Tipping may seem like a custom when travelling – the amount you tip depending on where you are in the world, but it is increasingly common in the UK and although there is no obligation, it is becoming more commonplace and, in a lot of instances, an expectation. Here, we look at the culture of tipping; why its important to be aware of expectations to tip when traveling and how this is seeping into the UK service industry too.  

Why we tip abroad

Primarily, it’s because employers are not paying a living or even a fair wage. In my experience, working for a US company, the servers were paid only $2.62 an hour (just to note this was 10 years ago). The rest of their earrings, and the majority of it, was through the tips they received. The tips you give to your server in the US does not just go to the waiter or waitress, but to all those that support them in their jobs, including the bussers and bar staff.  

It may not seem fair, but it’s the culture. You may not agree with tipping, you may think it should be up to the employers to pay a fair wage and yes, this is absolutely the case, but when traveling abroad you have to respect the customs and cultures of that country. If tipping is the norm, it is your responsibility to find this out and plan accordingly; what are the expectations when it comes to tipping, who receives a tip and ensuring that you budget for this into the cost of your holiday or spending money. It is worth noting that in a lot of instances, in a lot of countries, it is any service role that would have a tip added on- think spa, beauty, hotel, restaurant etc.

Additionally, generally speaking, the level of tip left is a mark of the effort, friendliness and service provided. The greater the service, the larger the tip, usually as a percentage of the service cost.

Tipping in the UK

eurochange, one of the UK’s leading foreign exchange and currency exchange specialists, has conducted a nationwide survey of 2,500 people on tipping habits across the United Kingdom. According to the survey, 98% of Scots tip restaurant staff, making them the most generous tippers in the UK. Northern Ireland follows closely behind, with 95% tipping, while England and Wales are not far behind, with 93% and 92% respectively.

But the real story lies in the amount of the tips. Scots once again take the top spot, with 19% tipping 15% or more. England comes in second with 12% tipping at least 15%, followed by Wales with 10%, and Northern Ireland bringing up the rear with only 8% tipping at that level.

Commenting on the survey results, eurochange’s Managing Director, Charles Stewart said: “We wanted to shed some light on tipping habits across the UK and were surprised by some of the findings. It’s great to see so many people showing their appreciation for good service, despite the tide of economic pressures like the cost-of-living crisis and rising inflation, but it’s also worth remembering that tipping is not mandatory in the UK and should always be at the customer’s discretion.”

It’s evident that tipping, particularly in restaurants, is the norm, but what about other industries?

Although we’re being told that tipping in the UK is not obligatory, in certain sectors, such as hairdressing, online searches suggest it is ‘standard’ and ‘the norm’ to tip your hairdresser, and anything from 10-20% of the total bill. But searches on tipping beauticians is much more vague with individuals tipping if ‘I feel they’ve done a good job’, ‘it depends on how I feel the experience has been’. Considering both services generally involve seeing the same person each time- who would have their brows done by someone different each time? – it is curious that there is such a disparity in expectations when it comes to tipping.

Additional searches suggest that tipping your taxi driver, and even bellhops and hotel cleaning staff is considered the norm, particularly in London. A lot of the information we found is aimed at those traveling to the UK, but conveyed in a way to let you know what could be seen as customary.

Considerations for tipping in the UK

It is evident that there are no expectations when it comes to tipping in the UK; most of the guides we found make this quite clear and apparent. However, the information is conflicting and almost always caveated.

Tipping isn’t commonplace in the UK because of our laws on minimum and living wages. We can’t know what every organisation pays their staff, except for an assumption that it at least meets the legal minimums; equally we could assume that the more qualifications or expertise someone possess the greater their earning potential. Additionally, you may feel an increased pressure to tip because of the cost-of-living crisis and the impact this is having on the real-term value of wages, particularly for those in lower paid roles. However, the cost-of-living crisis is impacting all individuals, no matter their circumstances, causing a constraint because of increased costs. There is no more expectation to tip service providers at this time.

The focus on whether to tip or not, should be based on the level of service provided. Although there are suggestions that tips should be given as a percentage of the total cost of service, be empowered to tip what you’re comfortable tipping. After all, tipping is a mark of your gratitude for the service given and in some instances as a cost for the impact you may have caused to the service provision, for example if you turn up late. Tipping as a percentage of the service would certainly be a generous acknowledgement, but it isn’t always feasible, particularly in instances where the cost of service can be high. Instead, if you’re in a position to do so and you feel that the service provided was a good service, tipping whatever you can is sure to be appreciated.

Finally, it’s worth bearing in mind that in some instances, there is an obligation to tip; for example, you’re dining as a large party which does require additional attention. Generally speaking, this is for tables of 6 or more. You should be made aware of at the time of booking, though mostly this isn’t flagged and only highlighted at time of payment. However, pay special attention to the terminology used; if it says ‘discretionary’ this can be adjusted, both up and down and even eliminated altogether. If it is a ‘mandatory’ service charge, this must be paid.

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