Tipping in the UK: advice from a local

This is not the first post on the thorny topic of tipping on 501 Places. Previous posts have addressed the variations in the practice of tipping across the world, or have looked at the many national quirks in tipping etiquette and how they inevitably leave a visitor confused and often embarrassed.

But in a week where hundreds of thousands of people will flock to the UK, I thought it worth sharing some insights into the practice of tipping in this country. After all, one of the best pieces of advice on the topic, applicable in any location, is to follow the local custom. For this reason I grit my teeth and pay the standard rates when I’m in the US, regardless of my thoughts on the unfairness of a system that allows employers to criminally underpay their staff. So how do us Brits deal with tipping in the UK, and what should others know when eating, drinking or spending weekends away in their own country?

I recently read a guide to the UK written by an American that suggested you leave a couple of pound coins by your empty glass in a pub and considered a tip of £15-20 per day normal at the end of a stay in a country hotel. This is nonsense and completely out of line with standard practice for anyone I’ve ever met.

The suggestions that follow are personal, but having travelled extensively with others around our country I am confident that I am not far out of line with the norm. To put the following suggestions in context, I’m not talking about living the high life; I normally stay in £60-100 B&Bs/hotels, eat in places that charge around £15-20 a head and only use taxis for short distances where no other viable alternative exists.


Add 10% (unless the service is exceptionally bad) and round up/down to the nearest pound.  If possible always try to leave the tip in cash, even if paying for the meal by card. I do this in the belief that there is a higher chance that the waiter will get to keep it and that it will not be shared with their employer and/or the taxman.


In many small cafés and tea rooms it is common to pay at the till rather than at the table, and usually in cash. A jar is often left out for customers to leave a tip. There is no expectation or obligation here, but leaving your small change up to a pound is reasonable.


No tips required. I have never tipped a barman in the UK. I worked in three different bars in my early years and got offered a drink by a few regulars around Christmas time, but that was about it. I’m sure any barman would be delighted if you left a pound or two by their glass, but that doesn’t mean you should. Bars around the tourist hotspots are now becoming more switched on to tipping tendencies of visitors and ‘suggest’ a tip on their bills; a Pavlovian reaction, a cynic might say.


I rarely tip in UK hotels. There is an expectation that the hotel rate is fully inclusive of all service, and the introduction of the UK minimum wage in 1997 at least ensures that staff receive a viable if modest wage.

The more posh the hotel, the more likely they are to suggest a service charge. You should not feel obliged to add anything to your bill, and rest assured that this practice is aimed at visiting north American tourists rather than Europeans.


Fares are usually rounded up to the nearest pound with a little more added (up to 10%) if you’re happy with the service. I still remember coming home after a year in New York and tipping a Manchester taxi driver a pound on a £14 fare. His appreciation and gratitude was in stark contrast to the moody begrudging thanks I was used to for leaving 15% to the NYC taxi drivers.

I have missed out many other aspects of the service industry and would welcome additional opinions and insights. In short though, tipping in Britain is far more in line with the rest of Europe than with North America. For most of us locals, we’re hoping it stays that way.

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7 Responses to “Tipping in the UK: advice from a local”

  1. Two useful phrases for travellers to UK:

    ‘Keep the change!’

    ‘Something for yourself?’

    And, only use when the service is really ‘above and beyond’.

    June 6, 2011 at 9:34 am
  2. Interesting. It has struck me recently that living outside of UK for 24 years, many things that I thought were part & parcel of life there have changed without me realizing. No matter how long one lives elsewhere one can’t change the basic fact of one’s nationality, and assume one knows all about one’s country.

    Obviously tipping has changed over the years. One of the pleasant things about life here in the Canary Islands 24 years ago was that tipping was unusual. I once had a guy chase me out of a restaurant and down the street to return money I’d left by my plate in a pizzeria!

    I always used to use a similar phrase to the one Keith suggests “Take a drink for yourself” in a pub or bar where we were going to pass an evening (as opposed to a quick drink before going elsewhere). It usually meant good service for the rest of the night. I also used to leave left-over cash in the room for the maid in a hotel.

    June 6, 2011 at 11:09 am
  3. Tipping in a pub? Never, no chance, jog on.

    if a couple of quid were left by an empty glass in my local, someone other than the barman would have it off.

    I tip taxi drivers but only because they get paid pittence and are often classed as self-employed etc.

    June 6, 2011 at 6:54 pm
  4. I’ve yet to visit the UK but didn’t realize it was so much like the US as opposed to the rest of Europe. I know for many countries in Europe, tipping isn’t necessary but you can round up if you want. Didn’t realize you did 10% in restaurants as well.

    June 6, 2011 at 7:13 pm
  5. ‘Keep the change’ is indeed a very often used term. Jeremy, I think we’re still some way short of the US in terms of expectation of tips (and sub-minimum wage service sector salaries). But yes, closer to US than rest of Europe in so many ways…10% is restaurants is pretty much standard these days. Where that 10% actually goes is a bit more variable though.

    June 7, 2011 at 9:14 am
  6. Nikki #

    I have worked as a waitress and barmaid (in England) and for this reason I don’t tip. It’s not a particularly hard job; yes it’s minimum wage but so are many other jobs. I worked in a nursery on minimum wage and did I get tipped, even though the job was ten times harder? No I did not!
    I never tip in the UK but it’s really not an unusual thing. Most of my friends/family don’t tip either.

    June 15, 2011 at 11:54 pm
    • Thanks for your input Nikki. You’re not alone. I do think that the further from London you go, and the less tourists visit a place, the less expectation there is on tipping.
      Your point on other jobs not getting tips is spot on. Yes, waiting tables or bar work can be tough. But to claim it’s worthy of some of the wages I’ve read being suggested is ridiculous.

      June 16, 2011 at 7:42 am