I set off a bit of a firestorm here on The London Traveler recently when I wrote about London pubs. Specifically, it was what I wrote about tipping at London pubs; it’s not necessary.
That seemed to be quite provocative, and based on the comments, that is certainly not the case across the UK. So I’d like to write a little bit more on the most confusing of topics for a visitor to a new country: tipping.
Tipping in General
While tipping still happens in the UK, it is neither quite as common nor as much as it is in the US/North America. Many professions in the US which are paid specifically less than the minimum wage because they earn tips are paid at least a minimum wage in the UK. While tipping is always appreciated, you won’t be chased down the street by someone screaming at you for a cheap (or non-existent) tip.
At the Pub
As I mentioned in a previous post, tipping in London pubs is not required. If you really want to tip the staff, buy them a drink by saying something along the lines of “and one for yourself.” They’ll then add the cost of their drink to your bill.
However, as the comments to that post noted, tipping in pubs is done elsewhere in the UK. This is probably where you need to do a bit of follow-the-leader. If there’s a jar for tips, and/or other customers are leaving tips, then I would suggest you do the same. Rounding up to the nearest pound or adding 10-15% would be common in these establishments.
At a Restaurant
Tipping in restaurants is always done. In many cases, restaurants add an optional 12.5% service charge to the bill, which is the tip. You can choose to pay it or not (though I would certainly suggest paying it!), and if you feel particularly generous, you can add more.
When tipping at a restaurant, the average is 10-15%. If you use a credit card, the staff may need you to enter information on a tip into their handheld machine. The options are typically 10%, 12.5% and 15%, so choose what you’d like.
In a taxi
Tipping a cab driver is, again, not compulsory, but is a nice thing to do. If the driver has helped you with luggage, etc., you should really tip them, generally a pound a bag or so.
On a standard ride from point A to point B, you can tip if you wish; I generally round the fare to the nearest pound if I do choose to tip. Again, it’s not a problem if you choose not to tip, but it’s certainly appreciated when you do.
I hope this post has cleared up at least a little bit about tipping in London. (Again, the rest of the UK does vary from region to region.) It will be interesting to read your comments on my thoughts above. I hope you enjoy your visit!
P.S. Friendly Advice to My US Mates
Ah, my dear American mates! Now, I understand that across the pond, you lovely folks are quite generous with your tipping, aren’t you? Well, here’s a little cheeky advice from yours truly when you’re on this side of the Atlantic.
First off, while you lot might be tossing around dollars like confetti at a wedding, over here in Britain, we’re a bit… how shall I put it? Reserved. We Brits have this peculiar tradition where we actually pay our waiters a proper wage. Shocking, I know! So, when you’re in a restaurant, you might find yourself reaching for that wallet after a jolly good meal, but hold your horses! It’s not the done thing to leave a whopping 20% like you do in the States. If you truly feel the service was top-notch, a wee 10% is more than generous.
Popping into a pub for a pint? Now, I know in America, you tip your bartenders for every drink. But if you start doing that here, you’ll be the talk of the town, and not in a good way! Your bartender might give you a look as if you’ve grown a second head. It’s all on the house. (Well, not the drink – just the service.)
Last but not least, the cabbies! If you take a black cab and the driver doesn’t go in circles just to give you a grand tour of London, then feel free to round up the fare or toss them an extra quid or two. They’ll appreciate it, and you’ll get a lovely British “cheers” for your effort.
In a nutshell, my American friends, when in Britain, keep those dollars (or rather, pounds) close and remember we’re a bit more low-key with the tipping. And if you ever get confused, just think of me and do the opposite of what you’d do in the States. Happy travels! Cheers!