Ordering a drink on the beach in Bali? Or in a Swiss chalet? We’ve got you covered.
For international travelers, familiarizing oneself with the norms and expectations of a country’s culture is key. But some culturally-specific courtesies can seem unintuitive—especially when it comes to money.
This can be particularly true at bars. Don’t tip enough and, at best, the bartender gets salty—at worst, you’re making a serious financial impact on someone’s night. Tipping too much can be equally disrespectful and, in some cases, put restaurant workers in an uncomfortable position.
So what’s a tippling traveler to do? We consulted the new bar-Bible Where Bartenders Drink by Adrienne Stillman (Phaidon 2017) and talked to the author about tipping trends around the world.
If there’s one rule of thumb about tipping at bars, it’s probably that there isn’t actually a rule of thumb. Tipping rules vary from country to country, and the reasons for this range from cultural norms of politeness, social preconceptions about the restaurant industry, and, well, some degree of randomness.
“A lot of it has to do with labor laws and minimum wage regulations,” according to Stillman. In some countries, like the U.S., a bartender’s income is highly dependent on how much customers tip. In other countries, where minimum wage is higher or where the salary structure for food service workers is more consistent, tipping can be less important. “In Europe, it's the opposite,” she says. “Service professionals are almost all salaried and the cost is baked into the restaurant or bar's prices.”
If you’re totally at a loss, Stillman offers some simple rules. “In the US, tip 20 percent. If you're in a dive bar and you order a beer or a shot, $1 per drink is fine.” The book also offers world travelers tipping tips from some of the world’s top cocktail destinations:
Canada: “Tipping is 15–20 percent.”
Australia: “Tipping 10 percent to 15 percent is the norm.”
New Zealand: “Tipping is not expected, but much appreciated, and may make you some new friends.”
Singapore: “Tipping is usually included in a 15 percent service charge; otherwise a 15 percent to 20 percent tip is standard.”
China: Stillman says that “tipping is not customary at all.”
Japan: “Tipping is not customary,” but “some bars, especially in Ginza, may have a cover charge, usually around ¥1,500. You may also be charged for an otoshi, or small snack, around ¥800.”
U.K. (London): “Standard tipping is 10 percent.”
France (Paris): “Tipping is not customary, though at higher-end establishments you might leave €1 or €2.”
Italy: “Italy does not have a tipping culture. There is no need to leave a tip for an Aperol Spritz, but at a place like Jerry Thomas [an upscale bar in Rome], you should leave a few euros.”
Continental Europe: “In Europe, historically most countries outside the U.K. had very little tipping culture. This is starting to change, but most places don't expect more than 10 percent.”
Mexico: “Standard tipping is 15 percent.”
Peru: “A 10 percent service charge is sometimes included and leaving an additional 10 percent is customary at higher-end places.”
Argentina: “Standard tipping is 10 percent.”
And if you’re still not sure? Says Stillman, “When I'm abroad and I'm not sure what the local custom is, I usually tip about 10-15 percent. 20 percent if the service is really exceptional.”
Is it ever okay not to tip? Stillman says there are two—and only two—scenarios in which this is acceptable: “1) You are in an establishment that explicitly builds gratuity into the bill, or 2) The service is really and truly awful.” But she emphasizes how important tips can be for those tending bar, and encourages everyone to keep factors like minimum wage laws in mind when deciding how to tip.
Basically, if you don’t know what you’re doing, err on the side of generosity. "When in doubt, round up," says Stillman.