One of the aspects of travelling I repeatedly get wayyy too excited about is food. I like to justify this by claiming that the best way to get to know a foreign country or culture is by exploring the culinary delights it has to offer. However, apart from the loss of money and gain in weight that usually threaten to follow my holiday food fests, I have encountered another dilemma connected to eating abroad: how much do I tip?

Lonely Planet or any other decent travel guide will usually be able to answer that question in an instant. If you haven’t got one at hand, an inconspicuous glance to another table closeby is always an option! Of course, you could also just continue reading this post and thus gather all of the neccesary know-how to wine and dine responsibly – wherever you are.

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photo by Tyson Habein

Europe

Throughout most parts of Europe, it is common to tip between 5 – 20% of the total amount you’re paying for your meal. However, beware of a little thing called service charge. Sometimes this is automatically added to your bill, making an additional tip unnecessary. Pay special attention when travelling in Greece… my friends and I interpreted the white bread and bottled water that we were continuously re-supplied with as a “courtesy of the house”. In the end, we had to pay an additional 20 Euros for toast and still water that we could’ve done without.

North America

In Canada and the United States, tipping isn’t just “welcomed” – it’s actually considered mandatory. A lot of my friends working restaurant or bar shifts in the States tell me that tips actually make up the majority of their salary – so if the service was good, don’t be stingy! (Calculate around 20%)

Latin America

I don’t have any personal experiences of tipping in South America, but a quick Google search revealed that a tip of 10 – 15% is the custom. In Mexico, a service charge may be included in the bill ( listed as propina).

Asia

Tipping in Asia is probably a more sensitive issue than it is elsewhere. Beware of tipping in Japan – it’s considered very rude. For the majority of Asian countries, tipping is not expected and may sometimes even stir confusion (especially considering possible language barriers). My friend once enjoyed an incredibly good meal while travelling the Chinese countryside. She wanted to express her gratitude by tipping generously – and ended up in a 20-minute conversation with the restaurant’s manager, who evidently thought she couldn’t read the bill right. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule – especially in India, Vietnam and Singapore, you will usually be asked to pay a service charge of around 5 – 10%.  When in Thailand, you should leave a tip of 10% (this accounts for the mainland – any info on what it’s like on the islands?).

Africa

About.com tells me a tip of 15 – 20% is the custom. If you’ve experienced otherwise, please feel free to drop a hint in the commentary box.

Australia and New Zealand

My contacts in Melbourne have revealed that tipping is not uncommon, although nobody will force you to do so. In general, rounding up the bill or leaving a few coins seems to be a good idea.

What to do if you’ve experienced poor service?

I happen to think that “punishing” the waiter or waitress for poor service isn’t such a good idea. If you encounter something that really upsets you and makes the entire dining situation unpleasant, just let the personnel know in a kind manner. Different countries, different customs – don’t expect everything to be the way it is at home. And definitely don’t skip the tip if you didn’t like your food: your waiter probably wasn’t the one who cooked it…

Whenever you’re unsure: asking politely is always better than not tipping at all – or tipping too much and regretting it later (gals with a tight travel budget – you know what I mean).

With that in mind: happy tipping!

american diner-photo

photo by Adam Bronkhorst

Helpful links:

http://culinarytravel.about.com/od/planningculinarytravel/qt/How_to_Calculate_a_Tip.htm

http://money.cnn.com/pf/features/lists/tipping/

(Author’s note: The information above is largely based on my friends’ and my personal experiences and may not be representative for an entire country or region. Ff you’ve made some tipping experiences that may be interesting to share, please leave a comment in the commentary box below.)