How much is a fair tip - and who should get one? It is a question that confronts travellers every time they enter a new country. What are the local rules?
Even at home in Australia you'll find differing opinions. I had a very good lunch with my wife recently and ended up with a bill for $72, which I paid by debit card. I left a $10 cash tip because both the meal and service had been good and I was in a good mood.
On another day I might have left $7 - I generally tip around 10% if I've been happy with my meal, and slightly more if the staff have been outstanding.
In the United States, of course, this would be considered stingy. With almost all servers on the minimum wage they rely on tips to survive. A minimum 15% (and often 20%) is required. Menu prices, however, are often very reasonable and servers are usually very professional.
In some countries, like Thailand, leaving small change after a meal is enough, while in others, like China, Japan and Malaysia, a tip is not required as wait staff are paid more than a living wage.
A recent MasterCard survey of 7,932 respondents aged 18-64 in 14 Asia-Pacific countries found only 4% of Japanese said they were accustomed to leaving a tip at a restaurant - they must be a popular lot in the US. South Koreans, Taiwanese and New Zealanders are also stingy tippers, reflecting the culture of their own countries.
Thai diners came out on top - 84% said they leave a tip - while diners from India (78%) and the Philippines (73%) were well ahead of the 46% of Australians who say they regularly leave a gratuity.
"Cultural nuances can make tipping a rule of thumb in some Asian markets, while in others it can be discouraged or even considered rude," said Georgette Tan of MasterCard.
Wikipedia tells me "tipping is not the norm in Australia". Hmm. I know a lot of workers who would disagree. And what about this? "There is no tradition of tipping somebody who is just providing a service (eg. a hotel porter)."
And we've only covered restaurants and front-line hotel staff. What about cab drivers, porters, concierges, barbers, baristas, takeaway delivery guys, room maids and masseuses?
I just checked a US website that recommends you tip:
- bellmen/porters $1 to $2 per bag, $5 minimum
- concierges $5-$20 depending on the service
- housekeepers $2 to $5 per night
- valet parking dudes $5, and
- room service a minimum of $5.
That's just added a whole heap to the cost of your hotel stay and is well worth bearing in mind when budgeting for a North American holiday.
And what to do when service is not up to scratch but a hand is still out?
What about those con merchant porters at Denpasar Airport, or that bloke at a hotel in Perth who took one suitcase for me and seemed to expect a $10 thank you?
My head hurts just thinking about it.
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This blog first appeared on Winsor's Gourment on the Road blog.