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.
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.
Here’s the basic, simple approach:
- 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?