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. In Vietnam, Dictors AND nurses in hospitals get tipped, If you don’t tip you get lower quality meds from the doctors and poorer services from the nurses.

  2. @Gary: You miss the whole economic basis of tipping. It is payment for the quality of delivered service. Nobody has ever come up with a viable alternative.

    May it continue — keep the power with the customer.

  3. @L3: but why is the USA the only western country where tipping is mandatory. And I mean actually mandatory. In no other western country outside of North America is it socially mandatory to tip. Not in the UK. Not in Australia. Not in Germany. Not in France. Not in New Zealand. Not anywhere!

    And why is the socially requirement of tipping limited just to certain hospitality staff? Why isn’t there a requirement to tip your flight attendant? Or the checkout operator at Costco? Or the drive through attendant at McDonalds? Aren’t they all giving quality service?

  4. @L3 – service is provided not knowing how much of a tip will be provided. economic theory might suggest that customers would tip according to service if it’s an iterative game, they expect to return to the same restaurant and get the same server. But surely that’s a limited enough set of guests that it can’t justify the entire practice, and why do people tip well when they aren’t going to return and they aren’t obligated to do so? How does economics explain why people tip? It doesn’t do a very good job of this.

  5. @Gary: It does a good job, by using a more complex model. For example, in Las Vegas, they want me to tip in advance of lunch because I am unlikely to return!

    The details are in the academic economic literature but the bottom line is that there is no alternative incentivization method that has prevailed over it.

  6. @Nick B: Someone has been having you on. All your claimed facts are wrong. Take advantage of Gary’s tips to get out of the country more. Also, drop the crack pipe.

  7. @L3: which “claimed facts” are wrong? Actually I don’t live in the USA, I live in the UK (for the last three (3) years) and spent most of my life in Australia. I’ve travelled to many countries, including, but not limited to, the USA, Canada, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, Indonesia, New Zealand, Poland, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Norway, Germany + others. And in NO OTHER COUNTRY other than the USA is it socially MANDATORY to tip, even for average service. In the countries in this list, some people will tip if the service is exceptional, but in the USA it is socially mandatory to tip even when the person is just doing their job.

    So I don’t understand what you mean when you claim of tipping “there is no alternative incentivization method that has prevailed over it.” when in all the countries in list above, there is no mandatory requirement to tip. Res ipsa loquitur, or in English, the facts speak for themselves: there is clearly and evidently an alternative incentivization method and that’s called paying a fair minimum wage, like in the countries listed above.

    Now, tell me please which of my “claimed facts” are wrong? Or is it in fact you that’s on the crack pipe?

  8. My experience in many parts of Australia (biggest cities mainly) regarding tipping in cabs is that most drivers are not locals and come from countries where tips and even begging (baksheesh) are common. I don’t tip, largely because taxi fares are extortionate here, and service levels are low anyway.
    For many drivers it is a second job, so not dependant on tips.

  9. The mere fact that there are “guides” as to how to tip, and conjecture amongst people as to how much is right, is proof that it’s out of control.

    Again, to confirm, the USA is the only Western country in the world where it’s socially mandatory to tip. And it’s somewhat of a laughing matter to the rest of the world. A German friend posted on Facebook that a suggested 30% tip was on the bill at a bar. Yes, 30%! For bar staff being bar staff. There was much laughter and joking in the thread from Aussies, Brits and a Singaporean.

  10. Just paid $8 (yes, $8!) for a glass of Diet Coke at a hotel bar in New York. And I’m expected to tip? Hell no. Someone is making a bucket load of money. I’m not here to subsidize wages when an employer is clearly first in to pay a fair wage.

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