Your essential guide to tipping etiquette in the UK
The British have a reputation for tipping. We are 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 used to tipping very often because there are no real tipping “rules” here. If this is 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 is nothing more embarrassing than not understanding the etiquette of the country you are staying in.
When friends of mine came from abroad, I received frantic messages from them in a restaurant, wondering if the waitress would be offended if she tipped him directly. My friend wondered if this would be frowned upon and it might seem like she was suggesting the waitress was poor. As I explained to my friend at the time, tipping in the UK is quite a casual affair and you are unlikely to offend anyone, whatever you do. There isn’t really a tipping ‘culture’ here in the UK and it’s more based on ‘how you feel about the service’.
That said, it’s confusing for anyone visiting, so to help you understand when, who and how much, here’s a guide to tipping etiquette in four of the most common tipping situations while you’re in the UK. United.
Tipping is very common after finishing a meal in a restaurant here in the UK. When you receive your invoice at the end of the evening, take a quick look at it. If there is a service charge at the end of the bill, that’s your tip included and you don’t need to give anything extra.
Of course, if you feel like you received amazing service and want to leave more, you can. Note that this is not common 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. Brits tend to object to being told how much to tip or whether to leave anything.
If there is a service charge included and you are unhappy with the service you received, you can request that it be removed, and many locals do. If there is no service charge on the bill, you can tip, but there really is no obligation to do so. Most diners, if satisfied with the service, leave a small tip on the table as they leave. This should be around 10% of your bill, but again, how much you leave is up to you.
As I told my friend who was freaking out about what to do at the end of his meal, you normally wouldn’t give it to the waitress, but leave it on the table when you left. In most restaurants, the amount you leave won’t go directly to that particular waitress anyway, as all servers are required to hand in their tips to be split equally. That’s a whole other debate. A lot of people think it’s unfair, while others think it’s absolutely fair.
If you are buying take out food there is sometimes a tip jar on the counter, and again whether you tip or not is entirely up to you. I don’t think I’ve ever left a tip in a takeout or seen someone else do it. If you drink and eat at a bar, you are not expected to tip the bartender. If you really want to, you can tell him to “keep the change” when you pay with a bill higher than your bill price, or you can say “and one for you” when you order your drink, implying that you buy a drink as a thank you. It’s a bit of a throwback as bartenders these days won’t drink while they work, but it’s a nice way to say thank you for service. You certainly wouldn’t tip the bartender every time he pours you a drink. It should be noted 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 tip if you want, but most people pay the bartender every time they order a drink, and tipping in a bar is almost unknown in 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 just do it through the app, and it’s very common in the UK. If you are 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 a tip.
But if you take a black cab or other private taxi hire, it’s a bit more inconvenient. If the bill is pre-calculated, it is difficult to tip and most people would not tip the driver in this case. If you’re paying cash, a good way to do this is to round the price to the nearest pound or just say “keep the change” if you give them a note. Again, you’re not supposed to tip the taxi driver at all, it’s an entirely personal choice, and your driver won’t be offended if you don’t tip.
Tipping hotel employees 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 it. The hotel worker who is most often tipped is the bellhop or bellboy. He’s the person who helps bring your bags to your room, and it’s okay to give them a few pounds for that.
Housekeepers don’t usually get tipped, but some people like to leave small gifts for them in the room after they check out. You can also leave a few pounds in the room when you’re gone, as a nice surprise for your housekeeper. It all depends on how good your hotel is, but if you have a doorman you can give them 2-5 pounds when you leave if you want.
Again, this is by no means intended, and most Brits wouldn’t. It’s not normal to tip when ordering room service, or to tip at the hotel bar or restaurant, especially if it’s all on your hotel bill.
If you take a bus tour you will usually find that the driver has a cup or something where you can tip at the end of the tour. On rare occasions your guide will board the bus to ask the driver for tips, but this is unusual. If you’re taking a walking tour, it’s not common to tip your guide. I think it mostly comes down to that British clumsiness. We don’t really like handing over money that way, directly to a service worker, and prefer to leave it in a jar, or better yet, leave it somewhere to find it after we leave! If you don’t have such British awkwardness, you can, of course, tip whenever and however you like, and your guide will be very grateful.
Other places where you could tip
One of the most common service workers to be tipped is your barber at the salon. It’s a strange anomaly, but we seem perfectly comfortable with it. Hairstylists are regularly tipped 10% of the bill, and this also sometimes extends to other salon workers, and even retail workers from time to time.
It all comes down to our desire to give a little extra when we are very happy with the service received and nothing at all when we are not! For this reason, no one expects you to tip and if you do, they will see it as an appreciation for the service you have provided them. But if you don’t tip they won’t assume they’ve done wrong, as most UK customers don’t tip at all. Although servers really appreciate tips to make a little extra pay, they don’t rely on tips to make enough money, and if you say a genuine “thank you” and tell them how awesome it was and that you will be back is actually just as meaningful to them as a tip. Customer retention is very important in the UK and customer retention comes before tipping for most businesses.
So, of course, tip if you think the service was great and don’t if you don’t want to. No one will be offended whatever you do. There is no right or wrong way.