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Tipping Etiquette around the World: Asia Travel Part 1
According to all the dictionaries, tips are something given voluntarily or beyond obligation usually for some service. What we experience however is the expectation of a tip, whether or not the service has been exemplary. In the United States we are used to tipping in restaurants and taxi cabs. We tip for personal services such as deliveries, doormen, massages, manicures and hairdressing. If we live in a large city we generally tip between 15 and 20 percent. In smaller towns 10 percent is often the norm but 15 percent is especially appreciated. However, when we travel, the rules change and if we are not aware of them, our experiences may be less satisfying and more expensive than you needed to pay. Generally, if you do some research before you go, you will find your travelling spirit more confident.
While for some protocols, each Asian country has their own, tipping is fairly uniform across the region — there isn't much of it done. But as in any sweeping generalization, there are exceptions.
If you are in an establishment that is more westernized, then tip as you would in the US or in Europe. If it caters mostly to locals, then a tip is not expected. I have yet to see someone turn one down though. Tips are especially expected for massage services and 15 percent is common.
Some upscale restaurants will add a 10 percent service charge to the bill. If not, waiters will still expect a tip of 10 percent given directly to them. However, if you're eating at a restaurant catering to locals a tip is not necessary. If you stay at one of Bangkok's many five-star establishments, expect to tip the porter 20 to 50 baht, depending on how many bags you have; the more bags, the higher tip per bag. Bangkok cabs are metered, so there's no haggling over your fare. Local custom is to round the fare up to the nearest five baht.
While in Mainland China you will not usually be leaving a tip as it is generally frowned upon, gratuity is absolutely necessary in this money-focused city at all but the lowest establishments. Even bathrooms in hotels have followed the European custom of having gratuity dishes. If you see one, mimic the highest coin for your tip.
Most restaurants automatically add a 10 percent service charge to the bill, but the surcharge is often kept b the owner. If the service is good, add another 10 percent to the bill, up to HK$100 if you're in an especially nice place. Remember to give the additional tip directly to your server.
Baggage Handling: HK$10 should do at most hotels. However at a 5 star hotel, a crisp HK$20 bill would be more acceptable. From Americans $5 per bag is usually expected.
Taxi drivers often round up to the nearest dollar when making change. They keep the difference between the actual fare and the next even bill. If you are paying with exact fare, you should do the rounding up too.
While tipping is not the norm, many who serve tourist and international business clientele expect a little some extra. It is alright though if you don't tip. At major hotels and high-end restaurants, a service charge and tax are added to your bill (10 percent service and 10 percent tax). You don't have to tip for porters at hotels or wait staff unless you feel the service is exceptional.
At the airport, you could get through on your own but to make your life easier, I suggest paying a porter about 5000rp per bag and letting them help you through customs. Your trip will start off happier if you do. If you just want them to get your luggage to your transport, 2,000rp for small bags and 3,000rp for large bags is expected.
Taxi drivers don't expect a tip but if they are helpful to you with luggage or with directions, a 1,000rp tip is appropriate. If you use a car-hire service, a 3,000rp tip is more appropriate. Be careful though. Some taxi drivers will claim they have no change in order to "encourage" you to give a tip. Don't allow more than a 1,000rp markup.
Bali is the only island where tips are they expect to be tipped for all services. But even there, if you are not used to tipping or have run out of change, they will not snub you for not tipping.
Like its neighbors, tipping is not generally expected. However as in everywhere, if you have received particularly good service, a tip can go a long way the next time you see them. In the best establishments, a 10 percent service charge is added to both your meal and hotel room.
Partying in pubs/bars/clubs is a common evening pastime. You will find the better ones quite crowded and tips can go a long way towards your comfort for the evening. A tip of RM5 or RM10 can get you chair and better service from your waiter. This is a perfect example of "to insure promptness" or "to insure pleasure" as your incentive.
At five-star hotels, one or two ringgit will suffice for baggage handlers. At lower-end establishments, don't feel compelled to tip.
Taxis: Many taxis are now metered, so you can just round up to the nearest ringgit. In unmetered taxis, expect hard bargaining with your driver for the ride. Include your tip in your end of the bargain.
A couple of final "tips"...
- Don't tip on the tax. Add up your bill without tax and then figure your tip.
- If you ordered wine through the suggestion of a wine steward or sommelier, add 10 percent of the cost of the bottle as a tip just for them. Don't forget to give it to them directly if you have the cash or to mark it on the bill to go to them.
- If you are entertaining friends or for business, try tipping before you start being served. Look at the menu, see if an automatic tip will be charged, figure out an additional per person tip based upon menu prices and give it to your waiter before you start ordering. I have done this several times in Europe and in South America and the service couldn't have been better.
- The hotel pool is a great place to offer small tips to the staff. You will probably get a better lounge location and maybe your desired "cold drink" will be brought to you quicker.
- Housekeeping staff should be tipped the equivalent of $2-3 per person per night's stay. I tip at the beginning of my stay so the housekeeper knows I appreciate a clean room.
- TIP is supposed to mean "To Insure Promptness". Sometimes giving it before might actually do that in the end.
Cynthia Lett is an eminent etiquette and protocol expert with over 27 years teaching the subjects to professionals worldwide. She is the Executive Director of the International Society of Protocol & Etiquette Professionals and Director of The Lett Group. She has earned the distinctions of Certified Etiquette Professional (CEP) and Certified Protocol Professional (CPP). Learn more about business etiquette.