5 Simple Rules for Tipping That Cover You Everywhere in the World

I hate tipping. Full stop. I much prefer a model where employees are compensated by their employers and prices are advertised at a fixed amount and that’s the amount you pay.

  • If tipping is meant “to insure prompt service” then why do it after service has already been provided?
  • Why tip in places you’re visiting and won’t return to, if it’s after service has been provided and there’s no way you can get better service in the future?
  • Why should you be asked to add an ambiguous open-ended amount?
  • Why should credit card slips in countries where tipping isn’t traditional include a tip line?
  • Are you expected to tip where there’s already a service charge? Room service is a great example,
    is the service charge going to the person delivering your meal or to the hotel?

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.

And now it’s tipping not just a few bucks for pizza delivery, but 20% of the total meal price. And tips when you’re picking up the food to go (since ‘someone still had to package it’).

It’s hard enough dealing with tipping expectations here in the U.S. What do you do — as a traveler where you may not understand the local custom? Not worry so much about it.

  • 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.”

I do understand tipping hotel housekeeping. It’s hard work and they’re cleaning up after your mess. But even that’s too complicated, with suggestions like leaving cash every day since your room may be cleaned by someone different each day, and to leave a note with the cash so housekeeping knows you didn’t just leave out the cash. Who has small bills in cash handy every day let alone enough small bills in cash to leave more each and every day?

I disagree with this advice. If you’re going to tip hotel housekeeping leave cash at the end of your stay. Sure, one member of the housekeeping staff may get an outsized tip. But across all of a hotel’s rooms, and across the year, this should even out as other members of housekeeping get outsized tips as well on any given day and no tips from some rooms on other days.

And while I can be guilted into tipping housekeeping I’d much rather an equilibrium where hotels paid their housekeeping staff at a level where tipping wasn’t expected, and that was then built into the room rate. Why should the hospitality business create anxiety and inconvenience?

Marriott even went out of their way to make this a thing — advertising their unwillingness to own up to compensating their own employees.

Here are my personal rules for tipping:

  1. If there’s a service charge a tip isn’t required. 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 takes care of the person serving me. If it does, I don’t need to add.

  2. Know the difference between a tip and a bribe. 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 (though perhaps they’ll “round up” and leave change) — 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.

  3. Round up, and try to tip modestly where it’s easy and natural. 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.

  4. Tip less abroad than in major US cities. 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.

  5. Do what feels natural to you. 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 a thing 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.

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 »

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Comments

  1. I always tip hotel maids daily so that the first thing she see is $5 with a thank you note before she begins cleaning my room & bathroom. Think of it as an insurance policy against not having your toothbrush dipped in the toilet.

  2. I wish more hotels were like the Trident in Hyderabad. No tipping expected–written clearly everywhere including the restaurant–but if you want to give to the staff, leave cash in an envelope when you check out. It worked great (I’m hopeful the front desk staff and management are honest here) and I get exemplary service from all departments.

  3. I know you put the phrase, “to insure prompt service” in quotes, so you probably already know that the phrase itself is wrong, as the proper word would be “ensure.” So many people seem to rely on it, though…

    In any case, I agree that your suggestions, in general, are sound. Personally, I try to look up the customs of the places I visit, but that can be a headache when that amounts to more than a few countries.

  4. I almost always tip the housekeepers when traveling in the US, and I agree that a short “Thank you” on the pad next to the tip helps clarify that it wasn’t just left around (a few times, without a note, the tip was untouched on the surface where I left it). I’m not as generous as reader “listen” above (unless I had a party the night before and left a substantial mess); I usually leave $2. Sure, sometimes I forget, or I don’t have the right change, and my non-scientifically tallied experience is that usually the room is cleaner and more thoroughly provisioned when I leave a tip than when I don’t. And if I put a request on the notepad with the thank you, e.g. “please leave extra water and conditioner”, I can be generally confident that the request will be granted in spades.

    In general, housekeepers are not paid very well (in the US), but at the same time, it’s not a job that requires much formal education or experience; just a lot of conscientious hard work and honesty. From the few times I’ve spoken more than pleasantries with people that have done housekeeping in a hotel (e.g. my ex-wife’s after high-school job, and also a Stanford grad), the housekeeping people need and want those jobs, and can’t afford to do anything that would get them fired, which is why I don’t worry about housekeepers either pilfering my belongings or “having your toothbrush dipped in the toilet.” So far, so good, but YMMV.

  5. @Gary: “If tipping is meant “to insure prompt service” then why do it after service has already been provided?”

    Good service. Promptness is just one aspect.

    How would you tip in advance?

    Also, tipping is not straight-line compensation. It is an incentive. Like the bonus you get from your employer every year. If it was guaranteed you would not get out of bed.

    Why do 99.99% of restaurants use tipping and not the “Leff method” of obtaining service? Because tipping is so much more successful. After much ballyhoo about abolishing tipping two years ago, only Danny Meyer has stuck to the “charge the customer a flat fee” method. The rest switched back to tipping when all their est (i.e. best tipped) servers threatened to leave. Meyer is i the Michelin stars realm, so irrelevant.

  6. Housekeepers: plan ahead with small bills. Leave it for them in the bathroom. It is clearly a tip there. Thanks is nice, also. Leave daily.

    Other places, restaurants, sometimes I include it with my card, but if it is a small amount, or I don’t trust the place, I tip in cash and write “cash” where the tip line is.

  7. I still have bad memories of trip to Peru. At restaurant I left a tip, then read it isn’t expected in Peru. Then the next night at same restaurant the owner told me to tip in cash instead of on my credit card as I did the night before. You know how fricking hard it is to get cash in some remote area of Peru? I was already concerned I may not have enough cash for my trip to Machu Piccu the next morning and I couldn’t risk not having enough cash, so I left no tip.

    Clearly there was some fuss after we left about this. The people at the table across from us gave us evil looks the next day and didn’t speak to us. I am sure they had a big fuss about us not leaving a tip at this small restaurant.

    I hate tipping. Now this is stuck in my memory from an otherwise enjoyable trip.

  8. Could someone explain the “I’m not tipping the bellman on my way in and out of the hotel” comment?

    Is that a thing? Like – There’s a guy standing there so he gets money every time I see him coming in and going out? I travel mostly in the Midwest and don’t spend a lot of time in big cities where hotels would have a bellman – just wanted some clarification so I at least know what kind of expectations I’m dealing with when I do travel to those places.

  9. I employ an easy way to keep service people under control and aligned with my expectations.

    Wherever I am expecting service, I put down 10% of the expected amount on the table/desk. All in one dollar bills in a neat pile.

    When they violate my expectations, I very obviously and dramatically pull off a dollar bill and pocket it. A bigger flourish ensures they will notice and immediately correct their behavior. And if they don’t, another one comes off next time.

    You will be surprised at how fast they bow and scrape.

  10. I agree with Gene. I pay what ever the bill is and that’s it. Tipping is like saying: ” Hey. Take this, too. You didn’t charge me enough.” If someone isn’t happy with what they are paid by his employer, get a different job. Surprised people haven’t started tipping flight attendants, bus drivers, and supermarket cashiers. Keep giving money away and that will be next. Funny how it’s basically only americans who are the ones who do this….

  11. It seems obvious that none of the commenters ever had to support themselves on their tips. It can be humiliating to “bow and scrape” as “Donald” says when someone treats you like a dog. Those of us who had to work our way through college all had a “Donald” we had to wait on at one time or another. Dealing with customers like that on a daily basis wears you right down and makes you wonder where the good people went. There are far more lousy customers than there are lousy servers.

    @Gary you are applying “shoulds” to a situation that until rectified is what it is. Have some compassion for those who try their best to make your experience as pleasant as possible, while working for peanuts.

  12. Donald,you sound like a bit of an ass.

    Jeff, I’m not sure but I think Gary was referring to the “Doorman” not bellman, if you use a bellman to carry your bags, you should,of course, tip him. IMHO, doorman only need tipping if they are calling a lot of taxis for you, helping load/unload numerous bags or providing other tasks specifically for you, a smallish tip at arrival will also help them look out for you throughout your stay, at some properties it can make a big difference to tip these guys $5 on arrival.

  13. Even worse is the time share industry in Mexico. They will extort a mandatory tip at check out and ask you to sign all sorts of paperwork to opt out and try to embarrass you. Tips in Mexico seldom actually goes to the employees and are usually pocketed by the owner/developer or used to augment family members income. We tip housekeeping daily in cash same with bellman and porters- screw the pinchy resort owners and their corrupt practices. Only fools tip taxi drivers in Mexico which have some of the highest rates in the world.

  14. If and when I tip, I over tip. It makes an impact and a difference. I try to tip the housekeeper in person. It pays off with extra bottled water, facial tissues, etc.

    Once I was on an elevator and there was a woman cleaning the glass. I said, “Everone in this hotel gets tipped but you.” I gave her a generous tip. The the doors opened and two other workers got on the elevator. She spoke to them in Spanish. Their faces lit up and they shook my hand. I had a smile on my face the rest of the day. Well worth the price.

  15. @donald. God you’re a miserable human being. Please. Do humanity a favor and don’t go to restaurants or hotels. Stay home. I beg you.

  16. I always work to tip the housekeeping staff well. Of nearly all the service personnel I am in contact with when we travel, they are the most intimate with my possessions and require a high sense of trust, as they are working in my personal space.

    I also acknowledge that housekeeping is generally “women’s work”, which this culture has historically undervalued. These women are also some of the most hardworking folks I see. I tip in advance when possible, but if I am able to catch them in the midst of their duties, and if/when special services are requested (cleaning up after grandchildren, etc. ), even better.

    It’s the least I can do. I have been blessed in my life in so many ways, it’s just part of how I can give back equitably to keep the social and economic wheels rolling positively. And best of all, it becomes a win win for us both.

    Until we can change the system, this is part of what I can do.

    PS: Donald, your tipping example is what gives travelers a bad name, and why I do things the way I do. I truly believe you are in the distinct minority here. For that, I’m grateful.

  17. I’m sure Donald is not a miserable human being. He might be a frustrated human being. I’m sure that he, just like the rest of us have had multiple experiences when tips have “ensured” exactly squat! Please don’t tell me you’ve never encountered servers who believe they’re entitled to tips just because they’re already there.

    In the U.S. I tip around 20% pre-tax. If there is a service scamcharge, I add enough to make it to 20%. Outside the U.S. I have the same simple rule as Gary. I tip 10% whenever I’m satisfied with the service and whenever I remember to have some small bills on me (in my experience, they aren’t usually set up to add the tip to the CC bill). When I don’t have cash I don’t sweat it. I tip maids in hotels $2 daily all over the world, again, when I have it. Once in Germany I left a maid 1.95 Euro in coins. She took 1 Euro and left the rest on the table. That was a good lesson to me not to go out of my way to tip somebody. I kept tipping her 1 Euro after that.

    Is it worth it to tip maids, though, when they don’t change linens EVEN WHEN you write them a note and leave the tip? Even at a 5-star hotel? Seriously, nobody sweats anything, it seems.

  18. For within the US, outside of tipping 15% (+/- 3%) for restaurant and haircut services, I’m not sure there’s any other rule. I typically add $1-$2 for take out, last day of check out at hotel, taxi, bellman (who helps load/unload). In southeast Asia, larger restaurants typically have service charge..so no tip. Smaller shops where meals costs $3, I typically give 50c or $1 (that means nothing to most of us) but goes a long way for the poor kid who may be missing school to serve you food.

  19. David I like you.

    I’m heading to Hawaii soon and I tip what some consider too much. I don’t care what anyone else thinks or suggests. Had the same approach to it all in the Emirates. Didn’t care what colleagues suggested, didn’t tell them what I did, didn’t seek their approval. Always got the room I wanted, the cleaning services I expected and smiles from those I came into contact with.

  20. I have never understood why in the US suggested tips are seen as a percentage of the overall bill. If you order a meal that comes to say $100 and the bill for the table next to you comes to $200,what extra work has the waiter done to earn double the suggested tip ?? . I prefer to tip what I feel is appropriate ie a set amount. Put another way, does the waiter do anything differently if you order a bottle of wine for $100 or a bottle for $30 ? . I have seen comments about waiters earning the minimum wage and relying on tips. That is not the customer’s concern and they should not need to feel guilty about tipping what they feel appropriate. I have heard of waiters earning $300 plus in tips per night. Added up over a month, with no tax paid, that is far more than teachers, fire fighters and police offices earn. That is not right.

  21. I realized the absolute absurdity of tipping in America, when I saw a line for a tip at my doctor’s office. F that.

  22. @ Maria, I’m sure the tipping purists/Nazis will say that proper tipping etiquette at a doctor’s office is to tip on the billed amount, not just the amount of your copay or what your insurance company pays, lol.

  23. Thanks Eric, that does clarify and I agree.

    Those upset by Donald’s post – He’s just retelling an episode of 3rd Rock From The Sun where Dick employs that tipping strategy (Only difference is Dick verbalizes it to the waiter).

    Whether Donald actually employs the method or is recycling a funny bit to troll the thread is inconsequential. The reason it was used in a show about “people” with over-the-top bad behavior is that generally people agree it’s poor behavior. So no need to give Don more lip service.

  24. Tip your bloggers (ha)

    Tipping in Las Vegas is different than any other U.S. city. Tip your bellmen and women, front desk, housekeeping, dealers, hosts, sportsbook ticket writers, cocktail servers, entertainers, nightclub bouncers, taxi drivers, concierge. Tip ‘em all.

  25. Like everything else in life – it depends. I try to stay within the local culture.

    I don’t tip in Korea, China, Japan or Scandinavia, where most people are offended by a tip. I often have had tips refused in Copenhagen and Helsinki.

    In the rest of Europe, I will leave a “pourboire” in a restaurant – coins up to a Euro or two. Never paper money. The word in French for a tip is “pourboire” and it means “for drink”, just like “trinkgelt” in Germany – to allow the server to buy a beverage at the end of the evening. Housekeepers will get 5-10 Euro (depending on length of stay) or so at the beginning of my stay. Luggage handling in Europe is normally included in the hotel rate – I don’t tip unless something special happens. If the doorman gets me a taxi (as opposed to the front desk calling one, which is the norm) – 1 Euro (or 2 Euro in rush hour). Taxi drivers do not get tipped – they have often told me that they usually own their own taxis and rates are high enough for them to do reasonably well. Remember that if a taxi is radio or phone called in Europe, the rate includes the time and kilometers from the receipt of the call.

    In any event, I look for the “service compris” (service included) or “service non compris” on a bill or statement – it’s a really good clue.

    In third world countries, I tip well. Many, if not most people make in a year what I used to make in a week. I am gentle there, both when tipping and when bartering, as people there need the extra income. No one will go wrong over tipping by the smallest circulating bill in local currency. I also carry US$2 bills (get them from a bank) – they are wonderful tips in third world countries, especially where people are suspicious of older U.S. currency.

    In the U.S., I tip 20% in a restaurant after subtracting the sales tax, and adjust up or down for the service received. Luggage handlers get about $2.50/bag. Taxi drivers get 20% unless they take a circuitous route. Housekeepers get $3-5 per night unless I don’t get service.

    I’ve never had a problem.

  26. @Kipto – in the U.S., the IRS requires restaurant owners to report credit card tips for each server, and to include it on their W-2 or 1099. Cash tips are imputed to the server at 15% of total cash receipts. No, these are not tax-free earnings. That is why I will often tip in cash at 20% or more.

  27. Pinehurst Resort (great place, great golf) is a good example of how service charges are a rip off for employees and guests. The 10% service charge was explained as being in lieu of tips, caddies excepted. That sounded great because at a resort like that one can be tipping every 10 minutes or so. The second time I went I asked an employee how the service charge was shared. He said it wasn’t. Hmmm, I detect a bit of a contradiction there.

    While paying employees a decent wage is best, I wouldn’t object to hotels and resorts adding a modest flat daily fee for tips that actually go to employees. That would provide transparency and certainty for guests, eliminates awkward moments, and compensates employees.

  28. If you are an American, well, your fellow countrymen have made it very difficult for you when abroad. In Asia tipping is not expected, but if you are perceived as being American, it is to a degree.
    Take your cue from the locals; observe what they do when the bill arrives. Do the same. No-one will be offended or outraged if you don’t leave a tip, as they would most certainly be in NYC! As has been pointed out above, tipping is offensive especially in Japan and Korea, so don’t do it! From Americans it is viewed as a master/slave gesture, and therefore highly insulting.

  29. What a pack of cheap asses! Whew. You are vacationing or on an expense account and you can’t share your good fortune by leaving the housekeeper a few bucks? You can order fine wine but you whine about tipping? Vicki, thank you for your humanity!

    It’s true. The staff does talk about you behind your back when you don’t tip. Everyone knows.

  30. Many of the hotels in the GCC have service charges of 15-20% on the bill. I am pretty sure that not a cent for that actually goes to the waiter who serves my meal. I always discreetly had the server a tip as thanks. God knows, at 300 dollars a month, my tip can go a long way to help them and their families out.

  31. Like Gary, I’m no fan of the USA’s tipping culture, but at least I know what I need to do. Overseas is more mysterious, and it’s hard to get accurate info on the web. If I’m headed to a country I’m unfamiliar with, I try to get a quick answer as to what I’m supposed to do, but that’s surprisingly hard to do. Folks on the web tend to disagree as to local customs, and I always get the impression that the folks who write their suggestions on websites are far more generous with their tips than most people — especially the locals! I certainly have no interest in over-tipping, and I certainly don’t want to spread the USA’s bad tipping custom around the globe. It would be helpful if somebody compiled a “locals guide” to tipping practices around the world that was realistic and reliable.

  32. Despite what others have said, you don’t need to tip ANYONE in Australia, nor does anyone expect it. The last thing Australia needs is a tipping culture to become the norm. I’ve lived in Australia all my life until two years ago. Take this advice from a local Australian who has eaten out a lot, stayed at lots of Australian hotels, taken lots of Australian taxis. DO NOT TIP in Australia.

    And I’ve lived in the UK for the last two years. Again: DO NOT TIP in the UK. In particular in London the majority of restaurants and cafes add a service charge to the bill (10% or 12.5%). It is ludicrous to add another tip.

    Those who do tip, why stop at service industry staff? Some say to tip the hotel housekeeper because she/he is cleaning your mess. Why stop there? What about the supermarket cashier who is scanning your groceries? What about the bus driver who is driving you somewhere. I just don’t get it…..

  33. The other day at dinner, the pre-printed options on our check were 20%, 22%, and 25%. What happened to 15% or 18%? Especially when our server messed up our order several times! He was lucky to get 15%.

  34. Lol, most of these inflated tipping guides all come from waiters! Of course they’re going to ask more. Emily Post says 15% pretax, that’s what I’m doing.

    I’ve realized that there’s literally 0 negative effects from tipping 15% pretax and no upside to tipping 20%+ post, unless it’s like 30%+, in which case it’s MAYBE a thank you. Why should I bother tipping extra amounts that result in no discernible benefit to me? Over the course of a year, tipping 15% pre or 20% post added up to several hundred dollars for me, so this isn’t some small change issue.

    “If you’re going to tip hotel housekeeping leave cash at the end of your stay.”

    Gotta disagree here. I tip big the first day to get better service for the whole rest of the stay- extra towels, uncomfortably large numbers of toiletries, “forgotten” minibar items, it’s all good. I like the concept of bribery far more than tipping, especially when the value I get from the bribe substantially exceeds the cost.

  35. Kipto, I like your comment and reasoning . I will keep it in mind when we visit the US next year .

  36. “except where tip is added to the bill, like in Italy in the form of “coperto” or as a service charge”

    The coperto IS NOT a tip, it’s a cover charge going to the restaurant owner – ostensibly (and somewhat historically) to cover the bread/bread sticks and table serve (dinnerware, linens, etc.).

    If you want to see the tipping culture in the USA change within 5 years, stop leaving cash tips.

  37. I am appalled by the attitude of this author to get away without tipping or being really parsimonious. I live in a tourist destination where the cost of living for locals is very expensive and requires many service personnel to keep the only industry (tourist) going. We appreciate in other countries, as we do in our own community that these people are paid poorly and do not mind being generous. When Europeans come to our community, they do not do as the locals do, they do not tip. I think that is very ungracious. We always leave a small something when in Europe even though the gratuity is already included in the bill. My husband has been a docent in some of the historic homes and has lead bike and walking tours here so he has been able to experience the tipping habits of various people. The passengers on the cheaper cruise ships are the non tippers and, no surprise, the more expensive cruise ship passenger is more generous. One of the only times when I don’t tip is when there is a tip container on the counter of a convenience store or similar business.

  38. French Canal Barge on Canal Du Midi. Cost for 6 days: $14,000 USD. Suggested TIP for crew by tour operator, European Waterways, 10% ! Cash is recommended and the tour guide will drive you to an ATM on the sixth day. No my friends, France is definitely into tipping!!!
    Great 6 days trip but unfortunate that the the company has to resort to hiding the true costs when price should include all gratuities. What’s next, IAH-CDG on AIr France . . . Price does not include gratuity.

  39. Q. At a fine dining restaurant, do you tip 15-20% on the total bill including the price of wine or alcohol? I’ve heard different opinions.

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