/ 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.

Em says:
27 July 2013

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.

Em says:
28 July 2013

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 lyin