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4 Times You Should Always Tip in Cash, Etiquette Experts Say

When in doubt, keep small bills handy.

In many places around the world, base wages are high enough that tipping is seen as a bonus for a job especially well done. Here in the U.S., however, the minimum wage for many service industry positions is low enough that without generous tips, workers are unable to make ends meet. But many experts say that how you tip also matters. That's because tipping in cash ensures that the money arrives instantly and goes directly to the person who provided you with the service, says Jules Hirst, founder and owner of Etiquette Consulting.

In today's digital age, however, you may be unsure of when you should tip in cash. That's why we consulted Hirst and other etiquette experts to find out the top four times that you should always keep bills on hand. Read on for their advice.

RELATED: 6 Places You Should Never Tip, According to Etiquette Experts.

When you check luggage outside the airport.

Unrecognizable woman in stylish casual outfit traveller standing over grey background, carrying yellow luggage and backpack, holding passport and flight tickets, cropped, copy space

Under certain circumstances, cash may be the only way to tip—meaning it's best to come prepared with small bills. For instance, you should always bring cash to the airport if you plan to use a skycap service to check your baggage curbside instead of waiting in line to bring it to the airline desk.

"You are running for the flight, and cash is quick," Jodi RR Smith, founder and owner of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting, tells Best Life. "When you are tipping for an on-the-spot service, cash tips tend to be best."

Plan to tip at least one to two dollars for each checked bag.

RELATED: Always Use Cash for These 5 Purchases, Financial Experts Say.

When someone washes your hair before a haircut.

Beautiful woman getting a hair wash. In a hair salon

When you're in a beauty salon, you should plan on tipping everyone who performs a service—including the person who washes your hair before a haircut or gives you a scalp massage.

"In posh salons, the person who washes your hair is not necessarily the one who will cut it," says Smith. To ensure that no one is forgotten and everyone receives their fair share, hand their tip directly to them in cash before you leave.

Your main stylist may also prefer cash tips, though there's more room for personal preference in this interaction since they're unlikely to be overlooked at the end of the work day.

"Although tipping in cash is usually preferred, if it means a smaller tip then put the tip on your credit card," advises Hirst.

RELATED: 6 Surprising New Rules for Tipping, According to Etiquette Experts.

When a host seats you—especially if they've pulled strings.

Female host in restaurant holding ipad

There are times when tipping in cash may benefit you in addition to benefiting the recipient.

For instance, if you show up to a busy restaurant with no reservation, "a cash tip may be quite helpful," says Smith. It may also help smooth things over and help you keep a table if you show up late to a reservation—though calling ahead to let them know about your tardiness is still considered best practice.

While cash is preferred, you can also use a cash app as the next best thing if you're in a pinch. "In lieu of cash, Venmo or Zelle can be used instead. It just requires some setup between you and your server," adds Hirst.

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When hotel housekeeping cleans up after you.

Housekeeper cleaning a hotel room

Hotel housekeeping staff works hard behind the scenes to ensure that your accommodations are comfortable.

"You may never see these people, but they can make or break your stay. Do tip in cash daily to be sure your cleaner receives your tip," recommends Smith.

However, in all of these cases, it's also important to remember that nothing replaces good, old-fashioned manners—a tip never entitles you to bark orders or expect services that fall outside of the recipient's job description. By speaking to those in the service industry with respect—and demonstrating that respect with a cash tip—you can help ensure that everyone is happy with the experience.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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