Tipping around the World: International Attitudes and Etiquette
In October 2018, the UK government put forward plans to legally ban restaurants from keeping tips from staff. This followed the revelation that many leading high street brands routinely claimed up to 10% of tips paid by card, rather than paying them to staff in full.
27% of surveyed Brits would not leave a tip at a restaurant if they believe the tip won’t go to the individual that served them. But is it ever possible to truly know where your tip goes and what the etiquette is when it comes to tipping around the world?
With tipping rules varying by country and as many as one in three travellers not knowing how much to tip abroad, it’s no surprise that there’s so much confusion. Our handy guide reveals tipping expectations around the world and offers guidelines on how to navigate different situations and cultures.
Tipping as an insult
In some Asian countries leaving a tip is considered offensive or insulting. China primarily has a no-tipping culture, following decades of gratuities being prohibited and even being considered bribing. Nowadays, it’s even illegal to tip taxi drivers in some areas of China. In Japan, tipping is considered socially acceptable on special occasions like weddings or birthdays but can make staff feel belittled or insulted in everyday scenarios.
It’s even advised to refrain from using the word tip or ‘chippu’ in Japan to avoid offending local vendors and service staff. If you do feel the need to tip in an Asian restaurant, it’s best to put the money in an envelope so the waiter or bartender can accept it at their discretion.
The philosophy in many of these places is that good service should be expected in the first place, so to leave a tip is to imply you wouldn’t get the same quality of service beforehand.
Another instance where travellers need to think before they tip is in Singapore. There’s usually a 10% service charge attached to the bill and tipping wouldn’t make a difference to service staff anyway, as the restaurant owner keeps the tips. Unlike the UK, the money does not always go to the person who serviced the customer directly.
Tipping as included
Our survey revealed that 43% of Brits don’t like it when a service charge is automatically added to the bill, but increasingly more destinations are joining Singapore in adding a service charge to avoid tipping confusion. In France and the Netherlands restaurants are legally required to include a service charge in their prices, so you’re not obligated to leave a tip as you’re already paying extra. Other EU countries which generally add a service charge to the bill include the Czech Republic, Spain and Sweden.
In Austria, Italy and Russia, tipping isn’t customary but it is appreciated. Travellers generally round up the bill to cover the low wage of those who work in the service industry. Some tourist areas in Italy may add a cover charge or ‘coperto’ to the bill, but this gratuity is rarely shared with the staff. If you want to ensure that your tip goes to the person who served you, it’s best to leave it in cash.
Tipping as appreciated
In some places, tipping isn’t compulsory but it is appreciated. The average wage in Australia for a waiter is around $15 per hour, while servers in the US can be on as little as $2.13 per hour. This means that service staff rely on tips to make a living. 25% of surveyed Brits tip whenever they go out for a meal abroad, but only 10.8% do so because they believe it’s the right thing to do.
Although it’s easy to fall into the mentality that we tip service staff out of sympathy due to the pressure-packed hospitality industry they work in, the tipping economy is estimated to be worth around £25 billion a year and therefore is not to be dismissed as a powerful financial force. Tipping customs can change as tourism develops and national living wages evolve. If you’re ever unsure whether or not to tip on holiday, ask your server or simply round up the bill.
Our investigation into international tipping etiquette follows our survey of British attitudes towards tipping in the UK and abroad. Here are the results: