I always find it a challenge when travelling, knowing how much to tip for certain services. I would take it one step further, and suggest that for me, it is a challenge knowing how much to tip at home. The rule of thumb used to be 15%, but then it became 20% and only on the pre-tax portion. Recently I was in a restaurant, and the suggested amounts on the credit card machine were 15%, 20% and 25%. How confusing.
I should start out by explaining where the concept of tipping comes from. In days of old, when knights were bold… you would walk into an Inn and the serving wench would tell you what the specials were. Once you decided on your choice you would hand her (or him) a small amount of change. This was to insure prompt service, which became known as T.I.P.S., later shortened to ‘tips’.
Therein lays the key to tipping. If the service is bad or lacking a standard becoming of you, then leave less. If it is fantastic, leave more. Remember, we are talking about service, not food quality, restaurant décor, noise, or a dozen other reasons why you would not enjoy a meal. It is strictly service, as that is the only element the server has control over.
Tipping in various parts of the world is more confusing than determining which electrical adapter to use, and in several locales you can actually insult people by going about it incorrectly. In Canada, and the US, if it is a large party, 18% is usually added to the bill. This has made a number between 15% and 20% the norm for tipping. We have taken tipping to a point where it has actually become part of the server’s income. The minimum wage, as of October, will be $11.60. For people who serve liquor, however, it is only $10.10. This represents a 9% shortfall, expected to be filled by patrons.
Taxi’s usually expect a 10% tip, however many people round out the amount to the nearest dollar and quite often, no tip is left. Uber, of course, has a ‘no tipping’ model, which is a refreshing change. Technology has made it easier to calculate the amount, by adding set percentage options to the bill, however, anyone not wishing to pay those set amounts, will have to struggle to enter a dollar amount, or lesser percentage.
In Europe, tipping is expected, but nowhere near the amount it is in North America. In general practices, when you are in a café, rounding up to the nearest Euro or two is acceptable, but there is no shame in leaving nothing behind.
If the restaurant is fine dining, a 10% service charge is typically added to the bill (make sure you check the items). It is important to note that this gratuity goes to the owner to help cover the cost of staffing and not to the server. It is up to you to leave a euro or two for the wait staff.
Cabs are customarily rounded up to the nearest Euro, or 5% of the fare. Bellhops are generally given one Euro per bag and a concierge should receive two or three Euros, depending on the work they do for you.
In Scandinavia, however, there is no tipping expectation in restaurants or taxis and in Britain, tipping in pubs is not expected.
When travelling to Dubai, Egypt, Israel and Jordan, a service charge is usually added to the bill, and cab drivers should receive up to 10% gratuity. In Saudi Arabia, gratuities are not included and 15% to 20% is the norm.
When travelling east to China, Bali, Japan or South Korea tipping is not done. Tipping is acceptable for tour guides in those countries but be discreet and put it in an envelope. In the Philippines or Vietnam, 5% to 10% is a conventional amount for waiters and in Singapore and Malaysia taxi drivers are not tipped, but porters should receive a small amount.
In India tipping baggage handlers and anyone who assists you is limited to twenty or thirty cents, but in hotels no individual tipping is done. Instead guests leave an amount of their choosing in an envelope at the front desk upon departure. The contents will be distributed by management at the end of a week.
Tipping in Australia and New Zealand is usually between 10% and 15%, and a little less for cabbies.
Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica and Ecuador normally include a 10% gratuity on the bill, so no additional tipping is necessary. For the most part in the Caribbean, there is no limit and 15% to 20% is expected. Of course there is no need for additional tips in ‘all-inclusive’ resorts.
Lastly, I should touch upon tour guides and drivers. Quite often these people go beyond their expectations by offering excellent service. If the guide is managing your tour and stays with you every day, then my rule of thumb is $15 per day for every day they are with you. If a driver keeps the vehicle clean and properly looks after your luggage, then $10 per day is a fair amount. These sums are always calculated in US dollars. For a two week tour this works out to about $350 (make sure you keep it separate from the rest of your cash, so that you don’t accidentally spend it).
Never forget that tipping should not be assumed and is given at your discretion. Always remember the origin of the word: To Insure Prompt Service.