How many times have you meticulously planned a travel itinerary and budgeted everything out only to arrive at your destination and freeze up when it comes to tipping? The questions are endless. Is 20 percent enough? Do you leave any cash at all? Should you shell out per person or for the whole family? Do people rely on tips or is it a bonus? And the list goes on.
Plus, it’s easy to get confused about tipping practices, especially when they vary across services and cultures. For example, tipping at a restaurant in some countries is the norm, while doing so in a taxi is not. That's exactly why Stevie Benanty launched A Conversation, a website that's dedicated to interviewing locals around the world and getting insight about cultural norms, including tipping etiquette. Based on her findings, Benanty came up with some simple rules to follow. Here, she shared eight of those tips and tricks to help you make the right tipping decisions, regardless of your destination.
1. Ask the concierge
The concierge at your hotel is there to help you navigate the city, so asking them what the tipping practices are is a good place to start. “The concierge should always become your friend during your stay,” Benanty told Oyster.com. “They will have a host of knowledge about all of the local customs and will be more than happy to guide you.”
2. When in doubt, just ask
You’ve polished off your meal and finished all of your wine — now what? “If the bill comes to your table at the end of your meal, it’s okay to ask the server if tip has already been included,” said Benanty. “And if it has, it’s fine to leave it as is or add a few extra dollars, if you think the service was superb.”
3. Use social media
Before you depart on your trip, share a Facebook status, asking your friends if they have any prior experience with tipping in the country. Who knows? You might even have a friend who is from the country you’re heading to and will know exactly what the customs are. Alternatively, tweet at the local accounts, bloggers, companies, or embassies and ask.
4. Always keep small change handy
If you’re not sure about credit card access or tipping customs, it’s always best to keep some local currency readily available during your trip. This way, if you’re faced with the prospect of leaving a tip for the valet or your tour guide, you can. Plus, there may be some unforeseen costs and you won’t feel like you’re stiffing someone unexpectedly.
5. Research local customs
As you research hotels and activities, take an extra few minutes to look up the tipping customs in your destination. In some countries (like Japan), it’s not customary to tip and may even be considered rude. If this is the case, decline to leave any dough no matter how good the service was. The same goes for China, where tipping is actually forbidden by the government.
Other destinations like Australia and South Korea don’t expect a tip, but won’t think it’s rude if you round up. Spots like Spain, Brazil, Scandinavia, and the Caribbean often include a service charge, but if not, 10 to 20 percent is customary. And Canada, the United Kingdom, and India all expect around a 15 percent tip for services.
It’s important to respect the local customs. Most guidebooks will have a section dedicated to answering this very question. If you know the tipping practices ahead of your trip, make sure to factor in all the service folks you might encounter along the way. For example, if you rent a car and drive to dinner, you might come across a valet, coat check attendant, bartender, server, and even a great host. Don’t come prepared with only enough for the server.
6. Go high when it comes to percentage
If you’ve received great service and are unsure whether to tip 15 or 20 percent (or five or 10 percent), err on the higher side, if you can. People always appreciate a good tip, especially if they are working hard to ensure your enjoyment.
7. Always tip at your hotel
It’s always a good idea to tip — even if it’s a few dollars — the people who are physically helping you at the hotel. This includes the bellhop who carries your luggage to the room (anything from one to $20, depending on the caliber of the hotel), room service (always double check to see if a room service surcharge and tip are already included), and the people who clean the room. For the latter, feel free to leave a tip at the end of your stay. The amount is up to your discretion.
8. Tip in your currency, if all else fails
It’s always ideal to have cash in the local currency on hand. If not, it’s better to tip in the currency you do have (especially if it’s in U.S. dollars) than not tip at all.