Random Travel Tips – Part #10:  Tipping

Ideas and Issues

New Orleans      Over the last eight years with Fair Grinds Coffeehouse, we’ve learned more about tipping than we ever really wanted to know.  The bottom line is usually, locals and regulars, yes, tourists and one-timers, way less so.  I read a recent article in the New York Times on tipping with interest.

They reported on counter-service tipping, which is what coffeehouses offer.  On point-of-sale systems they claim the nudge suggestions are converting into rates of almost 50% tipping in the United States and in some cases averaging 17%.

More interesting is the problem of tipping while traveling.  The article tried to claim this was increasing where they had Square-type systems, but my own experience is that such systems are still rare in EU countries including Great Britain, so I’m skeptical.  At bars in the UK, tipping seems common, especially where regulars know the servers and bartenders.  The article claimed that tipping was becoming more common in South Africa.  Perhaps that’s true since South Africa has traditionally had the strongest economy on the continent, but having just been to Tunisia, it was clear that tips were not expected although appreciated when we rounded up the bill.  I wasn’t sure whether workers actually received the tips on a bill as opposed to when the money might have been left on the table.  Generally, tipping seems nonexistent in other African countries where I have traveled and largely unexpected.  This may be especially true in Francophone countries since tipping still seems rare in France, and less an income substitute.

In Europe, it is not uncommon for servers to actually return or refuse to accept tips, especially in my experience in Germany and France.  In Italy, at espresso bars, exact change is given back by the cashier and a receipt is presented to the barista for service, so there is no exchange of money at the counter at all.  Latin America is also not a big tipping region.

The Times reported that tipping on Uber in the forty=eight countries where they operate is now on offer.  Uber, as always, was unwilling to provide exact data, but claims that “the United States and Germany have higher rates of tipping, whereas countries where tipping is not standard, like Brazil, have lower numbers.”  Lyft admitted that tipping was very low, certainly less than 10%, and often not yet standard practice, so not a large contributor to driver income.  None of that is surprising, since use of the service requires pre-payment on a previously provided credit card.

Lonely Planet and other guidebooks often offer information on local practice, but most of it is speculative.

The best tip is that when you are traveling you should do what feels right to you without embarrassment.  If you tip, high or low, it does make sense to make sure it goes directly to the worker, rather than the establishment.  There’s nothing good as an economic or moral principle about tipping, so you must navigate precious little local information with spur of the moment impulse and hope for the best.