Nobody tips better than Americans. In fact, so many of us tip so much—no matter where we are and what the local custom dictates—that our “overtipping” has actually changed the way that many countries view gratuities.
Tipping across much of North America is an automatic gesture, so much so that we don’t think twice about doing the same abroad. But leaving the waiter a generous wad of bills in one country may be unheard of (and even insulting) in another. How do dining patrons fairly compensate service in a culturally appropriate manner?
The answer, of course, varies region by region, even country by country. For example, tipping standards have been on the rise in the U.S., especially in major cities like New York, where diners commonly double the 8.875 percent tax then round up. The new norm of 17–20 percent takes into account the quality of service (courtesy and attentiveness will merit more) and the fact that gratuities make up a hefty portion of a restaurant staff’s income.
But head to Europe (where tips typically supplement full salaries), and you’ll find that tipping is on a discretionary basis, with some countries like France already factoring a service compris into the check (though it’s customary to leave a few more euros—around 5 percent). In Japan, the case is even more extreme. Gratuities are a rarity, even flat out refused: waiters will run after you to return your money if you try to leave a token of appreciation on the table.
So much have regional differences shaped etiquette that outlets serving a high number of international guests have had to adjust policies to accommodate a diverse clientele. Case in point: cruise ships. “Tipping used to be voluntary, with the cruise lines providing guidelines for how much to tip your waiter, busboy, and room steward,” says Monty Mathisen of the trade publication Cruise Industry News. “Now many lines have introduced an automatic service charge, a per-day, per-person fee charged to shipboard accounts designed not only for convenience, but also to ensure gratuities from passengers from non-tipping cultures.”
And just as tipping practices differ, so do service standards. Expect less intrusive waiters in Argentina and Mexico; a more leisurely paced meal in Jamaica; and no special orders (doggie bags, butter with your bread) in France.
Looking for more tipping points? Read on for our around-the-world guide. —Lisa Cheng