Tipping etiquette around the world

A girl from America, a girl from France, a boy from England and a boy from Australia are sitting around a restaurant table in Poland. How much will they tip?

The boy from England: “Ok, we’ve got enough pooled to cover the bill. How much should we tip? I think it’s customarily 10% in Poland, right?”

The girl from France: “No way, I’m not leaving 10%, the service was terrible.”

The girl from America: “Whoa, I was planning to leave 20%!”

tip jar
Photo by Cathleen Shattuck

Our monthly collaborative post is back, and this time we’re talking about tipping etiquette. Here’s what PocketCultures contributors around the world said about when to tip in their countries.


Tipping in Argentina

By Ana, regional contributor from Argentina.

There’s no fixed percentage for tips in Argentina. Some people advocate 10% of the bill but not everyone agrees. With some exceptions, Argentineans are generally not generous tippers. My take on that is that everyone looks after their hard-earned money, especially in times of economic turmoil (which seems to be the norm.) Some people consider the tip as a reward or punishment for good or bad service. It’s customary to leave the change if you spend a small amount, say on a cup of coffee. I personally tip waiters, delivery boys, porters and hairdressers. It is not usual to tip taxi drivers (although they won’t say no!)

Inside Cafe Tortini Buenos Aires
Photo by Sebastian Dario

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Tipping in Brazil

By Carla, regional contributor in Brasilia, Brazil.

Tipping is part of our Brazilian culture. We tip everybody, from waiters to the guys who help us with our groceries – carrying them to the car and putting them in our trunk. In fact, this is a common scene in Brazilian supermarkets, youngsters who help us with the groceries in exchange for some money. Generally, we give them around R$1 or R$2 Brazilian Reais.

At the restaurants, the usual deal is to tip the waiter with 10% of the total bill. Though it is said to be optional, we always tip them. Sometimes it is already included in the check. When it isn’t, you just add to the final value and pay it cash or in your credit card.

In hotels, we also tip the ones who serve us, like bell boys and housekeeping ladies. There’s not really an exact amount in this case. For the bell boys, I’d say R$ 5 would be just right. However, for the room service, the tip will depend on how long you’re staying at the hotel. As for taxi drivers, you might just tell them to keep the change if it is not much, or give them around 10 to 15% of the ride. Remember that in Brazil, when in doubt, the rule is to tip.

a lot of bananas
Photo by Marcusrg

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Tipping in Canada

By Kelly, PocketCultures regional contributor in Vancouver.

Tipping is common practice throughout the service industry in Canada. We tip servers, taxi drivers, hotel staff, hairdressers and spa staff. Tipping is not seen as necessary with someone working behind a counter: baristas, cafeteria workers, fast food service; but there is often a ‘tips’ jar for your loose change. Bartenders are an exception as they generally have discretion over whom they choose to serve first. Tip well, and it will probably be you.

Tipping is usually around 10-20%, depending on the quality of service. While our waitresses do not make as little as our American counterparts (we have a legal minimum wage) it is generally a lower paid job and many do depend on those tips to meet all financial needs. When I worked in a small restaurant, I would nearly double my hourly wage.

Tipping is meant to encourage the exceptionally high level of service we expect. In Canada, I will never need to beckon a waitress, wait for a drink refill, or have our meals come out at different times. We expect a server who will be prompt, efficient, apologetic, able to predict our needs, and willing to join in a bit of the conversation. Of course, it all just could be the Canadian need to please. They need to please us with their service and we need to please them with our tip.

Forget to tip? I did not know that was possible! In exceptional situations, we will not tip, but this is to make a bold statement on the service. It is too much a part of the culture to simply forget.

Canadian bartender
Photo by Stephen Dyrgas

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Tipping in the USA

By Jason, PocketCultures regional contributor in California.

Tipping in the United States can be complicated. The general rule is to tip 15% percent if your service was good but there are dozens of exceptions. The most common place to tip is in restaurants, where waiters and servers make a very small base wage (as low as $2.13 per hour in some US states) and they depend on tips for a living wage. Because of this dynamic, restaurant customers expect good service, tend to pay more (20-25%) for exceptional service and are usually disappointed in the service they receive when they travel.

Some exceptions to the 15% rule are for parties of 6 or more, where a “gratuity” is automatically added to the bill, so it is imperative to review your bill carefully. If you have a coupon or the restaurant is advertising a special, it is expected that you tip on the full value of the food served, not what you paid as a result of the discount. In large cities, 20% is more the norm for basic, satisfactory service. If you are at a business dinner and receive good service, then 25% is often expected since the server knows a company is footing the bill and not you. Many eat-in, self-serve food establishments (e.g., coffee shops, sandwich counters at a delicatessens) have a tip jar and it is customary, though not obligatory, to drop your change into it upon paying at the counter.

For bartenders and porters, it’s a dollar a drink or a dollar a bag. Taxi drivers and hairdressers expect 10-15% of the value of services offered. For a valet who parks your car, expect to pay between $2.00-5.00, depending on the value of your car: if you are driving a beat-up, 10-year old sedan you can pay $2.00, but if you’re in a Jaguar or a Lexus, pay $5.00 or there will be a few seconds of discomfort as the valet stares at the tip tying to understand why you are such a cheap person.

It is not a good idea to forget to tip. Waiters have been known to follow patrons out of restaurants asking for a detailed explanation of why their service did not merit a tip.

tip the driver in the USA
Photo by Chris Goldberg

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Tipping in Poland

By Jenna, regional contributor in Wroclaw, Poland.

Tipping is a custom shaped by societal norms, and in Poland, where the equation doesn’t always seem clear cut, the plan of action can be confusing. Most resources I’ve found online indicate that tipping around 10% in Polish restaurants is acceptable, an idea reinforced by the 10% tips I notice my Polish friends leaving behind.

But then, there’s the hazy question of service. As an American indoctrinated in American ways of tipping – where it’s not so much a custom as a necessity – I become extremely uncomfortable listening to debates about lowering tips because of service. However, like much of Europe, a service charge is generally included in the bill, which means that tips inevitably become tied to service.

But this adds another complicated layer to the mix because, just like tipping, the concept of good service is also shaped by societal norms. Polish service and American service are governed by slightly different frameworks. Grinning wait-staff and overbearing customer service are not the norm here. Rather, good service in Poland seems to be defined (refreshingly, in my opinion) as politely meeting needs – the soup has always been warm, the meat has always been cooked, and more than once, my fumbling attempts to order in Polish have become a quick English/Polish language exchange. So, a 10% tip has become my norm.

Polish soup in the street
Photo by Anna Spysz

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Tipping in Romania

By Carmen, regional contributor in Bucharest, Romania.

Tipping is very common in my country. Most of us think that by giving a tip we can be sure that the quality of the service we need would be better and all problems would be more rapidly solved. And sometimes it‘s also a direct consequence of corruption.

We normally tip in the following places: restaurant, taxi, hairdresser, Post Office, bakery, local administration offices, customs, and so on and so forth.

An unexpected place is also the hospital – if you are in hospital to check your health or to have an operation you give money or equivalent to the surgeon usually before the operation, after a research about the amount needed for a certain type of operation; to the nurses after the operation to take care of you, for example to change your sheet, etc

The amount depends on the case. If you forget to tip, it is possible that the service quality will be altered or that you don‘t buy the service at all.

tip the hospital in Romania
Photo by Gabriel

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Tipping in Spain

By Marta, regional contributor in Barcelona, Spain.

In Spain, tipping is not a requirement, but is of course appreciated. It is common in hair salons or restaurants, for example. When we go out for dinner, we usually leave a tip, about 10%, for the waiter. A waiter should always work protected by a contract, so, his income does not depend on tips. Tips are many times put in a big pot and shared by all the waiters at the end of the night. In other situations, for instance, taking a taxi, it is common to ask them if they want to keep the change.

An unexpected place where you should tip? When in Barcelona, the only income of the statues in Las Ramblas are tips, so, they’ll appreciate a tip. Many tourist think these shows are paid by the government, but they aren’t. So, if you take a picture with the statues, it’d be nice to leave a tip.

statue on las Ramblas Barcelona
Photo by Oh Barcelona

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Tipping in Portugal

By Sandra, regional contributor from Portugal.

If we can (Portugal is living a huge crisis and many people cannot tip), a tip will be appreciated, especially in restaurants. Generally, we said “keep the change”, when the service was especially nice or the food was great!

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Tipping in Turkey

By Sinan, regional contributor in Istanbul, Turkey.

Turkish people are not great tippers. In fact, universal rule for tipping applies for Turkey; if you’re seated and served, tip is expected. Most restaurants, cafes and pubs don’t include service on the check and waiters usually expect to be tipped. Most of the time it’s 10% and it may be higher (or lower) depending on how well you were served. It can happen that people tip more in the evening than at lunchtime, even in the same restaurant.

You don’t have to tip in some tea house’s, büfe’s (snack bars) and pubs, where you have to pay when you served. In those places there are tip boxes on the side of the counter.

Generally, you don’t tip taxi drivers. Nonetheless, if a taxi driver looks struggling to find change to pay you back, he’s probably expecting you to say “Keep the change”. If the change is small, you give up and end up leaving the change as a tip.

Turkish tea
Photo by cjette

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Tipping in Australia

By Rebecca, regional contributor in Melbourne, Australia.

Tipping is not common in Australia or traditionally considered to be a part of our culture.

It’s a topic that often divides people, with some arguing that it’s an unnecessary practice introduced by Americans and tourists from ‘tipping’ societies, and that workers in Australian hospitality and service industries are paid sufficient wages.

But after working as a waitress, I would argue that there are a number of dodgy employers out there who underpay staff with the promise that their wages will be made up in tips. So, if you’re dining in a mid to high end restaurant, as part of a large group, or have spent all evening plonked at your table then I’d suggest a 10% tip.

Tipping is not expected in cafes, bars, taxis or with home-delivery services, however, Australians often tell someone to “keep the change” or round up to the nearest dollar or two.

Some people leave their small change on the bar or pop it in a ‘tip jar’. And more and more cafes are pooling their tips to sponsor childen overseas or support local charities. Tipping in hotels for luggage porters, the concierge, housekeeping and other service industries such as hairdressers or beauty salons is uncommon and up to the individual.

Tipping tradesmen for a big job is often done in the form of a few beers or a bottle of booze (alcohol). And a hairdresser or beauty therapist who works for a special event is often given a bunch of flowers as a thank you.

Locals are either for or against the practise and generally set in their tipping ways. Aussies are laid back and are more likely to respond to good service by spreading the word and bad service by never returning again!

Just to complicate things further, in Australia, the term “tip” also refers to a rubbish dump or advice on gambling, such as “what’s your tip for backing a horse in the 3rd race?”…

humourous Aussie tip jar
Photo by Colin Charles
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Tipping in Japan


By Mike, regional contributor in Okinawa, Japan.

Japan as a rule has no tipping. As with all rules, there are exceptions:

Any business owned and operated by foreigners, for foreigners would be one exception. Many western businesses underpay their staff and tips are the main source of income. Bars, golf courses, restuarants, etc,. They may have foreign or Japanese staff providing the services. In such cases, there may be a sign or tip jar present indicating tipping is appropriate.

A Japanese business would not allow tipping. An example of how serious it is: I read on a Japan blog post about a foreigner who insisted upon tipping a hotel employee. The employee tried to return the tip. When the customer refused to take the cash back, the employee ran down to the front desk and had the amount of the tip deducted from the hotel’s bill !

One other exception: A high class type lodging called a Ryokan (fancy bed and breakfast) is an establishment where an envelope for tipping is provided. The customary tip is 3000 yen per room used.

At any Japanese business that excepts tips, the money is never passed from hand to hand. It is always gift wrapped or placed in an envelope. Handing a tip to someone unwrapped would be considered rude.

service with a smile in Japan
Service with a smile: no tipping allowed! Photo by Mike

Introduction by Jenna Makowski.

Read more:
Gift etiquette around the world
Superstitions around the world
Greetings around the world

About the author

Lucy (Liz) Chatburn
Lucy is English and first ventured out of the UK she was 19. Since then she has lived in 4 different countries and tried to see as much of the world as possible. She loves learning languages, learning about different cultures and hearing different points of view.
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5 Comments

  • Nice post everyone…this is an excellent overview of tipping. The differences are interesting and at times seem arbitrary. Vive la difference!
    Jason

  • Very useful posts. The one about Japan is really surprising :)

  • looks like 10% plus is pretty standard across these countries-great round up!

  • Probably the single most useful post I’ve read in a week. Just trying to get out and personally congratulate those from last week’s freewheelings’ five. I’ve enjoyed your blog for some time now and I always look forward to your coming contributions. Keep up the good work!

    Brandon
    @dustcantkillme

  • Thanks a lot Brandon! We were thrilled to be included.