Why answering that question can provide a deeper insight into a country’s culture
You’ve just had a five-star meal in Tokyo, but how do you express your appreciation for the service you received? Well, you definitely don’t leave a tip! There’s no tipping culture in Japan – and leaving one may even be seen as an insult.
These are the kind of issues expats and business people have to consider all the time when living abroad; and although it may seem a minor detail, tipping etiquette can often mirror a country’s deeper cultural differences.
Learning a list of where to tip and where not to is one thing; understanding why that culture exits is something different and can lead to a greater appreciation of your host country – and to a happier stay.
So, here’s a guide on tipping etiquette in some of the world’s biggest destinations for business assignees – and also some analysis of what it really means:
To tip or not to tip: It’s a definite ‘no’. It simply isn’t part of the culture and can even cause offence. If you are delighted with the food or drink at a sushi bar or drinking establishment in Tokyo consider buying a sake (a Japanese rice wine) or beer for the chef to show your appreciation.
Looking deeper: Having worked and lived in Japan for four years, I learned there are other great ways to show appreciation. The Japanese are eager to provide a great service – especially to foreigners. Arigatou gozaimasu (thank you very much) and a sincere compliment goes a long way in any service situation.
To tip or not to tip: It’s a definite ‘yes’. In US restaurants, waiters depend on tips since they are paid generally low wages. Service has to be pretty poor in order not to tip so 18-20% is normal for good service. If you are somewhere popular with tourists, however, double-check your bill! There might be a gratuity already added on; this is also normal for larger parties.
Looking deeper: Since tips are so critical to US waiters, do not be surprised to get warm greetings, friendly interactions and be checked on often with a: “Is everything ok?”. These are things Americans value in customer service: friendliness and speed. Also, Americans tend to leave quite soon after the meal is done so waiters might bring you the bill as soon as you say you do not want anything else. This is due to the American focus on moving on to the next task in their busy schedules. Should you would like to sit longer just let the waiter know.
Top tip or not to tip: Yes, tipping is normal; but the underlying reasons may be different and the amount is up to you.
Looking deeper: India is a great example of tipping practices reflecting culture.There, tipping at times tends to be less about a "thank you" for a completed service (as in the US) and more of an investment in an ongoing series of services. So in India you tip the bartender or maid as a ‘thanks, please continue this level of service’. This is not a question of ‘bribing’ waiters to provide good service, it’s about the value Indian culture places on relationship building. So understanding this ‘why’ can certainly help you get great service staying in a hotel but more importantly it can give you an insight into the importance of building up relationships over time in India.
To tip or not to tip: It’s your choice. Tipping in England is seen as appreciation for good service, and 10% is normally sufficient. However if a service charge is included in the final bill, tipping separately is not necessary. Tipping in a taxi is optional – but passengers often round up to the nearest whole number and ask for no change.
Looking deeper: Typically Brits only tip when goods are brought to them or they want to express appreciation for great service. So Americans may be surprised to find they don’t need to tip the bar staff. Famously obsessed with politeness, Brits don’t like to complain or make a fuss – so not leaving a tip can send out a powerful message.
To tip or not to tip: A 10% service charge is usually added to the bill in restaurants, hotels, and bars where drinks are delivered to the table. This may not go to the staff, so consider rounding up the bill to acknowledge good service.
Looking deeper: Tips are not expected but will be graciously accepted, a different cultural scenario than in nearby Japan.
To tip or not to tip: You may not have much choice - in Paris a 15% service charge is always included in the price of food and drinks. It is also common to leave an extra 5-10% at places you frequent, or to recognise good food and service. If you’re seated by an usher at the theatre, tip one Euro for each person in your group.
Looking deeper: There are no rules about tipping in France, partly because government - influenced by a history of support for workers - has taken care of it. By law since 2008 the service charge must be passed on to staff and be in addition to their salary. But there’s another reason for less focus on tipping waiters – because they aren’t the star of the show. In France the star is always the chef, and he or she won’t be picking up the coins off the table. Sending a message to the chef that you enjoyed his or her cooking is a better way to show appreciation.
To tip or not to tip: It’s up to you, but in Germany it is very common to round up the restaurant bill. For example if your lunch bill comes to 18 Euros, you can round it up to 20 Euros. If you pay by credit card you can just tell the waiter ‘20 Euros’ and they will do the transaction for that amount. If you are paying cash you can give 20 Euros and just say: ‘Stimmt so’ (‘that's fine’) when you hand over the money. Expect a professional ‘Danke’ as a reply.
Looking deeper: Don’t wait until after the waiter has gone and leave change on the table as you may do in England. It’s seen as far more discreet and classy to tell the waiter how much to add to the bill; a reflection of Germanic appreciation for doing things right.
Clearly there is a lot to remember! But the point is not that tipping practices are overtly stressful, but that tipping and countless other day-to-day activities in an unfamiliar location create a lot of hidden stress for both long and short-term visitors. So, knowing the do’s and don’ts, and having some practical tools to manage is useful - and can even lead to better performance for those on business assignments.
There’s so much more to tipping culture than meets the eye!
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