Stressed about tips abroad? A guide for panicked ‘New Zealanders on tour’

Josh Martin is a Kiwi journalist based in London.

OPINION: Tip. A bonus. A problem. A few coins left on a plate with the bill? A strange Americanism shifting responsibility for rewarding staff from the CEO to the customers?

Either way, it’s a cultural quirk of capitalism that puzzles Kiwis abroad. Nothing says ‘New Zealanders on Tour’ like panicked looks and ready-made calculators when an invoice or touchscreen offers suggested extra payments of 15%, 20% or 25% for service staff.

Cashless and contactless seem to have made the meeting even less discreet.

* How to Tip Properly in the USA
* Tipping Dilemma: Do we need “text begging” as part of the service?
* Five Steps to Tipping in the United States: When and Why

The confusion doesn’t end with your meal: taxi drivers, hairdressers, cleaners, hunters and guides are all on the line at some destinations too. Fortunately, this handy guide should clear the air, if not your conscience, on the do’s and don’ts of tipping.

The United States is the cultural home of tipping.


The United States is the cultural home of tipping.

United States

While it may not be the birthplace of tipping (it will be medieval Europe), the United States is certainly the cultural home of tipping and where most tourists get anxious.

It’s a minefield that feels distinctly unfair and rooted in weird power dynamics that are at odds with New Zealand ideals of egalitarianism and, you know, sound labor laws – but it’s not going away. anytime soon.

David Farrier’s Flightless Bird podcast recently explored this cultural phenomenon and it’s well worth listening to, but for those soon to be heading to the United States, the bottom line is that you’ll need to factor in a minimum of 15% of your travel budget to cover tips and knowledge. that whatever price is listed on a menu is almost certainly less than what you will eventually be charged, including taxes, tips and fees. What joy.

Moreover, due to the cultural dominance of the United States and the millions of Americans traveling abroad every year, this arbitrary rule on staff compensation has been exported overseas, especially to tourist hotspots. where the locals would never think of tipping each other. become another travel tax.


America’s northern neighbor has tipping as a customary norm, albeit at a slightly lower percentage of the total bill. Fortunately, service staff are paid at least minimum wage, unlike servers in several US states, so you, as a customer, don’t know the difference between poverty and fair pay rates.

If you are dining in a larger group, the tip may automatically appear as a bill item charged between 15-20%.

Great Britain

These days I get more and more prompts suggesting I add a tip: food delivery, Ubers, the most annoying thing has to be the counter service staff who come by every 20 seconds serving you a slice of cold cake to take away. It seems to seep into London hospitality in particular, a citywide 12.5% ​​”discretionary service charge” is automatically added to your bill, whether it’s a Michelin dinner or a Monday night pub supper. You can ask to take it off, but no one, my embarrassed friends tell me, does.

There have been a series of mini-scandals in recent years, including restaurant chains taking all or part of this surcharge, which makes me like it less, with the fact that it does not exist outside the capital , despite these personnel in regions that generally earn less.

Continental Europe

Tipping in France is considered more of a small gesture for very good service, rather than a well-established practice. In Italy there may be additional charges, such as coperto or servizio, which are not strictly the same as a tip, they are more like a cover charge for the privilege of sitting next to the seat St. Mark’s and the servizio (service charge) doesn’t all go to the staff. Tips on top of that are not expected.

In Spain, you can round up your dinner and drinks bill and leave the change behind, but again, that’s not how big you need to think about, let alone your budget. Destinations frequented by Americans (always blame the Yanks) have started adding a “Tip not included” line, in English, to the bottom of the bill or menu. The clue here is that it is written in English. Again, it’s up to you, but it’s not usual.

You might want to tip your tour guide or Uber driver if they were particularly good, but, again, that’s not the norm (unless it’s a free walking tour, in which case tips make up most of their daily income, so you’ll need a stump).

Japan and China

In Japan, its supposed excellent service is a given and not pushed by the waiter to supplement their income with an insincere smile or deliver an order correctly. I think this ideal fits the Kiwi attitude best, although the reception staff at Aotearoa are never embarrassed to receive a tip as a nice bonus, it is not a factor in their performance. In Tokyo and Osaka, staff can actively refuse the yen you leave behind.

In mainland China, tipping is also very rare and considered unnecessary for most transactions, although it is more common in Hong Kong due to Western influence. However, this is far from expected and most likely reserved for hotels and receptionists who go above and beyond (carrying your 30kg luggage up the stairs, for example).

Thailand and Southeast Asia

The end-of-tour tip jar passed around a long-tail boat has become as much a mainstay in Thailand as cocktail buckets and street-side pad thai. A few hundred Thai baht should cover it. Due to an influx of tourists in recent decades, tipping has become more common in hotspots from Bali to Bangkok.

High-end restaurants in Vietnamese cities may include a change in service, but it’s far from guaranteed to hit reception staff, so if you’re going to tip, leave some money for your server. Throughout the region, it’s not usual, but appreciated, so if the extra baht, dong or rupee means nothing to you, it might mean more to them.

The United Arab Emirates and the Middle East

In a city full of expats, tipping etiquette in Dubai is quite subjective. Country of origin combinations between server and recipient mean that your remaining bonus could be received with gratitude or raised eyebrows.

Generally, a suggested tip of around 10% of the bill, maybe a bit more, should be budgeted for restaurant or spa visits, although eating establishments will also add a service charge, all of this is fine. not necessarily to servers. Meanwhile, delivery drivers, cleaners and even supermarket bag packers could keep change. Home care staff can receive about 30 additional dirhams per day in tips.


Tipping for good service, or bribe, is not mandatory, but customary for services like hospitality and private transportation. If you hired a driver for the day, he would expect a tip and leaving a bribe in a restaurant or bar between 5-10% for good service is usual, but subject to interpretation.

About Walter J. Leslie

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