Worldwide Guide to Restaurant Tipping
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
United States and Canada: Restaurants
In the States, at least 15 percent; 17 to 20 percent is the new norm. (For parties of more than six, a gratuity is often included.) In Canada, aim for 15 to 20 percent.
Across much of North America, where a waiter’s income depends on gratuities, tipping is an obligation, and it’s considered bad manners to leave less than 15 percent in a restaurant unless you are intentionally making a statement that the service has been horrible. In major American cities, tipping standards continue to rise. New Yorkers, for example, often double the 8.875 percent tax, and then round up. In Canada, the standard is slightly lower, though customers rarely give less than 15 percent, as workers are automatically taxed on their earnings from tips. —Sherri Eisenberg
United States and Canada: Bars
For tabs, a 10 to 15 percent gratuity is standard. If you’re ordering from the bar, leave a dollar for a beer and $2 for a cocktail. —Sherri Eisenberg
Central and South America: Restaurants
In countries without an automatic service charge, such as Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay, tip between 10 and 15 percent, depending on the level of hospitality. In Costa Rica, Brazil, and Peru, where 10 percent is added to the bill, drop a few extra coins in thanks for particularly warm service. You may encounter an additional fee in Argentina, Chile, Peru, and Uruguay: customers are often charged the equivalent of $2 to $4 for utensils, even at high-end hotels.
Good service is defined differently here than in the U.S.—it’s both more relaxed and less obtrusive. In many Latin American countries, asking a diner if he’s ready for the check is regarded as rude, so waiters often make themselves scarce once the meal is served. In Argentina, for example, they can become downright invisible. —Sherri Eisenberg
Central and South America: Bars
10 percent at bars that serve food; none for drinks alone. —Sherri Eisenberg
Mexico and the Caribbean: Restaurants
15 percent, except at super-casual spots like taco stands or beachfront fish fries. Be sure to read the bill carefully at high-end resorts as some automatically add gratuities.
U.S. tipping standards have influenced policies south of our border, especially at hotels and resorts that cater to Americans. As in the States, restaurant staffs here rely on tips to make a living. But don’t expect the same style of service: though it’s considered solicitous in the U.S. for a waiter to check in with diners frequently, meals are more leisurely in Mexico (and many Caribbean islands), where you may have to flag down your server if you want another drink or the check. —Sherri Eisenberg
Mexico and the Caribbean: Bars
As in the U.S., 10 to 15 percent on tabs; the equivalent of a dollar for drinks at high-end bars, less at casual places. —Sherri Eisenberg
10 percent at your discretion; 5 percent, again at your discretion, in places where there’s an existing service charge.
In both Eastern and Western Europe, waitstaffs are generally paid full salaries and don’t depend on tips to make up the bulk of their income. In countries such as France and Italy, where an automatic service charge is frequently included in the bill, an additional 5 percent will do. Elsewhere, aim for 10 percent. Service standards and etiquette vary across the Continent. French waiters, for example, tend to bristle at customers who request special orders—just like doggie bags, this is simply not done here. In Italy, however, servers are usually happy to accommodate such requests. In Eastern Europe, a cash tip is always preferred, even if you’re paying the bill with a credit card. (Also, don’t hold your waiter responsible if the “No Smoking” signs go largely ignored.) In Germany, it’s considered disrespectful to leave the money on the table, so be sure to hand it directly to your server. —Sherri Eisenberg
Not expected, but many locals round up to the next euro or leave some coins. —Sherri Eisenberg
Varies by country. In Thailand, Singapore, and China, tips are not expected (though some hotel restaurants now include a 10 percent gratuity in the bill); in Hong Kong, you can leave an optional 5 percent on top of the 10 percent service charge, except at noodle shops and dim sum parlors where none is expected. In India, the included service charge (which varies from state to state) should suffice.
While tipping was once unheard of in Asia, it is slowly making its way into the mainstream. In China, it was officially discouraged for many years, but is now becoming acceptable—tip at your discretion. In Japan, however, tipping remains unusual—your waiter may even chase after you to return your money. Another noteworthy Japanese custom: most restaurants expect patrons to pay at a register, rather than settle up at the table. —Sherri Eisenberg
Across most of the Asia, 10 percent is more than enough; in Japan and China, tipping bartenders is not customary. —Sherri Eisenberg
New Zealand, Australia, and the South Pacific: Restaurants
5 to 10 percent in Australia and New Zealand, but only if you are particularly pleased with the service. In French Polynesia, a 10 percent service charge is included in restaurant bills, and any extra gratuities are at your discretion. In Fiji, tips are neither included nor expected.
Tipping is generally not standard practice in this part of the world. In French Polynesia, as recently as 20 years ago, it was considered an insult to offer money as a way of saying thank you. —Sherri Eisenberg
New Zealand, Australia, and the South Pacific: Bars
There’s no requirement to tip, but if you want to leave a token of appreciation, then 10 percent is generous. —Sherri Eisenberg
Africa and the Middle East: Restaurants
Across the region, from the United Arab Emirates to Morocco, Israel, and South Africa, a tip of 10 percent is a good rule of thumb, unless a service charge is already included.
The rules change as you move about the region, but it’s especially important to be sensitive to the local culture at mealtime. In many countries here, too, the concept of service is different—meals are more leisurely and food is generally served more slowly than in the States. —Sherri Eisenberg
Africa and the Middle East: Bars
10 percent is typical; in South Africa, some change—from 2 to 5 rand—will be appreciated. —Sherri Eisenberg
Special Case No. 1: Sommeliers
There’s no obligation to tip the sommelier directly—waitstaffs generally pool their tips and the wine steward is given a cut at the end of the evening. That said, if you feel the service was exceptional, you may discreetly hand him or her 10 to 20 percent of the wine bill at the end of the meal as a special acknowledgment. —Sherri Eisenberg
Special Case No. 2: Maître d’
If you’re trying to get a good table at a popular U.S. restaurant, tipping the host (usually $20, but up to $100 at very sought-after places) can be helpful. —Sherri Eisenberg
Special Case No. 3: Cruise Ships
Policies vary by cruise line, but many automatically charge a per-person, per-day gratuity to shipboard accounts (typically ranging from $10 to $15), as well as an additional 15 percent that gets factored into bar bills. Specialty restaurants include a tip in the cover charge, but there’s sometimes an extra line on the check in case you want to add more. —Sherri Eisenberg
Special Case No. 4: All-Inclusive Resorts
Many properties specify in their policies that all tips are included—and they mean it. Their staffs receive gratuities as part of their salaries. As a result, tipping at restaurants is highly unusual, though it does happen occasionally at bars. Most resorts allow bartenders to accept something in recognition of good service; at Sandals, however, it is strictly forbidden. —Sherri Eisenberg
Special Case No. 5: In-Room Dining
In the United States, most hotels add a service charge of up to 18 percent on top of room-service bills that is divided equally among servers. Bottom line: there’s no need to tip, but if want to thank your waiters personally you can offer them an extra 5 percent of the total bill. —Sherri Eisenberg