Brits have a bit of a reputation when it comes to tipping. We’re seen as bad tippers by other countries — we don’t like to tip, we might even be mean. But the truth is, we’re just not accustomed to tipping very often as there are no real “rules” on tipping here. If it’s your first visit to the UK, tipping can seem like a minefield. When do you tip? Who do you tip? How much do you tip? There’s nothing more awkward than not understanding the etiquette of the country you’re staying in.
When friends of mine came from overseas, I received some frantic texts from them in a restaurant, asking me if the waitress would be offended if they gave the tip directly to her. My friend wondered if it would be perceived badly and that it might seem as if she was suggesting the waitress was poor. As I explained to my friend at the time, tipping in the UK is a pretty casual affair, and you’re unlikely to offend anyone no matter what you do. There isn’t really a tipping “culture” here in the UK and it’s done more on a “how you feel about the service” basis.
That said, it is confusing for anyone visiting, so to help you get to grips with the when and the who and the how much, here’s a guide to tipping etiquette in four of the most common tipping situations while you’re in the UK.
Tipping is very common after you’ve finished a meal in a restaurant here in the UK. When you receive your bill at the end of the evening, take a little look at it. If there is a service charge on the end of the bill, that’s your tip included and there’s no need to give anything more.
Of course, if you feel you received incredible service and you want to leave more, you can. Note, this isn’t standard practice here in the UK. Some restaurants include a tip on the bill and some don’t. Most don’t because diners don’t like it. British people tend to object to being told how much they should leave as a tip or if they should leave anything at all.
If there is a service charge included and you aren’t happy with the service you received, you can ask for it to be removed, and plenty of locals do just do that. If there’s no service charge on the bill, you can leave a tip, but there really isn’t any obligation to do this at all. Most diners, if they are happy with the service, leave a small tip on the table as they leave. This should be around 10 percent of your bill, but again, it’s up to you how much you leave.
As I told my friend who was panicking over what to do at the end of their meal, you wouldn’t normally give it to the waitress, but you’d leave it on the table as you depart. In most restaurants, the amount you leave won’t go directly to that particular waitress anyway, as all waiting staff are required to turn over their tips to be divided equally. This is a whole other debate. Many people think this is unfair, while others think it’s completely fair.
If you’re buying food from a takeaway, there is sometimes a tips jar on the counter, and again whether you leave a tip or not is entirely at your own discretion. I don’t think I’ve ever left a tip at a takeaway or seen anyone else do so. If you’re drinking and eating in a bar, you aren’t expected to tip the barman at all. If you really want to you can tell him to “keep the change” when you pay with a note that’s above the price of your bill, or you can say “and one for yourself” when you order your drink, which implies you are buying them a drink in appreciation. This is a bit of a throw-back as barmen these days won’t be drinking while they’re working, but it is a nice way of saying thank you for the service. You certainly wouldn’t tip the barman every time he pours you a drink. It’s worth noting here that in most bars in the UK you pay as you go rather than opening a tab. You can ask to open a tab and then pay the bill at the end and leave a tip if you like, but most people pay the barman each time they order a drink, and tipping at a bar is almost unheard of in the UK.
With the rise of app-based taxi services like Uber, it’s much easier to tip your driver if you’re happy with the service. You simply do it through the app, and this is very common in the UK. If you’re happy with your driver you can leave a tip and a good review on the app, and drivers are as happy with a 5-star review as they are with the tip.
But if you’re getting a black cab or other private taxi hire, it’s a bit more awkward. If the bill is pre-calculated, it’s difficult to tip and most people wouldn’t hand a tip to the driver in this case. If you’re paying cash a nice way to do it is to round up the fare to the nearest pound or simply say “keep the change” if you’re giving them a note. Again, you’re not at all expected to tip the taxi driver, it is an entirely personal choice, and your driver won’t be offended if you don’t tip.
Tipping hotel workers is probably the most confusing and complicated of all areas of tipping in the UK. As with everything else, you don’t have to tip at all and no one expects you to. The hotel worker who gets tipped most commonly is the bellboy, or bellhop. This is the person who helps bring your luggage to your room, and it’s perfectly normal to hand them a couple of pounds for doing this.
Housekeepers don’t usually receive tips, but some people like to leave them little gifts in the room when they’ve checked out. You can also leave a few pounds in the room when you’ve gone, as a nice surprise for your housekeeper. It all depends how high-end your hotel is, but if you do have a doorman you can hand him 2 to 5 pounds as you leave if you like.
Again, this is in no way expected, and most British people wouldn’t do this. It isn’t normal to tip when you order room service, or to tip at the hotel bar or restaurant, especially if everything is going on your hotel bill.
If you’re on a bus tour, you’ll usually find the driver has a cup or something like that where you can leave a tip at the end of the tour. On rare occasions, your tour guide will walk up the bus asking for tips for the driver, but this is unusual. If you’re on a walking tour, it’s not common to tip your guide. I think this mostly comes down to that British awkwardness. We don’t really like to hand over money in this way, directly to a service worker, and we’d rather leave it in a jar, or even better, leave it somewhere to be found when we’ve gone! If you don’t have any such British awkwardness you can, of course, tip when and as you like, and your tour guide will be very appreciative.
Other Places You Might Tip
One of the most common service workers to receive tips is your hairstylist at the salon. It’s a strange anomaly, but we seem to be perfectly comfortable with this one. Hairstylists are regularly tipped at 10 percent of the bill, and this also extends to other salon workers sometimes, — and even retail workers now and then.
This all comes down to our desire to give a little extra when we’re very happy with the service we received and nothing at all when we’re not! Because of this, no one expects you to tip and if you do, they’ll see it as an appreciation of the service you gave them. But if don’t tip they won’t assume they did badly, as most UK customers don’t tip at all. Although waiting staff really do appreciate the tips to put a little extra on their wages, they don’t rely on tips to make enough money, and if you say a genuine “thank you” and tell them how great it was and that you’ll be back, that’s actually just as meaningful to them as a tip. Repeat business is very important in the UK and building customer loyalty comes above tipping for most businesses.
So, by all means, tip if you feel the service was great and don’t if you don’t want to. No one will be offended no matter what you do. There’s no right or wrong way.
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