Understanding Tip Culture in the USA, Canada, and the World
Proper tipping behavior is very different depending on which part of the world you’re in. In some places, it’s incredibly offensive to leave a tip! But in the U.S. and Canada, it’s expected that every customer will leave some kind of tip. Then, once the money leaves your wallet, there are multiple ways that restaurant workers split up your tip. In some businesses, they practice tip pooling where all tips are split evenly between workers. Tip sharing, on the other hand, is a set distribution rate that gives a portion of tips to back-of-house staff.
Most customers never think about how to fairly distribute tips, but they do think about how to calculate tips. Either way, it’s wise to remember that visitors from other countries may not know what to expect when it comes to tipping. Here’s what travelers and restaurant-owners need to know about tipping around the world.
In the United States, tipping is a way for satisfied customers to show their appreciation for good service. Technically, it’s optional. However, it’s expected that all customers in full-service restaurants will leave a tip. This can be jarring for foreign visitors who are not used to paying anything extra on top of their final bill. But when tipping in the U.S., 15% is a typical tip for most seated dining experiences.
It’s calculated before tax is added, since the tax is just a fee for the government. If you have received amazing service, you can increase the size of your tip to between 18 and 25%. You might do this if a server remembered your order or went above and beyond the call of duty.
If the food is really fantastic, keep in mind that your tips are not directly intended to reach the kitchen staff. There are different kinds of tip distribution models. Many cafes use automatic tip sharing to handle tip allocation. They might use tip sharing software or tip pooling software to make a customer’s restaurant tip automatic. For instance, some places share tips between front-of-house wait staff and back-of-house kitchen staff.
If you really want the kitchen staff to get a piece of your tip, make sure you check with the manager first. You should still tip even if you were unhappy with the service. Just tip 10-15% and they’ll know you didn’t enjoy the service.
The expectations for tipping don’t change much from coast to coast. However, there are certain environments where West Coasters slack off on their tips. Typically, East Coasters tip better on tableside service, average, and tab categories. On the other hand, West Coasters tip better on coffee service.
Canadians follow pretty much the same rules as in the United States. 15-20% is an average-sized tip for a seated restaurant meal. However, most Canadians tip around 15% whereas in America, 20% means it was great service. This gives Canadians a reputation as cheap tippers.
In Canada, it’s not as normal to tip maids, hotel staff, or tour operators. This might be because Canadians benefit from universal healthcare, but who’s to say? It’s probably because the minimum wage for service workers in Canada is higher than in the U.S.
In many European countries, a gratuity is simply tacked onto the actual bill. Customers pay the entire fee and can go merrily on their way. When no gratuity is added, it’s good practice to add 5-10% as a tip or at least round up to a nice whole number.
For coffees and other quick services, it’s pretty typical to leave a single euro (or other single denomination in the local currency) as a tip. However, in Scandinavian countries, tips are verboten. You can round up to the nearest whole number but tips aren’t necessary in countries like Sweden, Denmark, and Iceland.
If you go to Japan, do not tip! You’ll offend the people serving you. In other places in Asia, tipping is not expected. In fact, some places have a specific no-tipping policy and you could get in trouble if you try to offer someone money. That being said, luxury hotels and restaurants have taken on the westernized expectation that guests will tip on their meal.
Keep in mind that when a service charge is added, it probably won’t reach any of the servers. You can discreetly offer your service a cash tip if you’d like to thank them directly for their service. In Asian countries, it’s mostly drivers who get tipped (not restaurant workers). You should plan to tip your guides and drivers with $5-10 each day.
Now you’re ready for your globetrotting adventure! After all, smart travelers know that the key to any great trip is keeping their service staff happy.