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What's the Appropriate Tip?

Seniors on the Go
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Editor's Note: This story was originally published on July 23, 2010. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: Ed Perkins, Seniors on the Go, senior travel.

Over the years I've been traveling, tipping has become a lot more confusing—and a lot more expensive. Moreover, long established customs around the world have changed, mostly for the worse. Here are some highlights from the most recent worldwide tipping guide posted regularly by Magellan's, the big online and catalog store for travel items. It covers only restaurants, porters, and taxis.

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No-tipping zones. Among the few remaining places where "no tipping" is presumably still the norm for restaurants, porters, and taxis are Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, and Thailand. Don't be surprised to see this list shrink even more in the next few years.

Restaurant tipping. Presumably, you tip more often—and more generously—in restaurants than anywhere else. And you find lots of variations among the 70-plus nations listed:

  • The United States tops the list for cost for restaurant tipping, at a suggested 15 percent to 20 percent of the check. I remember the days when 10 percent was the standard tip, and I've lived through the inflation to 15 percent and now increasingly to 20 percent. Even more annoying is the practice—still mainly in New York City, but expanding—of a separate tip for the "captain," a totally unnecessary intermediary between headwaiter and waiter. Feh!
  • Other countries with the relatively high top tipping rate of 15 percent include Canada, Brazil, Ireland, Israel, Mexico, Mexico, and Russia.

Since I've been traveling, several former no-tipping countries have migrated into the tipping category. Among the most prominent is Australia, now at 10 percent for "fine" restaurants. I remember, during my first visit to Australia, that locals berated me (and all Americans, generally) for "ruining" their local customs by offering tips in cases where the locals didn't.

Service charges. Probably the most confusing areas for visitors are those countries where restaurants automatically add a fixed service charge to the bill. That list includes most of Western Europe, plus several other important visitor destinations:

    In some, Magellan's recommends 10 percent only where a service charge isn't added.
  • In others, however, tipping over and above the service charge seems to be expected now, including Austria, Chile, Egypt, Greece, Guatemala, Hong Kong, Italy, and Spain.

Again, when I first started traveling, the customary add-on, if any, was basically a "round up" to the nearest equivalent of $1, usually in the form of residual small change from a bill paid with paper currency. But the "service plus" rate now seems to have settled in between five percent and 10 percent. In those cases, parenthetically, I recommend leaving the extra tip in cash rather than adding it on a credit card slip—with a credit card, there's no way of making sure the server gets any part of it.

Porter tipping. Magellan's lists fewer variations for porter tipping, generally at $1 per bag just anywhere except the "no tipping at all" countries. The main exceptions are Canada and the United States, with a recommended $1 to $2 per bag.

Taxi tipping. Magellan's lists only two basic formulas for taxi tipping (beyond the no-tipping areas):

  • In many countries, including Australia and almost all of Western Europe, the standard is to "round up" the meter fare to the nearest major unit of currency.
  • Otherwise, the standard seems to be 10 percent, except in Israel and the United States, where it's up to 15 percent.

Hotel tipping. When I first started traveling, nobody gave the slightest thought to leaving tips for housekeepers—after all, that's the job they're paid to do. However, leaving $1 to $2 a day for housekeepers now seems to be the norm, at least in the United States.

Cruise tipping. Whole books have been written about cruise tipping. To me, the best source of information for cruise tipping is the online site Cruise Tip Calculator. You enter the name of the ship, cabin occupancy, and number of nights, and the website automatically calculates and displays recommended tipping for everybody likely to get a tip.

All in all, I resent tipping—travel companies should pay their employees a living wage. But I'm not about to change things, and neither are you.

Your Turn

Do you adhere to these general tipping practices, or do you have your own standards? Share your thoughts, experiences, and advice by submitting a comment below!

 
 
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