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How to tip without offending

Written by 20 September 2011 5 Comments

Have you ever wandered into a café in a foreign land without knowing what the common etiquette is in tipping? Is it expected? What’s too much? What’s too little? Will it offend if I do? Will it offend if I don’t?

I’d never been that aware of leaving cash in gratitude when I grew up in England. When young, it stretched to the odd 50 pence left on the table in Pizza Hut in the school holidays; at university I was a poverty stricken student who would more likely get the $5 pub pizza than dine out, then traveling was on a strict budget which couldn’t stretch out to lavish tips.

But now, working in a bustling café in coffee buzzing Melbourne, I’ve really noticed tipping etiquette and question if my past tipping behaviour has been appropriate. I’ve seethed in rage as a table leaves a $1 tip after spending over $150 worth of my energy running around for them, and I’ve gasped in happy shock when a mysterious stranger slipped $5 into the tip jar after buying a $3 double espresso.
There are an insane amount of rules that depend on both country and scenario to get the tipping amount right, and sometimes it can get awkward if you’re really unsure of how much, how little, or if it is deemed customary to do it at all?

Check out Etiquette 101: Tipping Guide which goes into an insane amount of detail for each country and situation. Information about currency (a huge amount of countries would take dollars despite whatever their native currency is) and usual percentages are explained. The general western rule (which many know already) is that the usual tips are 10-15% of the bill depending on service and how generous you’re feeling.

There were quite a few surprising ‘Tipping Facts’ that I never knew though, for example, I found it so crazy that twenty years ago you could get fired for accepting a tip in Australia or New Zealand, but now it follows the classic Western 10-15%. Also many Asian countries, such as, China, Japan and South Korea do NOT see tipping as mandatory. Tipping is not a part of Chinese culture or tradition, and several establishments actually have a strict no tipping policy. Even offering the money could even be seen as implying that their work is undervalued by the employer.

The South Pacific group islands would be quite shocked to be given a tip as the first time you visit the South Pacific, you are an honoured guest who would never be expected to pay for services. The second time you visit, you would be family – who would ask a family member to tip? However, many resorts have adjusted to tips being pushed on them from Americans who are used to tipping being such an everyday common courtesy.

The underlining theme though is to be subtle when tipping. No stuffing dollars into the bellhops top pocket in Brazil, their subtle nature with business transactions would be shaking hands with him with a hidden note folded in your palm. Just like how movie stars do it in films.

So many countries, so many ‘rules’. What to do? Here’s a simpler way: An epic map of ‘Tipping Etiquette around the World’, which also includes a useful run-down of tipping in the U.S.A. since they have so many different tipping rates according to services. It really blows the mind.

Click on the map below for a bigger view of the map:

graphic by Mint.com

Happy tipping!

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  • elise said:

    Just pointing out a mistake. As being french I can tell you there is no tipping in France, its already included in the bill.

  • Beatriz said:

    As brazilian with the dollars costing so much, give tipps in USA is really a nightmare to me because llooks like is usual people from there give more than 10% of the bill value. If give tips to everybody and everywhere I would not enjoy nothing what I should to do and to buy there. For such reason I avoid as much as possible go to places where tips are expected.

  • Tina said:

    In the USA and Canada where wages are low ($10/hour if you’re lucky,) tips are a part of dining out. However in Australia where the wages are double that or more tipping should only be reserved for service above the norm.
    I won’t tip for poor or average service

  • charlotte said:

    Elise is right, there is no tipping in France. Only when you are very pleased with a service, feeling rich or generous (or if someone wants to impress a date by showing how generous he/she can be). :)

    The opposite of the description below would be more correct : only visitors tip.

  • Nacc said:

    Big error there in Argentina about dollars. Dollars not only are accepted, are extremely appreciated. The same goes to Venezuela or Cuba, the 2 other countries in the continent where it is forbidden to get foreign currency.

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