Restaurant Tipping Is SO Different Internationally — Here's What To Know

Have you ever found yourself in a mild panic when it’s time to pay your dinner bill on a vacation because you forgot to look up tipping etiquette in that country? You’re definitely not alone. Tipping expectations vary greatly throughout the world, and it can be hard to keep it all straight. Even if you know tipping isn’t standard in a particular region, it can still feel really weird not to leave a tip. Beyond that, in some places, tipping can even be seen as offensive.

“Tipping culture in the U.S. is unique, and most other countries do not have the same tipping norms,” said Amanda Belarmino, associate professor at the William F. Harrah College of Hospitality at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “In general, we tip more in the U.S. than other countries.”

To help eliminate the confusion and make things a bit easier for you as the busy summer travel season approaches, we reached out to experts to gather some intel and best practices for tipping on food and drinks when traveling abroad.

Here’s what you need to know:

Always do your research.

Nearly every travel and hospitality expert we spoke with mentioned the importance of researching tipping customs before you set off on an international trip.

Up-to-date guidebooks, social media posts and travel agents are all great sources of information. Try options like:

Once you’re on the ground, you can also check in with locals, whether it’s a hotel concierge, a tour guide or someone friendly you meet on the street.

“My main personal rule for tipping is to never assume one destination’s tipping culture is the same as another,” said Ollie Jones, head of adventure operations at the travel company Flash Pack. “It’s very easy to unintentionally offend locals if you don’t have an idea of what their tipping culture is. When I don’t know, I ask them.”

No matter how much traveling he’s done, Jones always looks up information about local tipping expectations before heading to a new country, and he suggests others do the same.

Tipping culture is a bit different everywhere you go.

In the U.S., a standard tip for a restaurant meal falls somewhere around 15 to 20%. But that’s not the case everywhere. In New Zealand, where the national minimum wage is much higher than in the U.S., tips aren’t customary or expected. In many countries in Europe, a 5-10% tip is acceptable. And in Japan, leaving a tip can be seen as distasteful or awkward.

Tips aren’t always welcome.

Sometimes, tipping isn’t appreciated, and it’s important to know about that in advance so you don’t mistakenly offend someone.

“In some countries tipping can be seen as offensive or can actually be harmful to the economy and livelihood of the local people,” said Terika Haynes, CEO and founder of Dynamite Travel. “Travelers should be knowledgeable and aware of the destination tipping practices to ensure that they are bringing value to the destinations that they visit.”

Don't forget to bring cash to tip your bartender — if you're in a place where that's done.

Nastasic via Getty Images

Don’t forget to bring cash to tip your bartender — if you’re in a place where that’s done.

Places where tips might be seen as distasteful include Japan, where workers are paid a fair wage and cultural norms prioritize good service without the expectation of additional compensation, and China, where tips can be interpreted as rude or embarrassing because they can be seen as a handout, Haynes said.

Always tip using local currency.

It’s important to tip with the currency that’s used in the region you’re visiting. Even if you’re feeling desperate to empty your wallet of U.S. dollars, they’re probably not going to be all that useful to someone who lives in a country that doesn’t use them.

“Be sure to tip in the local currency, as in most foreign countries, waiters won’t appreciate having to exchange the U.S. dollars,” said Alonso Marly, a travel agent at Skylux Travel.

You’ll also want to follow local norms around whether cash or card tips are preferred. Often, cash is easier.

“Most [point of sale] systems in Europe don’t have an option to add a tip after you pay, like in the U.S., so there’s no way to be discreet without leaving cash,” said Amber Haggerty, founder of the travel blog Amber Everywhere.

Look over your bill to see if a service charge has already been included.

Some restaurants and bars might include a gratuity or service charge within your bill. Before leaving a tip, review the bill closely to see if any gratuity has been charged. If you’re unsure, ask someone who works there.

“In some countries the gratuity is included in the total cost,” Haynes said. “Travelers should be diligent at checking their receipt to verify if the tip has already been included to avoid overpaying.” She mentions that you might come across this in places such as Denmark, Spain and Belgium.

Sometimes, service fees are split among a group of employees. “Travelers should confirm who the service fee is going to in case they would like to tip their direct server an additional amount,” Haynes said.

Here’s some additional general guidance to keep in mind while tipping during your travels:

Tipping in Mexico and Canada

In countries closer to the U.S., tipping at restaurants is more common. “In Mexico, tipping 10 to 20% at a restaurant is the norm,” Belarmino said. “If you are at a resort near the beach, then tip more on the higher end.” In Canada, tipping 15-20% is typical.

Tipping in Europe

Throughout much of Europe, tips generally aren’t expected for dining and are usually only given for something exceptional, Belarmino said. That said, some places may add a service charge to your bill.

“In the United Kingdom, especially London, where the culture is most similar to the U.S. out of any European city, a 10% service charge is usually expected in restaurants, not bars,” said Carlos Salomon, general manager at NH Hotels. “In the rest of the continent, 2 to 5% is a generous thank you to exceptional food and beverage industry workers, but it is not expected.”

He doesn’t recommend tipping more than 10%, even if your service is exceptional. “It can be considered obnoxious or flashy to be giving an exceptionally high tip, as 2 to 5% is completely acceptable if you wish to tip,” he said.

Don’t forget to hit the ATM to grab some cash in the local currency before heading out to dinner or drinks. “In most European countries, cash is preferred over credit card tips,” Salomon said.

Tipping in the Caribbean

When visiting the Caribbean, Haynes suggests tipping your waiter or bartender 10-15%. And if you’re heading to an all-inclusive property, she said, it’s standard to tip between $2 and $5 per person for any meal or drink order.

“There is a common misconception for people who are traveling to the Caribbean who take a cruise or stay at an all-inclusive that they do not need to tip because they are staying at an all-inclusive resort or have authorized pre-paid gratuities on their cruise,” Haynes said.

But travelers “should tip above and beyond for these types of vacations, because the amount that employees receive are typically quite nominal,” she said. “Travelers should bring extra money to tip the staff beyond what has been included in the cost of their vacation.”

Tipping in parts of Asia

Tipping customs vary throughout Asia. “Many upscale restaurants include a service charge, but at other restaurants, tips may be refused,” Belarmino said. She added that tipping isn’t expected in Japan and Thailand, but in Vietnam, “the occasional tip is appreciated.” In India, consider tipping around 10% for a meal, or up to 15% if the meal or service was exceptional.

Tipping in parts of Africa

When in South Africa, tip 10-15% on your food and drinks, Haynes said. Similarly, in Morocco, it’s standard to tip at least 10% for meals and beverages

Tipping in parts of Oceania

In Australia and New Zealand, tips generally aren’t expected. “Tipping in New Zealand is not customary — even in restaurants and bars,” said Sarah Handley, general manager for the Americas and Europe at Tourism New Zealand. “However, tipping for good service or kindness is at the discretion of the visitor.”

As an exception, a service charge may be added to your bill if you dine out on public holidays.

Tipping in parts of South America

“Tipping is generally expected for tourists in South America — check out xe.com or equivalent to help you with the math,” Jones said. He explained that it’s best to tip in local currency, and to expect to tip at least 10% the cost of your restaurant bill. “Waiters don’t rely as heavily on tips as they do in the USA but it’s still an important part of their overall income,” he said, adding a few specific tips for different regions:

  • In Argentina and Chile, many restaurants will include a cubierto in your bill. “This is a service charge for the table but it’s not a tip that goes directly to the waiter — tip the waiter separately to show appreciation for good service,” he said.
  • In Brazil, “check your bill before you leave a tip — it’s common to find that 10% has already been added as a serviço,” Jones said.

In Peru, “locals often don’t tip and tipping isn’t commonplace outside of the main touristy areas,” Jones added.

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