Lonely Planet Writer

Tips on tipping

tipjarTo tip or not to tip? Is it gracious to leave a gratuity, or could it possibly be taken as an insult? Tipping practices vary widely around the world and are a frequent source of confusion for travellers, so it's good to know before you go.

To add to the mystery, tipping practices can change over time. Tipping for service in restaurants in the UK is more common than ever before, and many higher-end restaurants are now adding discretionary service charges to the bill, although tipping is still not done to the degree it is in the US.

For travellers from countries where tipping is not the norm, navigating the byzantine tipping etiquette of the US can be daunting. Who do you tip? How much should you tip? Why should you even tip at all? These questions come up with regularity on the US branch of the Thorn Tree forum. Truth be told, even the locals can't always agree on the details and it varies both regionally and person-by-person, but two posts in the US FAQs (here and here) can help with some basic guidelines.

On one recent thread, an Australian visiting the US wonders if the current state of the economy makes it less necessary to tip. Sadly, no: waiters and bartenders in the US are generally paid a very low wage and heavily rely on tips for their income, and given that restaurant business has generally declined in the past year, tipping is needed more than ever.

The US certainly isn't the only source of confusion: visitors frequently get overwhelmed by the numerous expectations for baksheesh in Egypt; tipping is expected in certain situations in several European countries (e.g., Germany), but not in some neighbouring countries; tipping is aggressively demanded in some countries, silently expected in others, and will even be perceived as an insult in some parts of the world. Recent discussions on Thorn Tree have crisscrossed the globe, dealing with tipping practices in Belize, Italy, Namibia, and Uzbekistan.

The world's a big place, so this post is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to tipping tips. Have you experienced any tipping mishaps? Do you have any tips on tipping for your part of the world?

[Photo by the hanner]