At the end of an enjoyable meal, many diners leave a tip for the waiting staff as a sign of appreciation for their work, but tipping is a social custom that differs from culture to culture. To avoid awkward and embarrassing encounters when abroad, it is well worth doing some research before travelling to find out what the accepted tipping practice is.
Many parts of Asia do not have a culture of tipping. In China and South Korea, it is not expected at all. In Japan, waiting staff find it insulting to be handed money by customers. Other Asian countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia add a 10 percent service charge to the bill, and diners are not expected to leave any additional tips. In India and Thailand, if no service charge has been added then leaving a small tip is appreciated, but not compulsory.
Tipping in restaurants in the USA is virtually mandatory, and it is considered unacceptable to leave no tip. Even if diners receive mediocre service, a tip of 10 percent is still expected, while a 20 percent tip is the norm for good service. In Canada, large groups of eight or more will have an automatic gratuity charge added to their bill, but generally service charges are not added and a tip of at least 15 percent is expected.
Service charges of 10 percent are usually added to restaurant bills in Brazil, Argentina and other South American countries. If they are not, a 10 percent tip is customary.
In most European countries, a standard service charge will be added to the bill, but there are variations from country to country. In France, a 15 percent service compris is always added, and no more is expected unless receiving exceptional service. Even then, leaving more than 5-10 percent is considered excessive, and it should be in cash and not added to a credit card payment. In Germany and Austria, a service charge is again added to the bill but rounding up to the next Euro or a small tip of 3-5 percent is acceptable for good service. In both these countries the tip should never be left on the table, as that is considered rude, but handed directly to the waiting staff. Some countries, including Hungary and the Czech Republic, rarely add service charges, and a tip of around 10% should be handed to staff. Tipping is not mandatory in Spain, and most locals will just leave a few coins, though more can be left for very good service. In Scandinavian countries further tipping is not expected as all restaurants have government service charges.
While tips of around 10 percent are expected in South Africa and often added as service charges to the bill, many African countries expect only small tips to be left in restaurants.
Australia and New Zealand, until quite recently, did not have a culture of leaving tips for restaurant staff. In expensive restaurants there it has become more common to leave a tip of around 10 percent, but in general tips are not expected.
If you’ve just collected your round-the-world tickets and are getting ready to take that trip of a lifetime, make sure you familiarise yourself with the tipping conventions in the places you are about to visit. It could save you a lot of embarrassment!
About the author
Frank Robbins is a freelance travel writer.