that whatever someone independently defines as “better service”, they are far more likely to receive it if they tip than if they don’t. Maybe not on that current interaction, but perhaps on a future. But continue to complain. Enjoy your “premium” service at the “premium” lounge.

  54. @Conor, I would say FCFS is in general the rule. Regardless, I don’t mind some wait, but if the bartender intentionally makes me wait (longer than I think is reasonable given how busy the lounge is) because I didn’t tip, then of course I will make it known to management.

    That’s true in the lounge, and true in other service industries. If I’m paying for a hotel, I expect the services (bellman, concierge, housekeeping) to be included as part of the hotel. Now granted I do tip in hotel restaurants because that’s just now it is in the US, but unless the hotel tells me I need to tip for all the included services, I won’t.

  55. @Kai – Of course, you’re a “paying customer” just like everyone else. Nobody should be intentionally making you wait, but bartenders (and others) are human, and faulting them for “remembering” those that tip them well and offering their best service for those individuals seems misguided.

    It’s the same thing as First Class/Coach. Shouls Coach class passengers be mis-treated? No. Should First Class customers be given the best possible service? Probably.

  56. @Conor, then we are on the same page. As long as I get good service at lounge or hotel, I really don’t care if someone else gets better service.

    I do respond to surveys when the service is lacking. And honestly, I feel like at those places, service would still be poor even if I tip.

  57. Well, Conor, seeing your obnoxious personality here, I understand why you have to throw lots and lots of money around to get service that probably isn’t even at the level I get without tipping a penny, but from your limited perspective, I imagine the service level you have to pay dearly for feels at the top of the world. Hell, I even get pleasant and great personalized service on those occasions I do fly on coach. I guess some people bring out the best in others, some have to buy it out of them…

  58. @Emirate4Ever – Why the personal attacks and why are you making up things? Lots and lots of cash? You know the level of service I receive? Limited perspective?

    You can judge me all you want for my opinion that what goes around comes around. I’ll continue to make decisions that I deem personally worthwhile.

    You can also continue to live in your delusional world that you will receive the same level of service I do (in America, at least), “without tipping a penny.”

  59. @Conor:

    You do you and keep tipping as much as you see fit. We think alike. My partner and I routinely provide $5 or so to the staff at the Centurion Lounges and we’ve both written management about how awesome the SFO staff have been. We don’t tip every time we interact with them each visit, but we do appreciate that they’re working their butts off when times are busy and show them our appreciation with a token of gratitude. My partner is in there twice a week and by now they’ve come to recognize us. Him mostly, but me sometimes, too. As a result, when it’s SUPER busy, they’ve gone out of their way to ensure we get a table and they know what we like to drink and have it ready on sight. Nobody else is receiving substandard service, but we admittedly get a little above-and-beyond treatment. Is it required/expected? No. But with the lounge being run like a restaurant-of-sorts and with American society “expecting” tipping in restaurants (independent of whether it actually is a restaurant, it seems fitting in this instance.

    And to the other commenter(s) above asking about tipping pilots and cabin crew, I absolutely do – in the form of a box of chocolates or other sweets local to the origin of the flight and a hand-written thank you note. At SFO or LAX, that’s mostly See’s Candies (because it’s convenient, though I know there are better chocolates). At CDG it was a box of macarons. Those are shared with the cabin and flight crews and have been very much appreciated. Tokens of appreciation don’t have to be cash, but sometimes that’s just how it is.

  60. I am confused. These are airline employees, not conventional serving staff. And just as one would not tip a flight attendant, I would have never thought of tipping a lounge server.

    What am I missing?

  61. I had a conversation with a DL employee at the lounge in MSP some time ago about exactly this. I had asked if he was an airline employee and entitled to passes and other industry benefits, and he said that indeed he was, and had just returned from Australia.

    Given that they are part of a whole airline team, delivering a product that incorporates attention on the ground as well as in the air, I am not sure why the single person in this complex chain is singled out for tipping simply because they carry food or pour a beer.

    The Centurion lounges, and the independent facilities are different; they operate on the same financial model as restaurants and bars, but the airline operated facilities? No way!

  62. I have a question: Lucky mentions “minimum wage” here. I assume that is a legislated amount (correct me if I’m wrong), so how can employers get away with paying “below minimum”? Wouldn’t that be illegal?

  63. @MikeS @JoeMart @Kevin @Lucky…

    First, tipping is a very individual thing. To an extent (at least at a lounge) there is no right answer. The employees are presumably paid at least the minimum wage. Whether that is high enough is another question. If they are not paid a living wage (which they may not), the government and all of us help pay (although the safety net is constantly being cut) for the costs they cannot afford. Underpaid workers are subsidized by the rest of us in many ways. Who do you think pays for the uninsured (which number will be rising soon) when they show up at a hospital in an emergency? Costs get shifted. Some of those living on the minimum wage are even homeless. They may have children who do not get an adequate education and will not reach their potential and we all suffer for that. They need more social services, which may or may not be provided, but if not could lead to them being a burden on society.

    Still, I personally despise our tipping culture which is out of control. Yes, I follow it as it is part of the expected social contract (and I do like the better service which happens if I am a repeat customer). In fact, I am probably an above average tipper.

    Accordingly, @Lucky, I admire your caring. If you want to tip and share your good fortune, that is wonderful. You have made someone’s day.

    Also, the servers here are presumably not paid the lower minimum wage for tipped employees. Still they have to report tips and might even be subject to audits. Apparently employees who are likely to receive tips might have a better chance of being audited than a millionaire. I guess that is a government priority.

    Further, contrary to what was stated above, in the US management is generally not allowed to keep the tips. Also, tips cannot generally be shared with kitchen staff. So even if I am tipping the waitstaff, the people who are doing the really hard work are not getting anything out of it, which is another fault of our tipping culture.

    In a New York restaurant or a unionized hotel, waiters might make $100,000 or more. That to me seems exorbitant. That is way more than teachers or police. Seems like a perverse incentive. Still, I admit to paying the now standard 20% on top of ever higher prices.

    On the other hand I do always leave money for the maids (even in unionized hotels) who are more likely to be struggling to raise a family and are usually forgotten (unlike the bellhop who gets paid for moving my bags which have wheels a few feet).

    As to a first class lounge, I might leave $5 for very good service or even $10 for exceptional service, just to make someone happy. Still if everyone did that, they could easily make $50 or $100 or more per hour which does not seem justified. Also, I doubt there is pooling in the lounge. If that is the case, they get to keep the full amount.

    Still, I just wish people in this country were paid a living wage, which would make people’s lives better, would cut down on the need for social services and just be less annoying.

  64. This craziness just perpetuates the whimsical, uniquely American practice of giving away money for crappy service to, supposedly, subsidize a server’s miserly employer. Twenty dollars for a meal in an airline lounge-not the meal, the tip! As long as we crazy Americanos continue to give away money like a runaway automaton, there will NEVER be an incentive to provide good service. For excellent, over-the-top service, yes, a nice tip is in order.That means extra attention, serving perfection, eye contact and acknowledgement For the normal service at a bar where the bar keep avoids your eyes until he/she is ready, nada, mi amigo/a. This has nothing to do with the generosity-parsimony scale; it’s just common sense. I give away money to charities and causes that I believe in NOT to strangers who are “doing their jobs.”

  65. P.S. I should also add that I assume some lounges have contracted personnel and some lounges are staffed by airline personnel in which case they probably get decent benefits. Also, even contracted staff might be paid a reasonable wage. I am sure it varies.

    As to airline personnel, I tip them by sending compliments to the airline for good service, which they really seem to appreciate. I have even complimented pilots, as well as telephone personnel.

  66. @DWondermeant,
    Tipping in a QF lounge is forbidden, and people in the LAX lounges have lost their jobs for soliciting.
    QF or their contractor pay well. If AA don’t pay well, tell us.
    Extending the US tipping culture O/S just encourages the US low pay culture to spread.

  67. But what about all the other people at a restaurant or a Hotel who contribute to your meal and experience and are also on minimum wage or less? The busboy, the guy sweating in the kitchen washing pans for 10 hours (done that), a gardener? Is it fair that they don’t get to support their families and the wait staff do?

  68. Numerous self-entitled @ssho1es here, all using excuses as crutches so they don’t have to feel.

    Whether you’re flying a paid ticket or award, Life has been good to you. VERY good to you. And don’t give me the crap that you earned all of it. There’s not a single one of you that are completely self-made with no help whatsoever. Either you’ve been there and are too selfish to pay it back, or you were never there and you’re too selfish to understand trying to live on so little. Either way I t sucks that there are so many fortunate people with so many vain excuses for why they cannot possibly be marginally nice to another human. You all deserve each other.

  69. ‘1. If tipping was consistent and lucrative American might simply pay employees less and give us the same service’

    Agent pay at AA is mostly completely based on seniority (~$31/hr for senior employees).

  70. @Conor – Largely because, as perfectly demonstrated by your post, American culture isn’t something anyone should strive to emulate.

    I’m afraid it’s you who “just doesn’t get it”. While you seem to love bragging about how splashing the cash and offering bribes is getting you better service and free stuff, most other cultures would find that rather distasteful.

  71. @Nevsky what fantasy world do you live in where you are led to believe that hotel waiters make 100k? The hasidic section of Brooklyn?

  72. @justin h Actually my understanding it could be much more than that as the waiters at functions get a 22% (or thereabouts) gratuity that is automatically added to the F&B charge for any event. These are large numbers at a big hotel.

  73. Once you enter the environs of an airport you enter a no-tipping zone, period. It is a worldwide custom, including the US, even as you become increasingly detached from the real world.
    I enjoy the service culture in Japan, where the very idea of offering a tip would be considered an insult!

  74. To those snarking about how we more fortunate should help the less fortunate… tipping is absolutely the WORST way to go about that.

    Much more effective ways (to ensure people get the opportunities and the help they need and deserve):
    – Improving government… having it fund the right things and improve the efficiency and reach of its safety net.
    – Putting pressure on companies… by boycotting those that don’t offer fair wages and a decent work environment, and so on (and supporting those that do!)
    – Donating to vetted charities… and many of us have employers that match our donations!

    With that said, If you’re actually tipping outside of normal ‘requirements’ — e.g., restaurants in the U.S. — and out of selfishness (strong drinks! faster service), well, hey, you be you. The rest of us are often doing just fine by being respectful & kind to service staff.

    Lastly, do some research: look up “tipping discriminatory” online and learn how tipping culture (especially American tipping culture) is a despicable, awful mess that’s harming us all.

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