This week’s guest post by Mark Hodson of 101 Holidays provides valuable advice for travellers on the complex and often sensitive issue of tipping, explaining the local practices for paying gratuities in different parts of the world and offering sound insights on how and when we should tip.
Handing over a modest tip for good service ought to be one of the pleasures of travelling – but despite the growth of international travel, many of us are still baffled and embarrassed by the whole business of gratuities. Who and when should you tip, and how much?
A survey by M&S Travel Money claimed the average British family on holiday overseas over-tips by £135 a week. That might come as a surprise to some Americans, who consider Brits to be tight-fisted. But there are occasions when you don’t need to put your hand in your pocket – and others when it’s rude not to.
Where in the world?
The first rule of tipping is, do as the locals do. There are countries where tipping is just not done. In Japan, for instance, it’s considered an insult. In Australia and New Zealand it never caught on. There’s no need to tip in Singapore or China, but it’s de rigeur in Hong Kong.
In America, the whole service economy is built around generous tipping. If your lunch looks cheap, that’s probably because you’ve yet to add the “optional” 20%. You can’t opt out of tipping in the States – either grin and bear it, or holiday elsewhere. Being heckled by a barman or a waiter is not a nice way to end a night out.
In the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent, the subtly-different system of baksheesh applies. Depending on the context, baksheesh can be a gracious demonstration of gratitude or respect, or blatant bribery. In India, for instance, you may get better service at a hotel or restaurant if you tip staff on arrival, rather than when you leave.
At smart hotels you’ll find all manner of people ready to carry out menial tasks in exchange for a tip. If you begrudge paying someone to carry your suitcase to your room, get a bag with wheels.
First, the doorman. If he opens a door for you, thank him. If he carries your bag, tip him. Having negotiated check-in (no tip required), you can carry your own bags to your room, or let a porter do it. Try to arrive armed with local currency in small denominations (foreign coins are rarely appreciated, partly because they are hard to exchange).
In the US, expect to tip at least $1 per bag. In the UK and Europe a £1 or €1 coin is usually sufficient, unless there are five stars above the door, in which case you may feel more comfortable forking out a fiver.
Leave a small tip on your pillow for the maid every day – not when you check out, as there may be a different person on duty. There’s no need to tip the concierge for advice, but if he gets you tickets to a sold-out show you’ll want to reward him generously.
In the spa, ask first whether service is included (it usually is), because scrabbling around in your handbag for a tip is a sure-fire way to shake you out of that state of blissful relaxation.
Study restaurant bills to see what’s included. In France, restaurants are legally obliged to include the service in the bill. A similar system works in Greece and in Italy, where the coperto (cover charge) should go to the waiting staff.
In Spain, on the other hand, the tax (known as IVA) is added, but rarely the service. So 10% to the waiter is appreciated.
In America, 10% is stingy. A tip of 15-20% is expected (“double the tax” is an easy way to work it out). If the service is bad, don’t suffer in silence – speak to the manager. At bars in the States, it is customary to tip a couple of dollars per drink, even if you’re buying a round. You can run a tab, but you’ll still be expected to cough up an equivalent amount.
Although some cruise brochures claim, “tipping is not required,” it is still expected by staff, according to Douglas Ward, author of the Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships.
Ward says you should budget for US$10-$12 per person, per day, in gratuities: up to $4 to your dining room waiter, $2 to the assistant waiter, $3.50 to the cabin steward or stewardess and – if you have one – $5 to your butler. Tips are normally given out on the final evening of a cruise. There’s no need to tip bar staff or spa therapists, as their bills include service.
Mark Hodson is a journalist and co-founder of the travel inspiration sites, 101 Holidays and 101 Honeymoons. He spent 12 years as a full-time freelance travel writer for The Sunday Times and has visited more than 70 countries.