5 Simple Rules for Tipping That Work 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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »

Comments

  1. I strongly disagree with you Gary on tipping at the end of a hotel stay.

    I have stayed at many hotels in North America (yes, that includes Mexico), Europe and Africa. Not Asia though.

    Housekeeping staff generally work rotationally in my experience.

    Therefore we (my wife and I) tip whenever we request housekeeping services.

    We generally stay for two to six weeks wherever we go and always receive above and beyond service upon our return.

  2. International, we try to take care of really helpful staff at the end of the trip. Housekeeping is a small amount daily. For staff we know well. Lounge, bar, etc. this is in an envelope with a note.

    With the inflation of restaurant bills in the US, I tip on the pre tax amount. Mor for good service and nothing for really bad service. I also try to tip in cash to the server.

    I do tip less if I feel pressured to tip.

    Taxis are 10% or less unless the driver loaded and unloads bags. Usually multiple 50# bags. Then he gets a better tip.

  3. I just bought a small Snickers bar at a major Las Vegas Strip resort gift shop for $11.28. Should I tip, too? Perhaps, I should round up to $20 or, better yet, buy a lighter so I just light money on fire.

  4. @Stephen M …. Most of us think Mexico is part of Latin America , no ? Like Aztec pyramids and pesos ? They really , really appreciate a tip .

  5. 1.2.3.4 and 5.
    No tipping.
    Keep that disease in the US only where corporate greed can’t pay their employees properly.

  6. @beavis if you are visiting the strip , you’re probably already lighting money on fire

  7. @alert
    Guess what?
    I appreciate your sense of humor.
    Otherwise, check out who (as in countries) are involved in the NAFTA agreement.
    Kindly,
    Steve

    I

  8. First rule of tolipping- don’t export bad American practices all over the world. You have done enough damage

  9. Gary- correction on one of your comments. A coperto in Italy is not a tip. It’s a cover charge for bread. They add it whether you eat the bread or not. The tip is added in tourist areas under “ servizio”. Tipping is not expected in other areas other than a euro or two at lower end restaurants or 5-10 euros in higher end.

  10. @Gary
    You wrote:
    If tipping is meant “to insure prompt service” then why do it after service has already been provided?
    The reason is so the service workers know that if they do a good job they’ll get a tip at the end.

    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?
    Your right, its not for you but for others. Like the ones who did before you for you.

    Why should you be asked to add an ambiguous open-ended amount?
    You shouldn’t 🙂

    Why should credit card slips in countries where tipping isn’t traditional include a tip line?
    They shouldn’t

    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?
    Again, the tip is so they do a good job. It doesn’t matter if they are getting $1000 an hour, you want to ensure good service, tip!

    But in general you are right Gary, if the tip won’t make the service better, just say NO!

  11. Gary… you’ve been to the Park Hyatt in the Maldives… they add 10% service charge for everything. Still tipping there? I hear people still discussing it.

  12. I hate tipping, especially in restaurants. Just include a 15% tip BEFORE TAX to the bill. I have heard that some employers will deduct 3% from the tip amount posted if the patron pays by credit card. So, now I know why 18% is the lowest tip amount is shown on the receipt. Fine. I also will not tip when I see a “service charge” attached to my bill. There’s your TIPS. Most of the time though, I will give the waitstaff a “To Insure Prompt Service” in cash. I have also left a cash tip in a hotel room when I’ve received excellent service from housekeeping. I will NOT tip for fast food in an airport, train station, etc. because the staff did nothing TIPS! Uber, I give the driver a tip in cash so it’s not reported income.

  13. Why can’t hotels set up a tip screen on check in/check out like every other business in the universe? Failing that, can’t they communicate through the app like Uber/Lyft right after check out? One of my suspicions why this isn’t done is because the help wants cash for tax or ICE avoidance.

  14. Research and follow local tipping customs.

    For USA restaurant dining, do your own tipping calculation and ignore the tipping calculations on the receipt which are incorrect 50% of the time.
    I tip based on the subtotal NOT the grand total.
    Sales tax ALWAYS stands alone is not part of the tipping calculation.
    All cheapo restaurant owners should read this and pay their staff competitively.

  15. I honestly believe the best thing is no tipping at all anywhere. It won’t be pleasant in the near term but in the long run employees will have an expectation of better base salary from employers. Right now every service sector employer is telling employees not to look at their base salary because they will reap the benefits of tips and avoiding taxes. In the world of hotels, hyatt, Hilton and Marriott don’t care because they only own 1% of the hotels with their branding so why do they care about how tipping works. Service charges and resort fees should also be banned. There should just be one price and tax. That’s it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *