Tip a Japanese waiter, and they’ll be insulted. Don’t tip an American one, and you’ll get the same result. There is nothing more awkward than arriving in a foreign country being unfamiliar with its customs, particularly when it comes to tipping etiquette. Don’t let this be you!
In the United States, the practice of tipping is so pervasive that some people can even end up in jail for refusing to tip (or paying the “mandatory” 18% service charge for groups over 6 people). In 2009, John Wagner and Leslie Pope were hauled off to jail and charged with theft after they refused to pay a $16.35 mandatory service fee charged by the Lehigh Pub in Bethlehem, PA. The pair, who ate at the now infamous pub with six of their friends, claimed they waited more than an hour for their order. Pope said she had to go to the bar to get her drink refilled and pick up her own silverware.
The United States is the most tip-friendly nation on earth, but in some industries, tipping would be considered not just unnecessary but even a form of bribery. If you were to go into a bank in the U.S. and give the teller a tip proportional to the amount you withdrew, it would be highly inappropriate. You’d get strange looks at best, and perhaps be suspected of some kind of bribery at worst. It is not culturally acceptable to tip in that business – it just happens to be required in other U.S. businesses like restaurants.
Tipping in Australia is considered “odd” or even rude. Australia has one of the highest minimum wages in the world. Casual staff are paid well, a minimum of about $17/hr and considerably more depending on the day. Wait staff in Europe are similarly well paid. It isn’t a job for those that can’t get work elsewhere – it is a bona fide career.
It should be noted that even in countries without a tipping history, an increasing number of people in the service industry, especially in touristy areas, have come to expect tips and this is especially true from American travelers. Almost every service provider in the travel and tourism business has become accustomed to receiving tips.
However, some workers have been left out of this tip loop. Flight attendants are a good example of an employee group that does not benefit from tips and gratuities. Recently, low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines broke with that tradition. From now on, flight attendants on Frontier flights will be allowed to receive tips directly from passengers.
Is tipping just?
One of the principle arguments around tipping is that many establishments where tipping is the norm get away with paying their employees less than minimum wage, because the tips make up the difference. As a single traveler, your principled refusal to leave a tip to send a message to the patron to pay the waiters fair wages will do nothing but hurt your server. Our recommendation is to leave it to local authorities to enforce fair wages for service employees.
In some countries, business owners are known to take a cut from the collective tip jar and to thus tip themselves. This is especially true when tips are paid via credit cards and it is up to the owner to pay the service provider his/her tips at the end of the shift. Recently, delivery apps like DoorDash came under scrutiny for keeping their employee’s tips for themselves. Our recommendation is to always leave a tip in cash if you want the entire tip to go to the person who served you.
Rounding up to tip
Paul Cutcliffe, a taxi driver in London shared this funny story: someone’s fare once came to £14.80, and as he handed him a £20 note, the passenger said “keep the twenty”. Surprised by his generosity, Paul thanked him enthusiastically. Then ensued an awkward silence, only broken by the passenger asking “So can I have my change?” – it turned out the passenger meant for Paul to keep 20p and give him £5 change, not to keep all the change from the £20 note.
Sometimes, rounding up the tip can be a source of shaming. Anthony Dierolf ate at a New Jersey restaurant last August and left 74 cent tip on $119.26 bill. The next day, New Jersey state Senator Declan O’Scanlon ate at the restaurant, and somehow, he was made aware of Dierolf and his now-infamous 74 cents tip. The senator snapped a photo of that receipt—which the server had drawn an angry face on—and posted it on Twitter. The tweet went viral.
Resources on how and when to tip
Here are a few resources to help you figure out where and how to tip on your next trip.
- CityPals – Naturally, we are biased about our own website, but we really feel that the best way to find out about the customs and etiquette of every culture is by asking a local. Contact a CityPal at your next destination and ask away.
- WhoToTiP is a great website that provides tipping information for most countries and regions around the world. The nice thing about this website is that it segments the tipping decorum between industries and professions. On WhoToTip, you can find out if and how much you should tip a taxi driver vs. waiter vs. hairdresser in each country.
- Wikipedia – Look at the Wikipedia page on “Gratuity” to find more information about tipping etiquette in many different countries around the world.
Where does the word “Tip” come from?
Many people believe that the word “Tip” comes from the acronym “To Insure Promptness.” We’ve done the research and are sorry to disappoint but that is not the origin of the word. The word “tip” probably came into the English language in the 17th century from slang used by thieves and hustlers who had to give or to share part of their profits. They had to cut out the “tip” (“end, point, top”) of their profits and give it away.
In many Mediterranean, European and Central Asian languages the word for “tip” is a derivative of the Persian word “Baksheesh” or “Bagksheesh.” But beware! In some languages giving “baksheesh” can be construed as giving a bribe.
In France, the word for tip is “le pourboire” which loosely translates to have a drink on me. In Russian, the word for tip is “chayevyye” which literally means “for tea”.
In researching this article, we found some very interesting tips people decided to leave. We had to share some of those with you:
- Lottery ticket as a tip: A bartender in Missouri got a massive tip when a customer left her a winning lottery ticket worth $50,000. But the most famous tip as a lottery ticket was given in 1984 by police detective Robert Cunninghan to the waitress who helped him choose the numbers for his $1 entry in the New York State Lotto Competition. The numbers they chose led to a $6 million win that they split down the middle.
- A car as a tip: A waitress in Arkansas received a new 2019 Buick from two regular customers.
- Tipping as revenge: A 24 year old woman left a $5,000 tip using her boyfriend’s credit card to teach him a lesson.
Tell us a about your tips for tipping around the world in the comments section below: