Here’s The 6 Simple Universal Rules for When To Tip, When Not to Tip — and How Much

I hate tipping, for several reasons.

  • If it’s meant “to insure prompt service” then why do it after the meal? why do it at all in places you’re visiting and won’t return to?
  • Why should it be an ambiguous open-ended amount?
  • Why should credit card slips in countries where tipping isn’t traditional include a tip line?
  • Do you tip where there’s already a service charge — such as some European restaurants and room service?

I hate the expectation. I hate the ambiguity. I hate tip inflation, when I was growing up 15% of the pre-tax amount of a meal was standard and now I often hear 20% of the total and cabs include those sorts of suggestions and defaults when paying by credit card electronically.

If I’m going to tip I’d at least like to get a hotel upgrade for it. Marriott wants to nudge you to tip their maids but I sure hope they don’t put those envelopes in hotels in Japan.

The madness really should end, we need some basic rules, even if those rules differ around the world.

I’m not really an expert on tipping. Just because I know how to get around the world doesn’t make me an expert on its cultures. Wendy Perrin has a useful piece on tipping by country in Europe.

That’s useful because goodness knows that sometimes I probably get tipping in some sense ‘wrong.’

Outside of Japan, where tipping is historically an offense, you can pretty much tip in most countries, even where it’s contra the culture and traditions. When you do, folks just figure “you’re American.”

And you can pretty much get away with not tipping (except where tip is added to the bill, like in Italy in the form of “coperto” or as a service charge) since you’re unlikely to see the place again. Or the locals will assume you’re a Brit.

how much to tip

Here’s the basic, simple approach:

  1. Where places add a “service charge” to the bill, you shouldn’t feel obligated to tip, although if paying cash you can round up to the next major bill if you’d like. Don’t feel obligated to add something to a charge slip.

 

  • One thing I do if I’m not sure the proper etiquette is to ask whether the service charge take care of the person serving me. If it does, I don’t need to add.

 

 

  • In general tipping isn’t customary in Asia. That’s a huge generalization and there are differences, but tipping isn’t the norm the way it is in the U.S. and you won’t find locals tipping — but at resorts tipping is VERY common because enough Americans travel throughout the region.

 

 

  • Just because ‘tipping’ may not be a customary practice, doesn’t mean that bribes aren’t, many cultures that haven’t had tipping in their past do have a history of side payments for services.. not like getting your bags or bringing you your meal but if you want anything productive or ‘official’ done beyond what a tourist might encounter.

 

 

  • Wherever I go outside North America I’ll round up cabs, figure on 10%-ish at restaurants, and have small amounts ready for folks who help with baggage but not worry about it if they walk off not realizing I was ready to tip them.

 

 

  • And I don’t tip nearly as frequently as I might in New York. I’m not tipping the bellman on the way in and out of a hotel.

 

Somehow after traveling a good amount tipping feels right or wrong in a given situation, based in part on what I’ve heard or seen about a country’s practice but based mostly on watching the person that’s interacting with me.

I do what feels right and I do not worry if it is right. For instance, do they appear to be waiting around after dropping off my bags, or do they run off immediately?

I remember being 16 and visiting Australia, I apologized to a cab driver that I had only just enough cash to pay him but nothing for a tip. He had a good laugh at my expense I think, as he explained to me that tipping a taxi driver wasn’t mandatory in Australia. On the other hand, I’ve had cabs Down Under size me up as an American and clearly expect to be tipped.

Sometimes it’s who you are (or appear to be) as much as where you are. And the stakes aren’t often as big as you think.

What are your tipping experiences, and what guidelines do you follow?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »

Pingbacks

Comments

  1. 1. I do not get bell boys to get my bags, I really rather handle them myself. Sometimes it takes too long to get up to the room or shit gets broken.
    2. I always tip the room cleaning lady I leave money on the bed. $5 USD or equivalent whenever I need the room cleaned.
    3. 1or 2 USD / Euros when I need something extra brought up to the room. I do 2 & 3 because these are usually the hardest working people and the lowest paid.
    4. Restaurants it really depends, I generally do not tip in Asia, in Canada and US I would do 15% at normal type restaurants cheesecakefactory type places and below. 20% for fancy places, it really depends on the bill, for 2 persons having dinner I do not think regardless of my cheque that you should be getting more than $100/150 in tips for serving me. I usually do not do over $500 for 2 ppl for dinner so that rule does not have to be tested often.

  2. That’s a pretty darn good list of general rules. Of course, there is so much variation around the world, it’s tough to make a list w/o being specific to each country.

    You hit one of my pet peeves: do those “service charges” and built in “gratuity” charges on things like room service go to the server?! I always find myself adding a couple of bucks anyway, just because I’m never sure.

    I’ll ding you for your first point: why tip if you aren’t coming back? Holy cow, haven’t you heard of the concept of saying “thank you?” Good service deserves a thank you, just like poor service deserves to be penalized.

    RE: your point about tipping vs bribing. I used to live in Spain, where there is essentially no tipping. However, if people wanted to keep getting their mail, they had to slip something to the mailman. Was that a tip, or a bribe? A rose by any other name.

  3. In America, I tip 25% in restaurants, $1 per drink in bars. I’ve worked in both and the system is messed up but it is what it is.

    Abroad, I always tip the maid, only exception is Japan where like you mention it seems to violate the whole idea of saving face. Otherwise, worldwide I leave 10% if there’s a tip line in restaurants, round up in cabs and do my own bag-carrying at hotels.

    You can argue the whole tipping culture and the expectations it creates but whatever. I am fortunate enough to have the means to travel the world. I’m not going to lose sleep over leaving tips here and there, even if it adds up. And if I look like a foolish American to some people, OK, I can live with that.

    The only time it’s really bothered me was in India. A really poor looking young man offered to help carry my bag from the terminal to my driver’s car at BOM. When I gave him a USD $5 bill he shook his head and said, “Sir, this is a very meager tip.” So I promptly told him in Hindi to go fuck himself.

  4. As a European I am still astounded by the amount of tipping being done in the US. Tipping when somebody opens a door? Why is the guy there in the first place, and why would I want to pay for that service? I’ll do that myself thankyoos.

    I do get that this is tradition and you’re supposed to. But as somebody from out of that world the begging for money all the time is a great way to not make me return to a place. If somebody deserves something extra I’d gladly give them that. But I like to be the one who decides the need for such…not them.

    @Jay: If you spend $250+ a person on dinner (Which I guess is mostly spent on wine), the server would not spend more time on you than another table that may spend only $50 a person. Would you still give a 20% tip in that case?

    I get that some professions are underpaid and tips are required. This is especially the case for wait staff. But when you tip $150 for a single meal for two, you are tipping your server probably 5 times as much than the restaurant pays them. At that point you are no longer making their hourly wage ‘reasonable’ (which is what tipping is for right?), you’re actually making them the highest paid on the whole block.

  5. I agree tipping is ambiguous sometimes. Having worked in a hotel as a Bellman, I take issue with your comment about not tipping bellmen on the way in and on the way out.

    If you don’t want to tip, then decline assistance. But if you utilize their service, tip them. They make minimum wage (or at least I did). Tipping only on the way in but not out when you use their services is like saying I tipped my server for serving me lunch yesterday, so I don’t need to tip for my dinner tonight.

  6. I hate tipping for one reason: we’re subsidizing restaurants’ responsibility to pay their employees a fair wage.

  7. You know the world is coming to an end when you see tip envelopes in Japan. I stayed there a couple of years ago (ok at the Ritz) and tipping was considered insulting.

  8. This is a question I would really like answered, and please everyone give me your opinion:

    If you get your hair cut by the owner of the salon, in their own salon, do you tip?

    Same thing with getting a massage, if the owner of a massage place gives you a massage (they are renting a room in a building) and they give you a massage, do you tip?

    In instances when the haircutter just works at the salon, or massage therapist just works at a massage place, then yes, I always tip, but what about when the owner of a place provides the service directly to you?

  9. @Joseph N – my point about not tipping if you aren’t coming back isn’t a suggestion not to tip in that situation, it’s a discussion of a paradox — if you’re tipping after a meal, but coming back, then it might help ensure prompt service on a future visit. But how can tipping after the service was either good or bad ensure that service will be good? You’d think it would be before or during. In other words it seems badly designed as a mechanism to foster good service.

  10. In general, these guidelines provided will serve a traveler well. I rather like Pavel’s advice and attitude. If you have the means to travel worldwide, you can afford to tip when/where it is customary. Recently I travelled regularly for my business to the Mideast, where we would often use the same drivers with a hired car. Our drivers were always very courteous, looking out for us, would help with any reasonable requests, and were with us whenever we needed their services. Upon departure, we would regularly tip them 10% of the total bill (a hefty amount in $), and they were worth every cent of it. Context is everything with tipping.

  11. @ Joseph N – I always thought saying “Thank You” meant exactly that. Since when does money replace good manners?

  12. @Matt – I never suggested using the service of the bellman and not tipping, my reference to ‘way in and out’ was coming and going at the hotel mid-stay

  13. I’m wondering what are people’s position on tipping guides? For instance, is it a percentage of the cost of trip? What if you have a personalized tour? Then there are tours that provided “free” and the guides are paid solely by tipping? I’m not sure what is right with these different types of situations. I’m much more comfortable with situations regarding hotels, restaurants, and cabs because there are so many discussions of these areas, but relatively few for guides.

  14. @Gary- a suggestion re: service charges.

    For this blog- How about contacting the major hotels and asking them whether the service charge goes to the server, or to the establishment (or something else)? I think that list would come in very handy (and I’ve never seen it anywhere else).

  15. Easy way to avoid restaurant tips is to get take out. Why should eat in and take out cost the same? That is why the service portion is broken out.

  16. There’s an app for that! My feeble brain can’t remember all the nuances of all the countries I travel to. I SE an app simply called Tip. It’s ok, not great. There are probably others.

  17. The worst thing about the tipping culture in America is that it encourages needless service because the restaurant can “off-load” its labor expenses on customers. For example, for casual restaurants, I much prefer the “British pub” system where you head to the counter, order your food, get handed your beer, and then somebody brings your food to the table. No tip for service you don’t really need. It’s faster, and I’d rather refill my own water glass or head to the bar for another beer if I want one. And no waiting for the check.

    But this will never happen in the USA because the restaurant doesn’t pay the labor cost.

  18. Just wanted to clarify what Gary, and most readers, probably already know: “tipping” in British English is equivalent to “dumping” or “littering” in American English – so that sign is warning against illegal disposal of garbage, not illegal gratuities.

    Pretty much the only places with “No Tips” signs (in the gratuity sense) are massage parlors – and it’s always an open question whether they mean it; the No Tips sign is there to tell the authorities that they’re not running a brothel, but of course some of them are… in which case tipping is the only way to guarantee a happy ending.

  19. With the introduction of a $15 minimum wage in some areas, it makes tipping an easier decision. Don’t.

  20. @DJ
    I never understood that logic. Why just because they are the owner should they not get a tip. They work just as hard or most likely harder than the employee or renter. I say it doesn’t matter tip them the same.

  21. I’m surprised good how far off parents advice is it for a couple of countries. For example France is a lower tipping expectation then Italy for sure. The idea that you would tip 2010 euros in a non-fancy place is off. You won’t leave leave the change, which is always less than €10. And then leave €20 if you’re really happy and double if it’s a fancy place? No even in a three-star you don’t tip €40

  22. Information for tipping in France – and I believe in Greece – is completily wrong. Someone tipping 10€ in France will be seen as ‘a rich american’. I spend a month in Greece every year. Tipping is not expected, except maybe in Mykonos and Santorini were everything is already more expensive than on other greek islands !

  23. This is one thing great about Australia, everyone is paid a fair living wage and there is no expectation to tip anyone for anything, it’s just included in the price.

  24. @sunny
    The difference is that,unlike an employee, owner controls the price and get 100% of it. What is the reason adding something to that? To tell that price should of been higher?

  25. @Beachfan.
    Ive read your response 4 times now and I still can’t make sense of what you have just said!

  26. I am starting to have a problem with tip inflation. Tips should be 15%. In New York City, it has always been double the tax, which is 17.75%, which is generous. 20% or more is for good service. Recently, I have been receiving credit card bills which show 20%, 25%, 30% which the implication that middling service is 25%. I had a friend that used to use his calculator watch to calculate 15% on the pre-tax amount. I am tempted to use my Iphone the same way.
    Seriously. I am willing to tip for good service, but this is starting to get irritating.

  27. Drives me up the wall when people always say “it is insulting” in Japan or “saving face” or whatever when tipping in Japan. Sure, it is not the norm there, but everyone assuming that you’ve just offended the crap out of them I think is incorrect. They will be embarrassed that they have to go through with the act of returning your money and that it is not expected, but not insulted.

  28. The owner may get 100% of the payment for the service performed but they also have to pay 100% of the business costs too. A tip shows appreciation for the service to the person regardless of how much money they make.

  29. @chiman, @dj
    The owner may get 100% of the payment for the service performed but they also have to pay 100% of the business costs too. A tip shows appreciation for the service to the person regardless of how much money they make.

  30. As a traveler and ‘citizen of the world,’ I make it my personal responsibility to learn local customs of the places I visit so I can abide by their cultural norms.

    Even then, as a relatively affluent citizen of the world, I sometimes over-tip.

    There is no number of ‘general guidelines’ that can ever replace actually understanding the culture of the country you are visiting.

  31. I would assume that price set by the owner was set the way that business expenses were taking into consideration. Payment for the services performed is the appreciation for performing it well otherwise it does not deserve the payment at all.

  32. So what does everyone tip for a buffet? For argument’s sake, let’s say it is a nice buffet e.g. Sunday brunch at a 5-star hotel, You get your own food, but a waiter brings/refills your drinks and clears dirty plates. Then, of course, presents/collects the bill when you are finished. Do you tip the full 15-20% of the bill, leave a few bucks, or nothing? Would you do the same at a less fancy buffet that has similar service?

  33. I might be in the minority here with my opinion, but waiters and waitresses aren’t what you would call independently wealthy. I can’t speak for everyone, but it seems to me that many of us can either afford a nice tip-whatever that means-or their employer can.

    An extra $2.00 or $6.00 just doesn’t mean that much to me, but it might mean a whole lot to the person who’s on the receiving end.

  34. The whole concept of tipping really sucks. In Japan there’s no question about it. Tipping is just not done – except from time to time by ignorant Americans. In Australia there was no tipping until fairly recently. In Europe they laugh at the dumb Americans who aren’t informed enough to realise that service is included in the bill, so they add a tip. I do tip in the US and Canada, but generally no more than 15%, pre tax. If the service isn’t as I expect, I tip much less, or not at all if it’s really bad. Anyone who pays 25% should have his/her head examined. A Pox on the whole concept! Easier to just pay these folks a decent wage and be done with it.

  35. And while we are on tipping– Why does Dominos, Pizza Hut etc charge me a 2.50 delivery charge on a $10.00 pizza and then expect me to tip the driver?

  36. @ Mike: Put on your thinking cap. The delivery charge goes towards the actual expense of delivery. They don’t pay for gas and vehicle expenses out of the $10 you pay for your pizza.

    And the tip … is the tip. A bonus for the driver who likely gets $7 per hour otherwise.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *