Illustration by Josie Portillo
YOU POP INTO an airport store to grab a bottle of water before your flight and the debit card reader prompts you to leave a tip. What, exactly, is the service you’re tipping for?
The rise of the chip-card reader is just one of many factors complicating the already-befuddling custom of tipping. Prompts can show up in unexpected situations—not just for takeaway food, but also retail and other services. Often, we’re faced with a range of tip options, the lowest sometimes set to more than we may think is appropriate. Add to that the pandemic trend of tipping generously to support struggling businesses and it’s hard to know what to do, especially when travelling.
There’s no shame in manually entering an amount on a pin-card reader, according to business etiquette expert Julie Blais Comeau at etiquettejulie.com. That includes choosing to tip on the pre-tax amount, which is the norm, even if the card reader suggests a tip on the full amount. Tipping for counter service remains optional. “The main considerations should be the [local] tipping custom and the quality of the service provided,” notes Blais Comeau.
Americans are seen as among the world’s most generous tippers, and Canadian tippers are not far behind. According to a survey conducted by Restaurants Canada in April 2022, Canadians tip between- 15 and 18 percent. In the U.S., the norm is closer to 20 percent.
When you’re travelling outside of Canada and the U.S., research local customs, as gratuities protocol varies from country to country.
For instance, in Japan, tipping may be considered insulting. In Australia, gratuities used to be optional, though chip-card readers are gradually changing that now. Gas-station attendants and grocery-store baggers in Mexico are often given five to 10 pesos. Meanwhile, in European restaurants, the service charge is not included in the total, so a tip often means rounding off the bill with a few extra euros. In Brazil, you may see a 10 percent service fee added to your restaurant bill, but you can refuse to pay it if service is lacking. Tipping is never mandatory, but is sometimes expected.
When you’re booking a resort, cruise or spa, Blais Comeau recommends budgeting for gratuities. When all-inclusive accommodations offer the option to tip in advance, she suggests doing so—it might increase the level of service you receive.
If you’re worried about being rude for tipping or not tipping, it’s always fine to ask a worker or manager what is expected locally—few will take exception to Canadian tipping practices. Or generosity. “If you can afford it and impact that person’s livelihood, do it,” says Blais Comeau. “If it will bring a smile to their face, do it.”
You’ll feel good, too.
A CAA Travel Consultant can help you book travel plans to suit your budget.
Go to caamanitoba.com/travel to learn more.