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Tipping is a topic I have been wanting to rant about for a while, however it seems as an Australian – a country which doesn’t tip – my words carry little weight.  I have believed for a number of years now that tipping has been taken too far throughout the world, especially within the United States where a tip now seems to be expected throughout more industries than just service.

It’s incredibly difficult for even the most avid of travelers to know when it is appropriate to tip, and how much, and foreigners traveling throughout the United States are looked upon as incredibly cheap for not opening their wallets to almost every-one they encounter.   I’ve been working as a cocktail server within the US for only 3 weeks now and already I catch myself not wanting to cater to foreigners who are unlikely to tip me – I am appalled I have picked up this attitude so quickly.

Before you yell and scream about my “Australian attitude”, I had my American husband – a professional waiter – write the blow post from his perspective.  Please share your opinion on the topic in the comments below.

The Topsy Turvy Topic of Tipping

By Mike Jerrard

Whether it’s helping you with luggage or setting a dinner in front of you, it seems these days almost everyone is eligible for the acceptance of a tip. This seems to become even more evident when it comes to traveling, especially within the U.S.

There are countless articles on the web dealing with how and when you should dive into your wallet and show your gratitude for a service performed for you. These articles break down what has become acceptable or almost expected amounts for various industries of service.

It seems as though you need to almost immediately hit the money exchange kiosk upon arriving at any American airport when coming from abroad in order to be able to pay all those “tip-expecting” services you will encounter just trying to arrive at your hotel room after a sometimes long flight.

Pexels Money

I ask though, has tipping become an out of control expectation that can turn your travels into a wallet depleting nightmare? It almost seems as though the famous bandit Jesse James himself lives on in America as its citizens say, “Welcome to America, now hand over your money.”

A tip, or gratuity by its fancier name, is defined as something given voluntarily or beyond obligation usually for some service, so why has tipping become an act which is now expected, and in some cases required, for so many services? With so many people now expecting a tip it is difficult knowing what is necessary in order to not be called a derogatory name as you move along on your travels through America.

By my words you must think I am a European, Canadian, or Australian, but in actuality I am a born and raised U.S. citizen, and even more surprisingly, have worked in the restaurant business as a waiter for more years than I would like to admit. As a waiter I have come to expect a 20% tip for the service I perform in whichever restaurant I find myself; a division of hospitality which probably started the whole tipping phenomenon.

I have even found myself feeling disgust when having to serve those with an international accent as I know my chances of getting that “expected” 20% tip dwindle drastically. Are my feelings understandable and warranted, or have I also fallen victim to forgetting the meaning of the term “gratuity” and become ungrateful for any gift being given for my service. An argument can be made for both sides in regards to whether tips should be mandatory or voluntary so let’s take a look at both.

Why you should tip:

  • Many employees who generally expect tips usually earn a very low wage, sometimes well below the minimum wage ($4.75 for an American waiter vs $18-$25 for an Australian waiter);
  • Most, if not all, waiters are required to tip out bussers, bartenders, and expos a set percentage of their sales for the night regardless of what tips they collected, so in essence your tip is going to many workers, not just your server.
  • Some tipping professions require that you claim a certain percentage of your sales regardless of whether you actually were tipped that percentage on your sales.
  • Many tipping professions are not stable 40 hour per week jobs with benefits such as insurance and paid leave and without the extra tips many employed as such would find themselves in poverty.
  • If  tipping went out of fashion and restaurants were forced to pay their staff more per hour, many would go out of business very quickly.  Those who managed to survive would have to show a very large increase on their menu prices in order to continue surviving.

Why you shouldn’t need to tip:

  • A tip is meant as something I can offer should I deem appropriate for exceptional service.
  • Many tips if paid in cash go unreported to the IRS for taxation purposes, and many tipping profession employees find themselves making more than college degree required occupations. Why do these tipped employees get a break?

  • Tipping should be included in the price of any service even if it states “service charge” on the bill so I know what I expect to pay before deciding if I want that service.
  • If there are no written rules on tipping or signs posted showing what is expected I shouldn’t, as an international traveler, be looked upon as cheap or an a@%*hole.

So as you can see, there is no definitive answer as to whether you should or shouldn’t tip. Again, a gratuity is meant to be a choice offering for a service and not an obligation. With so many occupations now expecting tips;

Here is how I look at it:

 

If you choose to have a service performed such as going out to eat or having the bell hop help you with your bags, you should tip what is deemed appropriate for whatever country you are visiting.  You are after all a visitor, and should respect the customs of the country you are visiting. If in question as to how much is acceptable, simply ask a front desk clerk or manager.

If, however, a service you do not desire is forced upon you, or you wish to do that service yourself, you should not be made to feel as though you are required to tip. If you would rather handle your own bags or perform other duties yourself, you should be free to do so without receiving displeasing looks from a business or its employees. If a tip is expected on travel activities such as parasailing, guided tours, and golf cart attendants (which it is), then it should be incorporated into the price of that activity so we as travelers can make an informed decision as to whether or not we wish to partake.

Lastly, as an American employee who myself has come to expect tips, I cannot forget that not every kind gesture or act of hospitality should warrant a cash deposit into my wallet.  Sad will be the day when a stranger expects a tip for simply holding the door for you or helping you pick up an item you’ve dropped.

Advice for travelers:

 

The biggest piece of advice I can give any international traveler is to do your research.  Research the etiquette in the country you are traveling to.  The below info-graphic is a great place to start!

GlobalTippingEtiquette_50463b262650e-533x2000

[Via] Info Graphic Published by Loving Apartments

Have your say on the topic – leave us a comment!

 

 

    28 Comments

  1. Well said…I agree that Americans have become too focused on a standard 20% and we have lost some of our gratitude in the process. Sometimes it is just as rewarding to provide a service with just a SMILE for doing your JOB. I work a beverage cart on a well established golf resort and we have the pleasure of waiting on several of our members everyday…Their generosity is amazing but I have told them on many occassions – “put your money back in your pocket” It is my pleasure to provide you with ice and a cold towel in the hot summer heat- A little wink and drive away. They are our Bread and Butter…without our members we would often times have nothing to do…sometimes its important to let them know how much we Appreciate them as well! :-) What goes around comes around…always has…always will!

    • Thanks Pam! I really love that you have such a great attitude – if only a few more people within the service industry could adopt the same! You hit the nail on the head – sometimes its important to let them know how much we appreciate them as well.

  2. I never tip 20% unless I have extremely great service, or I have been a particularly needy customer. Good overview of the whole tipping process!

    • Thanks Jessica! I’m glad we’re not alone in our thought process – had many a conversations to the same effect which ended with people telling me I have a bad attitude!

      It’s so true though – I walked away from work the other night having made $35 an hour which is a ridiculously high salary – much more so than the Australian wage – considering the low cost of living in the US. I think 20% is an incredible expectation.

  3. Great! I am possibly seen as a Cheap Aussie cause I just don’t get it. How much? Who too? Does the fuel guy in Israel get a tip or is it his job?

    • I’m exactly the same – thank God I have an American husband to guide me throught he process! Although even he has problems with knowing sometimes; and we’re screwed if we go through Europe or Asia lol!

      I was earning $23 an hour at McDonalds Australia last year. The last time I was earning $4 an hour (which is what the current cocktail job pays) was when I started at McDonalds 10 years ago as a 14 year old lol!

  4. It’d be nice if the service industry in the US got paid better to start with. I worked at a food server for years, but luckily it was in California so I at least got minimum wage. It’s a shame when you have to count on others to tip to pay your bills. It always sucked to not get tipped after working really hard for a costumer.

    • That’s true. It really is ridiculous – for instance I went home last week with $220 in a night, and then a week later only make $40. I would much prefer to know how much I am going to be making before showing up to work – bit of stability!!

  5. Great way to look at tipping! It’s always so hard to know what and where to tip, especially when traveling. That’s a helpful info graphic :)

    • I know, tipping is the one thing which always throws me off when I’m traveling! You try not to offend people but often its so hard!

  6. Interesting post. I agree that tipping has felt a little too mandatory at times in the states. Having traveled to countries with no tipping I felt like our waiters completely ignored us, were not friendly and if we wanted anything in under an hour we should go get it ourselves. I like tipping, although I do think the base wage for the service industry in the United States should be more.

    As for your reasons not to tip, aside from the first one they are all hypothetical. They are not reasons why anyone in the real world should refuse to leave a tip for good service.

    • It is an interesting question; as to whether or not tipping improves service. It’s definitely a different experience being at a restaurant in America v a restaurant in a non tipping country. Seems like the culture in America is very “in and out” where-as for instance in Australia we go out to eat as a social event for the evening so a meal might take 2-3 hours.

      Having grown up with that kind of restaurant culture I often feel badgered in the US when they keep coming past your table, where-as when traveling you obviously feel ignored because they don’t pay the same level of attention to tables.

      There are definitely hypothetical reasons in there – like to consider some background theory as well :)

  7. When in doubt, we always tip well for good service. I worked in the restaurant business before, during and after college, and tips basically paid my way through school. But it does get a bit out of hand sometimes, like the guys who turn on the sink in the men’s room, hand you a paper towel and want a $1.

    • Resturant business right now is paying for our travel fund – although it’s almost crazy; both myself and husband are bringing home the same $25 per hour (if not more) wage that we made in Australia, but the standard and cost of living here in the US is drastically lower – not that I’m complaining one bit!!

      I’m learning that as well – to always tip well if the service is good; for instance I won a gift certificate for a massage last week – no idea if I tip on that! Thinking I’ll apply the “when in doubt” scenario and tip anyway :)

  8. Here in Italy tipping is not expected. It’s only done when you had a particularly good service. Service is included in the price (it’s called “coperto”).

    • We have the same arrangement in Australia – I think I like that system a lot better lol although I was raised on that system so I’m used to it! I do think that service should be included in the price though.

  9. having worked many, many years in service industry while i was in college, i completely understand the necessity behind good tipping (if warranted!) i busted my ass those years and always kept a smile on my face. i had many people come back and only eat/drink at my establishment if i was their server. there were nights i made $500 over a span of 4 hours simply from being pleasant and efficient. tipping can be a blessing…or a curse! i know other servers who made minimum wage because they refused to work hard.

    as an american living in norway (no tipping there), i struggle going out to eat and not tipping, regardless of what the culture is. so, sadly, i tip the same in norway as i did in the US LOL. :) i just cant help it. but in norway, i obviously go out to eat less often, so im not doing it like 3 days a week as i did in the states.

    and im laughing that you wrote about not wanting to have ‘foreigners’ at your table because of bad tipping!!! LOLLLLL! there were so many times we saw europeans come into my bars or restaurants and we’d fight over who got to NOT take them because we knew they wouldnt tip at all.

    great post! and i love your blog. ive just discovered it and am reading through many of the old posts now :)

    • You hit the nail on the head – there are so many servers who just refuse to work hard! I’m really looking forward to the coming months – we’re entering season in Florida which I’m told means we can expect to make pretty big money if we work for it! It’ll be all smiles here :D

      I’ve gotten pretty lucky with foreigners lately…surprisingly!! I guess it’s just luck of the draw!! Lol but it is hard to get yourself out of that mindset to remember that they deserve service too! :D

      Thanks so much for your comment, I’m really glad you like the blog!

  10. I learned about tipping the hard way when I was in the US. I got called a really nasty word by the waiter when I didn’t leave a tip before leaving the restaurant after finishing my meal, I did left some money on the table eventually. Of course as an Australian, we’re not used to tipping and I guess most Australian’s will find tipping ridiculous. I agree the minimum wage level in the US is terrible compared to Australia, but as the saying goes, “When in Rome, do what the Romans”, should apply to anyone visiting and eating out the US. The movie Reservoir Dogs made a good point about tipping in one scene.

    • Ouch that’s horrible – I might make horrible comments about them behind their back if they don’t leave a tip lol but I wouldn never actually embarass someone; you just deal with the fact that tipping isn’t a cultural norm in other countries and sometimes that means you don’t get tipped well or at all.

      A lot of the time if the tab is high enough, because we will have to tip out the bar 4% of our sales, we’ll put an auto gratuity on the bill if it’s a foreign table. Also if there are parties of 6 or more.

      I’ll have to watch Reservoir Dogs – haven’t seen that one yet!

  11. May be it is because I am from Spain, but I have never understood why giving a tip has to be something mandatory. Here we see this as some kind of “gift” you give to the person who has that has assisted you according to the quality of the service you have received. If, for example, I go to a restaurant and the food wasn’t good, or the place was not clean enough or the service was rude or unfriendly, I won’t give them any tip, but if everything was good and I am happy with the service received, then I’ll give a tip, based on what I think I can afford to give, not a fixed % of the total price.

    Also, usually, here in Spain, the tips do not belong entirely to the employer, but it is grouped together with all the tips of the local/bar/store…, and then it is shared equally among all the employers. It gives us a sense of community. I remember when I worked on shops and restaurants and we never felt like we should receive always a tip, but when we did receive it then we felt happy because it meant that our service was good and that the customer was happy with his experience at our local. And most of the time we used the tips jars to go out and have some fun all together (to a theme park like Por Aventura, at a party, to the cinema…) one day per month. So it helped to create a good working environment.

    • PS. Also here the service is already included in the price.

    • We have exactly the same set up in Australia, so I’m of the same mindset as you. It is amusing though when I tell my colleagues here in the service industry in the US that at the end of the night in Australia, all of the servers as a whole might have made $15 in tips. They can’t comprehend it!

      Then again, service is included in Australia, and wages are $18-$25 per hour as opposed to the US where it’s not included and wages are $4 per hour.

      I understand both points, and I make an effort to tip correctly in the US, though I do think the concept of tipping has just gone a little too far outside of the restaurant business.

      Great point on the creating a fun work environment; sounds like a great way to pool all of the tips for everyone to benefit!

  12. That graphic states that it has been known for the police to be called and customers locked inside for failure to tip.

    I have to call BS on this.
    Link, or it didn’t happen.

  13. Hi, great post, everybody is right, tipping is not mandatory anywhere not even in U.S., but it is a nice gesture especially when your server gives you an experience guiding you through drinks, meals served in your place, i lived in south america, europe and now in the U.S. and i work in the service industry (by saying i work it means it is my profession i’m not just a college guy trying to make a living) for a minimum wage that is around 2 $ an hour, so i appreciate my customers when they leave me a tip and actually i work very hard for that, giving to all of them the same great service i would give to my mom if she was sitting in that restaurant, what i’m trying to say it is not to leave a tip as a mandatory action but to oversee whoever is giving you the service and understand that that person is glad to do that, yes many servers aren’t that nice i know, well tip them just enough for the service, remember he or she aren’t making 18 or 20 $ per hour, as for that people that says in europe that charge is called “coperto”, well very few restaurants give that money to servers, actually everywhere i worked i never saw a penny from the “coperto” money, i travel all over the world and i always tip, not necessarily 20% but i always leave something to recognize the effort this people is putting in ginving me an experience, traveling around the world as an american citicen puts me in a position that everybody thinks, oops he is american he’ll tip us because that is what they do, well no, i look people in the eyes when i interact with them on my table and for them to gain a tip from me i NEED to see they are there to give me good time enjoying my meal or my drink, and make sure they are not there just for the tip, in some places around the world a gesture of a tip can make people happy and you will remembered in a better way!!!!!

    • Thanks for detailing your experience Anton – glad you enjoyed the post overall.

      Definitely agree that giving a tip for excellent service is a wonderful gesture, and we encourage everyone to do so where they feel the service warrants this. I think a big part of it is educating yourself on the different customs of each different region and country and knowing when it is suitable and when not.

      For instance in Australia we do get paid $20-$25 an hour so it really is not necessary to tip at all, though i note that you mention South American countries pay around $2 an hour in which case a tip is always a really nice gesture.

      Definitely true though – you really can make someones day just by leaving a little extra for them, and those in hospitality definitely remember you for it :)

      Best of luck with your continued travels – stay safe!

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