When I travel I make a point to become aware of the local customs. I wore long pants and shirts all throughout Morocco. I covered my head in mosques and temples throughout Indonesia. I only ate with my right hand in India. I’m sure I got it wrong sometimes (like not taking my shoes off before going into a store’s changing room in Japan).
But it’s important to me to make the effort.
So when it came to going to America, a land that’s almost as culturally aligned as ours, I thought it’d be easy to follow the local customs.
Except for tipping.
Thanks to reading plenty of US-based personal finance blogs, I knew a lot about tipping before we got to America. I knew that 10% was no longer the standard (more like 15-20%). I knew that servers were taxed based on estimated tips, so not tipping was tantamount to taking money from their pocket
But it still felt weird essentially deciding how much our server deserved to get paid to do their job.
So here are the lessons I learnt to navigate the minefield that is optional-but-really-not-tipping.
Pick A Number and Stick to It
“Tip anywhere between 15-20%, depending on the fancy-ness of the restaurant, whether it’s in New York or not, if your waitress smiled at you, and whether it’s raining outside” – guide books everywhere.
The concept of having a range is great, but frankly when I’m on holiday I like to switch my brain off. So when deciding on your tips for restaurants, just choose your number (15%, 18%, 20%) and then don’t worry about it.
We tipped 20% everywhere – it’s an easy sum to calculate in your head and if you then round down or up when actually leaving your tip then you’re not going to accidentally leave too little.
If you’re better at math calculations, you could settle on 15% or 18%.
You Do Have to Tip
Yes, even if the service sucks.
Consider it like paying for a plane ticket for a shitty flight. Yes you were disappointed. But in the end you were fed. If the service was really bad then you could mention it to the manager. Or just remind yourself that you’re on holiday, while your server has probably just pulled an 8-hour shift to earn a below minimum wage before tip.
Look this is the part of the whole tipping thing that totally lost me (and my American friend who’s also a waitress agrees). It doesn’t necessarily reward great service if you just leave the same tip no matter what.
Although, I’ve had some pretty bad service in Australia and sometimes I’d love a way to really show my displeasure in such a visceral way.
But you’re on holidays, not there to try and change an entire remuneration system. So just get with it and tip. Coolio?
Try Not to Stress About It
Yes you will make mistakes and probably undertip at some point (sorry to that place where we did this). But you’ll probably be forgiven (or forgotten) if you were generally easy to serve anyway.
If you don’t have enough small bills, ask for change. If you’re not sure where to leave the tip, just hand it to your server or ask the counter staff to give it to them.
Remember the best part of travel is experiencing different customs and seeing how other people live and getting to be a part of that.
When you’ve travelled, what local customs did you find difficult to get your head around? Let us know in the comments below.
Image by: Flicker/Ed Yourdon