/ Money, Travel & Leisure

To tip or not to tip?

Coins next to coffee cup

That is the question many holidaymakers will face while enjoying a week or so in the sun this summer. You’ve tried the local cuisine, enjoyed the region’s wine, then the waiter brings the bill and panic sets in…

At Which? Travel we’re often asked questions about tipping abroad. Even seasoned travellers are confused about who to tip, when to tip and how much to tip. Getting it wrong can result in restaurant staff rubbing their hands in glee, or furrowing their brow in fury. You might even be considered to be rude if you do leave a tip in a Japanese restaurant!

Tipping confusion

I recall a trip I went on a few years ago, to Gdansk in Poland, and my husband and I had enjoyed a meal in a lovely little restaurant in the city centre. It was a warm night, we were sitting outside, and we were one of the last people around. We asked for the bill and as it was our first night, we only had a 200 zloty note. I handed it over with a smile, and thinking I was being polite said ‘thank you’.

We then waited for our change, and waited. Some 20 minutes passed until I decided to pop inside to see where our waiter was. He looked at me strangely, not understanding what I was after. He appeared shocked when I said I wanted my change. Only later when browsing through my guidebook did I notice the section on ‘tipping’ – saying ‘thank you’ before receiving your change will tell waiting staff that you’re happy for them to keep it all.

Dealing with an angry waitress

A colleague, during a holiday in New England a few years’ back, treated himself and his partner to a meal in upmarket Martha’s Vineyard in Cape Cod. It was a fine meal and they left what they thought was a reasonable tip as they knew many American waiting staff relied on gratuities.

They thought a 15% tip was good amount, only to find a furious waitress marching back to the table, demanding to know what was wrong with her service. She was clearly insulted, whereas my colleague felt he was being shown up in front of the rest of the restaurant. What he hadn’t realised was that Massachusetts restaurant workers are among the lowest paid in the country and expect the highest tips as a consequence. About 20% was the going rate for good service.

So, there are certainly trials and tribulations to tipping abroad. Do you take note of different countries’ tipping traditions when you’re on holiday? Or do you stick to the same tipping ethos wherever you are?

richard says:
26 July 2013

I f I think the service is worth it I pay extra = If not good enough I won’t pay “extra” and tell them why

I never tip things are to expensive already

Looking at the table..how accurate is it I wonder..

Restaurants in.France….15% service charge, plus discretionary tip of €1-€2 for good service. If there is no service charge, tip 15%?? Service has been included by law in France for years, you pay what you are charged, nothing more is expected. If you’ve got a few cents change you can leave it in a bar or cafe if you like but that’s all. And €1-€3 in bars in Spain? For a 90c beer… again a few coppers will do. I think this table needs redoing.

Nick is correct that, in France, there is never any need to to leave a gratuity a restaurant, unless some extraordinary service has been performed.

Before this was the case, it used to be the custom to ask if “le service est compris?” when paying the bill – and you might still see this in some out-of-date guide books. I did so maybe 20 years ago on a return visit to France and the restaurant owner explained that there was no longer any requirement to ask, as all charges had to be included in the bill, by law. Moreover, he added that to do otherwise might set you up as a mark for an unscrupulous waiter or establishment. (Which? – take note!) Nor was any additional tip expected or necessary. If paying by cash, maybe leave any loose coins less than €1 in the change, but certainly don’t go out of your way to add anything more. Credit card – pay the exact amount only.

The only exception to the no tipping rule is if a drink without food is brought to you at a table in a cafe or bar.

Adrian says:
27 July 2013

Nick Davies is quite correct. How has Which managed to produce such a poorly researched entry for France?

Can Lorna please help us out and explain what is going on here – particularly in the case of France. I expect Which? advice to be accurate and IF it is wrong to be corrected swiftly.

“f the bill comes to 4.65 Euros, you pay with a five, receive 35 centimes change, and leave that on the table as a tip. But again, even this isn’t necessary. When dining out, I usually leave a Euro coin (or even two) as a tip, but many of my French friends find this to be too generous, even foolish. I just can’t completely break myself of the habit of wanting to show my appreciation and be a good tipper. Incidentally, leaving 15% or more like we do in the States would be downright insane, ..”

In any event the concept that tourist offices are the only place to get this information seems slightly worrying. Surely any tourist office is more than willing to be generous if it means more money to the tourist industries. I also think there is often a big difference between big cities and the boonies as what is expected which the table does not address.

I have looked at the French Tourism site:
” TIPPING IN FRANCE : Almost all restaurant include tax and a 15%service charge (service compris) in their prices. If a meal or service has been particularly good, leaving another 1.50€ (or 2-3%) is customary, as is leaving the waiter the small change from your bill if you pay in cash. If service is not included (service non compris) a 15% tip is appropriate. In hotels, tip porters 1.50€ for each bag and chambermaids 1.50€ a day. Taxi drivers should be given 10-15% of the metered fare. Tip hairdressers 10%, assistant 5%. Small tips of around 1.00€ are reasonable for cloakroom and washroom attendants, ushers and museum tour guide. It is standard practice to tip tour guides and bus drivers after an excursion, generally 1.50-3.00€, depending on the level of the satisfaction.”

So in abbreviating what is written – and not exploring what possible exceptions there might be to the 15% charge not being included – the readership is confused. My take is a tiny family restaurant may not fall into the mandatory 15% regime and that would be useful to know. France being the largest recipient of Which? reading tourists.

The information on tour guide payments seems roughly 300%+ wrong.

Em – Your advise about unscrupulous waiters advising the gullible that service is not included is echoed in someones experience at a major Parisian hotel as reported by a major travel site.

These travel sites make me wonder if Holiday Which? as a concept needs to be remarkably re-jigged or disbanded. Methods of communicating changed a lot since 1974 when Holiday Which? was started. In the same decade Which? was campaigning against aircraft noise ….

The benefit of having accredited Which? subscribers doing something like Trip Advisor / WikiTravel/WikiVoyage would mean that dubious entries would be far far more unlikely. An advantage may well be the smaller numbers of members reporting could be such that Which? staff could refine the posting with the contributor if necessary.

The numbers involved in reporting will not be so great as the open posting sites but the quality of the postings I suspect would be better and in any event could be cross-referenced against other sites comments by intending travellers.

I have to agree with dieseltaylor that the value of this type of information has diminished greatly since the Internet has become available. Holiday Which? should perhaps concentrate on destinations and whether they are appropriate for certain types of holiday, rather than information that needs to be up-to-date and can be easily found in a search engine.

I do use and contribute to TA quite a lot and I find the restaurant and hotel reviews are a good starting point for choosing somewhere. I don’t think that model would work with a limited number of UK-based contributors, so it is not something that Which? should try to emulate. Part of the benefit of TA is the local knowledge, and not everyone has British tastes in food and accommodation or is travelling for leisure.

I too use TripAdvisor for choosing where to stay and other tips and hints but I am conscious that there is a problem with people knocking competing establishments and lying. TA does act against it but that is why a fee paying site for Which? members might be a useful add-on. Apparently there are meant to be a million members so perhaps it might be more active than one might think.

Incidentally for some Travel sites the comments give you a clear idea of the types who enjoy it and I realise I ought to steer clear. This is a good thing : )

Perhaps there ought to be some discussion hosted by Which? on what is available on-line to people and how these can be used to assist travellers. Yesterday I was exploring how to, and actually downloading coastal navigation maps for Argentina and New Zealand. You can carry Wikipedia , the complete works, in your pocket. Now that is what I call a travel guide : )

I find is tour guides generally do not go into enough depth about their subject possibly because they think most people are not interested or are aiming for the lowest common denominator. I have been on the receiving end of some pretty dire talks and some rare excellent ones.

However to be fair the best thing is to hire an intelligent guide who knows his country and is pleased to talk about it. I do try not to be boring so will throw in questions on divorce and power supplies to make it interesting for the guide: )

17562 says:
26 July 2013

Cruising has its problems with regard to tipping. Many people let themselves be “co-erced” into paying what they call gratuities, by impressing the fact that the crews are paid low wages, but our decision is always to give WHAT we want to WHOM we choose. The dictionary’s definition of a tip is “a small amount of money given as a mark of appreciation for a service received”. It should NOT be seen as a subsidy to the employee because the employer is paying low wages. The terms are between worker and employer, and is nothing to do with us. There is also the point that in some of the countries the employees come from, what seems a small wage to us is very high for the locals, which probably accounts for the reason many want to work for cruise lines.

The same applies to other countries; we don’t set their wage levels, so we should not be expected to subsidise them.

The cruise industry is interesting with the Carnival juggernaut with its 11 lines having 49% of the market and Royal Caribbean with its 5 lines and 40 ships probably having another 25% plus. I do not cruise on them but I understand that as floating hotels with a captive audience they hope to make 50 bucks a day on add on services per passenger. So the US attitude to tipping, and employing poorly paid staff looms large over the industry.

Cruising can be remarkably economical and on the small old fashioned ships a 6 week cruise down from the UK to Brazil and then up the Amazon can be amazing value.

Aisha says:
26 July 2013

When service is not good I wont tip
When service is good we tend to leave any change say £3 – £4

On a £30 pound bill in a moderate (some wld call cheap) restaurant a 20% tip is £6. Thats quite a lot in this economic climate for someone to just bring you your food which they are already being paid hopefully at least minimum wage for.How many tables a shift times 6, sounds like a pretty penny to me

Are people eating out as much as they used to or have many of us cut down due to the overall expense of it?. Those jobs may be being cut back especially if they think the deserve to be paid 20% hey even the VAT man is considered greedy for taking that amount

Roy King says:
26 July 2013

Personally I don’t care a damn what your should or should not leave, its my money I leave what i see fit & what I can afford.

Ned says:
26 July 2013

Italians never tip in Italy, although they will round up the bill by few % if that is more convenient. If the waiter seems offended, he’s only trying it on. Much more important is to congratulate the cook if the food is good “complimenti al cuoco”.

I travel to the USA at least once a year always for holidays/shopping … My first visit was about 25 years ago. On that visit I was taken aback when I was told by the bell boy of the hotel I was staying at that he noticed that I had an English accent and informed me that it was the custom in the USA to tip bell boys as well as the waiting staff in the restaurants. “Oh” … I exclaimed. He also told me how much he expected from me. Because of his cheek …..I gave him something close to what he asked for. I told him that it was not the practice of the British to tip; he said that he knew that, and that is why he was telling me to tip him.

So since then, when it comes to eating in restaurants in the USA I always say to the waiting staff when the bill is presented – “I am from England and it is our culture that we do not tip unless it is for really really exceptional service and the price we see is usually the price we pay, however because I am in your country I am expected to give you a tip regardless. How much extra do you want from me?”

Most are surprised to have to enter into a conversation about their tip, ie discussing percentages and then waiting for me while I do my calculations – mentally or/and on the bill in front of them – sometimes making silly arithmetical mistakes, then asking them if it is the practice to round up or down figures, then asking should something be knocked off for a shortcoming or to add a little extra.” The conversation can go on for over 5 minutes or so.

I usually give them what they ask for in the end.

The price of anything you see in the USA is never the price you pay – NEVER …. you have to factor in city/county/state taxes as well as the tip!!! Shops charge whatever they like anyway …. I noticed in the same street in San Francisco – from the Tenderloin to Downtown – you can be charged 5 different prices for the same size can of coke. They charge whatever the market will bear.

The USA has an awful system for charging. Awful. Simply awful. And it’s beginning to creep in over here ie Air Fares. The price you see is never the price you pay!

The price you see should be the price you pay. Prices in a menu should include all aspects of the service, including cooking and bringing the food to the table. In all countries, restaurants should pay their staff adequately without them having to beg their customers for more money. One isn’t expected to tip for good service in a shoe shop, so why in restaurants? Although we’re not as bad in the UK as they are in the US, we’re still a lot worse than in many other European countries.

If a restaurant shows a lower price in its menu than the price it ultimately expects me to pay, then it is giving a misleading indication of price, albeit legally in many countries. However, it is ethnically wrong.

WGO says:
26 July 2013

I don’t like tipping at all, and in developed countries I minimise my use of services where the staff expect to be tipped. I will tip 10% (my standard rate) if I think the service was good. However, it does not seem fair to me to tip some staff e.g. waiters and not others e.g. kitchen porters or factory workers who probably work just as hard for just as little money or maybe less. Possibly if I was rich I might tip more, but it seems to me that it’s a form of showing off, and enables people to avoid paying taxes, and assists management to avoid paying some workers a fair wage. It always feels like coercion. When I was in paid work, I travelled to some developing countries and there I gave small cash tips to people where I considered it appropriate. I also say thank you with a smile. When I was a waitress in a well-known place in London before the minimum wage became UK law I was paid £7 per week (v. low even in those days). I was always grateful for any tip, even a few pence, and would never have dreamed of complaining about a low tip or no tip and would never have asked for a tip even though I needed the tips to live.

To the previous poster
£7 per week? Please tell me that was a very very long time ago and that youre really really old? How much do waiter staff get these days here in the Uk? Surely at least min wage?

In the UK at least, you might assume the practice of adding an “optional” service change to the bill is simply to embarrass, coerce or encourage customers to leave a tip as a matter of routine. In fact, if the restaurant management know what they are doing, it is to ensure that VAT is not payable on the service charge. This became effective from 1982:


So, if the recommended gratuity is supposed to be 15% and you don’t think they deserve more, check it is 15% of the net amount only. If 15% is added to the gross amount (after VAT is added to the bill) you are effectively paying an 18% tip, as no VAT is due on the gratuity element of the bill. And if a smaller or no gratuity is warranted, you can always rely on the Tribunal ruling “… that since the statement ‘service not included’ meant any service charge was voluntary, the customers were not obliged to pay it.”

I still stick to my pre-1982 practice of declining to pay any optional service change and leave an appropriate cash amount – less VAT. Most staff seem very happy with this arrangement.

Al says:
27 July 2013

Call me mean, if you wish but……..

Service is included when you buy a meal in a restaurant, so there is no need to pay additional amounts, called a ‘charge’ for that service.

That service should always be good and if not a complaint is valid.

A tip is a gratuity and should be at the discretion of the giver, not a set or ‘standard’ amount.

Having said all that, I will usually leave the small change for even a standard level of service and will tip for exceptional service. The level at my discretion; it’s my money and my show of gratitude!

I also agree the table needs reviewing. In Greece, for example, it is actually Greek practice to leave the small change and rare to give the bigger tips mentioned in the list, especially when eating in Tavernas rather than the upmarket restaurants. Often these are usually for the ‘bread waiter’ and not the waiter who actually serves you. As well as the these tips a ‘thank you’, especially in the local language, is always appreciated. As is normal, tourist areas are always charged more and bigger tips (from those who know no better!) hoped for.

It is far more common to get given a little ‘on the house’ at the end of your meal when asking for the bill such as a small drink, melon or other sweet as a thank you for using their service rather than expecting a big tip. This occurs even in these difficult times in Greece!

paul says:
27 July 2013

I regard the tipping system as medieval. Employers should pay their staff what they are worth, and the customers should pay the appropriate price. Enforcing employees to beg is demeaning.

I agree. Staff should be paid properly. I would like to get rid of haggling too. We are in the 21st century.

Dave says:
28 July 2013

Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland and New Zealand conspicuously absent from the list.

Canada is also missing.

Like the USA, restaurant staff are poorly paid and rely on gratuities to supplement their income, so 15% is the norm. An easy way to do this is to leave an amount equivalent to the HST or GST+PST sales tax, which is itemised on the bill, rounded up to the nearest $. This doesn’t work in Alberta (Calgary, etc.) and the Northern Provinces, as there is no Provincial Sales Tax, so your tip would amount to only 5%.

Em – I was in Canada last year in the Maritimes and I am curious as to what might be classed as restaurants as we went from Tim Hortons through “the only eating place in town where everyone went” to fine dining. I am always bemused as to what type of establishment is included and what is not in tipping.

I think the boundary is simply whether you are served at table or not.

You must have found a pretty up-market Timmie’s if they had waitress service. In some areas, the staff are paid better than the customers.

Tipping an expected, or “normal”, percentage of the bill in a restauratnt is quite absurd.

Consider this:

Table 1, at which there are two diners, orders many items which necessitate the waiter visiting the kitchen many times. The bill is £50.

Table 2, at which there are also two diners, orders 2 items which necessitates the waiter visiting the kitchen only once. The bill is £50.

Why should table 2 be expected to tip the same amount as table 1 when he has done far less work for it than he has done for table 1?

The tip should be proportional to the waiter’s work or effort. To base it on the value of the items bought is absolutely illogical.

Waiters do rather more than ‘visit the kitchen’

Anyway it just doesn’t work like that.

A £5 bottle of wine will be on the wine list for £15 and you might tip £1.50
A £10 bottle of wine will be on the wine list for £30 and you might tip £3.

The work involved to get a bottle of wine into a glass on your table is the same no matter what it originally cost, but expensive wine makes more money for everyone concerned than does cheap.

That’s how just about how any business works. It may not seem logical, but neither are people. If margins were flatter cheap wine would be more expensive and thus less would be sold; on the other hand not enough extra but cheaper dear wine would then be sold to make up the difference and the restaurant would be less profitable.

Lorna, thanks for the input however I think we are aware of where the information came from and that Which? have abbreviated it however it is not necessarily helpful or apparently correct.

French TB : ” It is standard practice to tip tour guides and bus drivers after an excursion, generally 1.50-3.00€, depending on the level of the satisfaction.”

Which? ” Tour guides €5-€10.”

So why the discrepancy?

Also, and especially for France, eating out is a very common pastime for tourists and I would suggest that the FTB’s advice is misleading and Which? should query this ambiguity so readers do not individually have to contact them. There is plenty of current anecdote to suggest that some waiters are taking advantage of customers.

If it is a legal requirement to include the service charge why are there exceptions?

TIPPING IN FRANCE : Almost all restaurant include tax and a 15%service charge (service compris) in their prices. If a meal or service has been particularly good, leaving another 1.50€ (or 2-3%) is customary, as is leaving the waiter the small change from your bill if you pay in cash. If service is not included (service non compris) a 15% tip is appropriate. In hotels, tip porters 1.50€ for each bag and chambermaids 1.50€ a day. Taxi drivers should be given 10-15% of the metered fare. Tip hairdressers 10%, assistant 5%. Small tips of around 1.00€ are reasonable for cloakroom and washroom attendants, ushers and museum tour guide. It is standard practice to tip tour guides and bus drivers after an excursion, generally 1.50-3.00€, depending on the level of the satisfaction.

“15% service charge, plus discretionary tip of €1-€2 for good service. If there is no service charge, tip 15% Discretionary tip is appreciated. Porter €1-€1.50. Housekeeping €7-€14 10%-15% Tour guides €5-€10. Bar staff service charge plus discretionary tip €1-€3 for good service”

PeterM says:
22 February 2014

Have to say that I will positively AVOID any place which has a “service charge” already included, or make sure that I don’t pay it, if it has been automatically included (as if I was assumed to be thick, and too fearful to complain… I think I’m turning into a grumpy old man!!)

To me it seems like the Mafia “Protection Money” racket has been extended to nearly every service industry in the USA, and having read an article about service charges (and wages paid in the UK and USA) I can see why some in the USA will depend on tips as the minimum wages are incredibly low (even if some costs are lower over there).

See the article at http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/bills/article-2355717/