To tip or not to tip?
It’s probably not the first concern on travelers’ minds when they set out on an international vacation, yet it’s an issue that presents itself early and often.
Taking a cab to the airport? Checking in luggage with the skycap? Dining at a brasserie in Belgium? Booking a guided tour of the Australian Outback? All are scenarios which, depending on local customs, may call for leaving a tip.
Knowing to add a gratuity to the check at a restaurant or kick in a few extra dollars for the cabbie tends to come by a combination of osmosis and experience.
Travel guides from Fodor’s, Lonely Planet or Frommer’s typically offer advice on tipping customs. Although it may be useful, ultimately there’s no unquestioned Ministry of Tipping or tome from on high with the last word on the practice.
And if you venture overseas, common U.S. tipping rules often don’t apply.
“The tipping culture is not as widespread abroad,” says Arabella Bowen, executive editorial director at Fodor’s, a division of Random House Inc.
Studying up on local tipping customs before you hit the road and as soon as you arrive at your destination can help ensure you tip like a pro and don’t overpay.
Here’s how to navigate 10 travel and leisure tipping scenarios:
The best way to find out if you need to leave a tip? Ask customer service at the hotel where you’re staying, friends or local residents who you meet, suggests Robert Reid, U.S. travel editor for Lonely Planet.
“But at the same time, don’t tip unless you have to,” he says.
Posting the question on a travel website or online forum also can yield good information.
In the U.S., it’s not unusual that restaurant patrons in big cities like New York and Los Angeles leave a 20 percent tip above the sales tax. In smaller cities, the expectation remains for tips to be around 15 percent.
In some countries, such as, France and Japan, tipping isn’t expected, but service charges may be automatically added to your bill.
In France, eateries and bars include a 15 percent service fee. In Spain and Italy it’s expected that customers leave about 5 percent extra in smaller eateries and 10 percent in more upmarket venues.
A service charge is also usually included in Moscow. But if the check doesn’t include the charge, add 10 percent.
Whether to pay a ‘suggested tip’
Sometimes restaurants, bars and other leisure establishments will include a suggested tip on the bill. But there’s no need to feel locked in to paying the suggested gratuity.
“If it says ‘suggested tip’ and it’s not included in the total, you are absolutely free not to pay it,” Fodor’s Bowen says.
Hitting the pubs in Europe?
Americans ordering beverages in nightclubs and bars tend to tip at least $1 a drink. Outside the U.S., it’s often not expected. That includes bars in Europe, except in certain circumstances.
In Ireland, for example, tipping is not expected at the bar. But if you get table service, or have a round of drinks, it’s customary to tip a euro for the whole round.
Tip your taxi driver
In the U.S., the standard taxi tip is 10 percent to 15 percent. In Europe, round up to the nearest euro or the nearest pound.
In the U.S., tip tour guides between $3 and $5 for a tour that lasts about an hour. Tip as much as 3 euros in Europe.
In a long-distance, multi-day tour in Europe, tip the driver about 2 euros at the end of the trip.
If you go on safari in Tanzania, you’ll be expected to kick in between $10 to $15 extra for the driver and the guide, and $10 per group to the cook, Reid says.
Staying in a hotel calls for tipping the housekeeping staff who turn your room daily, porters who ferry luggage to your room at check-in, and, in some cases, the concierge. While this mostly applies to the U.S., it’s becoming more accepted in other countries, especially when the hotel operator is U.S.-based.
For housekeeping staff, leave $1 to $2 on a daily basis during your stay, rather than a larger amount at check-out, so that the person who straightens up your room always gets the tip.
In Europe, it’s customary to leave up to 2 euros a day (about $2.50) — more in higher-end hotels.
For every piece of luggage, tip porters $1 in the U.S., or 1 euro in Europe.
Tip concierges between $5 and $10 for every special service they perform. Examples of that would be if they score a reservation for you at an exclusive restaurant, or land you theater or ball game tickets. Same goes for concierge service in Europe.
In Japan, it’s not customary to tip employees of hotels, unless a special service has been rendered. In such cases a gratuity of 2,000 to 3,000 yen (about $25 to $37) should be placed in an envelope and handed to the staff member discretely, Bowen says.
Drivers with fancier cars might wish to pay parking attendants a little extra to keep their rides safe. For everyone else, $1 to $2 works.
Getting a massage as part of your stay in a resort or spa visit? Think of the service like a restaurant visit in the U.S. and tip between 15 percent and 20 percent.
Tipping in Hong Kong and China
Tipping is officially forbidden by the Chinese government and locals simply don’t do it, says Bowen.
Still, the practice is beginning to catch on, especially among tour guides, who often expect 10 yuan (about $1.60) per day.
China tourism service representatives aren’t allowed to accept gifts, but you can give them candy, T-shirts and other small gifts.
Hotels and major restaurants in Hong Kong usually add a 10 percent service charge, but in nearly all cases it does not go to the wait staff, Bowen says.
She suggests adding up to 10 percent more for good service.