Americans, Sort out your Pricing!

I got back from an amazing weekend in New York recently and I am definitely a big fan of your country, your people and culture, even more so after the weekend in NYC, however, I was reminded again of the pricing problem you guys have. You make it all unnecessarily complicated and hard work?

In such a modern and civilised country full of fantastic convenience services and devices, I find it incredible that Americans waste so much of their lives trying to figure out the actual price of whatever it is they are buying. The problem is created through complex sales taxes and confusion over tipping.


Sales tax in the US is non-standard, unlike many other countries (e.g. the UK’s standard 15% Value Added Tax), and varies from state to state. For example, in Chicago (Cook County), Illinois, the sales tax is 10.25% which is made up of 4(!) constituent taxes: 6.25% is the state tax; 1.25% is the city tax; 1.75% is the county tax and 1% regional transport authority tax.  I am not suggesting altering your entire taxing structure, but would it be so hard to put the price on the label that includes the sales tax? Can you imagine a world where the label says $4.85 and that was actually the price you paid?! Other countries manage it, so can you.

Why do you make everyone do a maths calculation when they pay for something? As a tourist it is doubly worse as not only are you not sure of the sales tax rate, but you are also trying to do an exchange rate conversion back into your own currency to see if the good or service is actually worth purchasing.

Tipping in America is a minefield. Somewhere along the way you have combined service charge and tipping together. A tip, or gratuity, should be a voluntary ‘extra’ payment that is given to those who you feel have given a service that is beyond satisfactory.  A tip should not be compulsory as then it is not a tip, it is just part of the normal cost of whatever it is.

As a humble guest in your country I found it extremely difficult to know when and how much to tip? I was fortunate to have 3 kind New Yorkers show me around my first visit to NYC and I was told to tip taxi drivers 20% and 15% in restaurants and in bars where there is table service. However, if ordering from the bar then I was told to tip a dollar a drink. Is this standard? Nobody knows.

Every time we ate out together there was a big discussion about sorting out our shares of the check and moans from the group of “I hate having to work out the tip”. People like to have wine and other alcoholic drinks and so makes doing mathematics even more arduous and mentally taxing when slightly or a lot inebriated. Calculators are brought out and it becomes a whole “to do”.


So America, my request is that you sort out your price labels so they display the actual final price and add a standard service charge of whatever percentage you see fit to the food bill. That way you will spend less time arguing and sorting out the check and more time being happy.

Go on, do it, it’s easy.

Jake McMillan

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