Ask the Waiter – Foreigners!

Dear Waiter

If someone with a foreign accent forgets to tip, do most waitstaff realize that tipping isn’t a universal practice outside the US and forgive them, or do they get angry about it?

Trust me, we get angry about it. This is how we get paid. It’s your responsibility to know the customs and traditions of the country you’re visiting – it’s not my duty to forgive your ignorance. If I came to your country you’d want me to have a cursory knowledge of its traditions, right? For example, if I went to Iraq I’d be sure never to show some one the bottom of my shoe, I’d be sure to take my slippers off before entering a Japanese house, and I’d know that in England the gratuity’s included in the bill. (But I’d still leave a few extra bob anyway!)

Sorry to have to say this, but quite a few tourists feign ignorance about tipping in order to save themselves a few bucks. They know they’re supposed to tip, but when the check comes they have a sudden case of cynical amnesia. (And God forbid they’re diplomats waving around that goddamn tax exemption card from the State Department!) I’ve seen the smarmy self congratulatory smiles as the cheapskates pat themselves on the back for pulling one over on the American Waiter. If you even try and explain the concept of tipping they get outraged and sometimes even forget how to speak English. I’ve seen fluent English speakers go suddenly mute when I tried explaining that yes, they did have to pay the pesky service charge on their party of twenty people! Sorry, but it’s the truth. (And it’s almost always the Europeans! The Asian tourists usually tip. Go figure.)

That being said, I’ve had many more lovely, gracious, and good tipping customers from all over the world than I’ve had cheap Eurotrash. (Ooops! That’s not very PC is it? My bad.) Some of my best customers were from across the pond. I guess bad tipping foreigners prove that being an asshole is not a uniquely American phenomenon.

Please send your restaurant questions to waiterrant@yahoo.com


Comments

Ask the Waiter – Foreigners! — 32 Comments

  1. Hey,
    really love your blog (I’m a teenage girl that used to work in a restaurant, so some of the things you write about are really recognizable).
    I felt the need to comment on this, though, even though it’s an old post.

    See, I’m from the Netherlands, and even with the risk of reinforcing the ‘Dutch are cheap’ stereotype I have to say that even though I can’t speak for other European countries: we do tip. However, when I went to the United States a waiter got really angry with my family for only tipping 10%. Tipping 10% is customary in Holland, it’s even on the high end, so when the waiter calmed down and explained to us it is customary in the US to tip 15-20% we were really shocked. We were probably seen as bad customers.

    So, like I said, can’t speak for other countries, but I think that in the US the tip percentage is higher than in most other countries (I realize that your entry was about foreigners not tipping at all, but I just felt like clarifying this cultural differences).

  2. “So, like I said, can’t speak for other countries, but I think that in the US the tip percentage is higher than in most other countries (I realize that your entry was about foreigners not tipping at all, but I just felt like clarifying this cultural differences).”

    Hence the part of his post about LEARNING what the local customs are, that includes learning what the expected tip percentage is.

  3. Lotte,

    Wow, That’s really great that in the Netherlands waiters can live off 10% tips, but I believe the point of this blog was what was customary and standard in the US not what you would tip if you were back home in the Netherlands except that you happen to be eating in the US at that moment. People will use any argument to be cheap and save a few bucks.

  4. In almost all tourist books and guides tipping is discussed, so I’m in agreement with waiter that there is no reason for the “in my country…” act. This isn’t you’re country and you’re a guest in ours, act like it!

    If I went to the middle east, I wouldn’t pull out my skankiest hoochie dress and heels, just because that’s acceptable where I live.

  5. from where i came from we don’t tip waiters but if the service is really good, we give a minimum of 20%. but then again, that’s just me. =)

  6. Of *course* all Americans are incredibly culturally sensitive when they travel abroad: that’s why American tourists are so universally loathed. I’ve seen American tourists in India haggling with a rickshaw guy who makes $50 a month over 10 cents. Over and over again. They walk around convinced that the world is out to rip them off. They know nothing about the culture, and what is more, make no effort to apologize for their insensitivity. And then some self-righteous American asshole has the balls to complain when people from other countries are not up to speed with America’s ridiculous tipping conventions. Jeez! If you hate your sub-minimum-pay job so much, get a real career, you freak.

  7. I was once good friends with a guy my age from Pakistan. He loved American movies and was very funny and intelligent. I also liked how much he liked bacon during his “rebellious” years even though he continued praying toward Mecca everyday. We used to joke around with each other by showing the other the bottom of our foot as an alternative to giving each other the finger in the workplace. After he stopped being so rebellious and quit eating pork, he got a big kick out of the day he walked in and almost ate a sausage kolache and the way I dove across my desk to knock it out of his hand right as it just barely touched his lips. He gave me this “WTF” look and I told him “Sorry, I was just trying to save you from eternal damnation.”

    *****

    By the way that’s real intelligent, “WaitersSuck”. I’ve been all over the world and stupidity exists everywhere I’ve been. We Americans really don’t care if you like us or not. You can rest comfortably knowing that if you ever need humanitarian aid, it will be the US who is leading the way in reaching into it’s pockets. Like always.

  8. I’m from Australia – where tipping is entirely voluntary (but polite when you have received good service). Yes, we should tip when we go to the US, but I can’t help but agree a bit with WaitersSuck. If we all started getting angry whenever tourists made a cultural/linguistic error, I would have been lynched in about 15 countries by now, as even when you think you know what you’re doing, sometimes you don’t. Also I would have killed thousands of tourists (predominantly American) myself for being utterly rude, annoying, pretentious or plain bastards either in Australia or abroad. I mean, I wanted to smash a couple of Americans in the Picasso Museum in Spain for walking around saying loudly “Well, I don’t get it! I could have done that! My KID could have done that!” But I didn’t. I just took it on the chin and shut up.

    It can be easy to err. Acting like a jerk to people who genuinely may not know how offensive they are being just makes you look bad.

  9. Dave,

    The US really doesn’t provide that much aid to other countries (as % of GNP), unless you live in Israel or Egypt and count weapons as aid.

  10. To post #6 (Kalijhfgjhsdnuigsdh or whatever the hell your name is): A touch of class is all we ask, no more, no less.

    To post #11 (Aapje): Then why is it that 80% of the U.N. World Bank is funded by American taxpayers money? Perhaps the rest of the world could start contributing to the Bank instead of sitting out at the international crossroads with a “Won’t bomb your country for American dollars” sign. It is one thing to look at the percentage of GDP allocated by a country, and another to face the reality of cold hard cash funding the rest of the worlds’ piggy bank. Or, an even better idea, we could just pull all of our funding completely, and become financially isolationist (governmentally, not in the free market capitalism sense), so the rest of the world will understand its dependence on our contribution to their self intrest. It is so popular to decry the “American swine” yet go to American Universities, get jobs in America, then go back to their countries just to continue decrying our fair Republic. It reminds me of the petulant adolescent (or teen-ager, if you will) who “hates” their parents, yet demands an allowance for doing next to, or nothing.

    Finally, we, as waiters, KNOW that not all forigners will educate themselves before they come to our country when visiting. Yet there is the prevailing optimism that maybe, just maybe, one of them will see this “blog” or hear from a friend the tipping customs of our land, and follow them, as they now have a new found respect for the people who serve them over here, and make that servers’ day that much less odeious by surprising them with a decent to good tip. We also have the nigh vain hope that we, as Americans will educate ourselves to the cultural customs of the nations we are visiting, as well.

    How nice it would be if we would all put a bit of cursory preperation into our travel, and our lives.

  11. “I’d know that in England the gratuity’s included in the bill. (But I’d still leave a few extra bob anyway!)”

    Great demonstration of local knowledge – actually service isn’t included in the bill in the vasy majority of places in the UK, and if it is it will be very clear (“service charge of 15 added% or similar stated on the receipt).

  12. Hi, i’m planning a trip to nyc and have been researching tipping on the internet because otherwise I would have no idea when to tip. There is nothing like that here in NZ you pay for your meal and thats it. What does annoy me is that you get angry when foriegners don’t know to tip, ok some are faking it but most won’t have any clue about tipping. So you know everything about other peoples customs do you? Do you know whats customary when you enter a marae and where you should sit without researching it? I bet not. I don’t think people should have to tip I think its stupid. Your being paid to be our waiter or taxi driver or whatever, i’m gonna be on a very tight budget when i head over there and don’t really want to be wasting my money on greedy people who think they deserve more money then they get for their piss easy jobs.

  13. I waitressed in Canada and the worst were Americans for tipping! They would toss us a single dollar bill like big spenders, as though we were in a third world country and should be grateful for a paltry buck! At the time the exchange rate was 1.40…I guess the Yanks figured the extra 40 cents made for a great tip! Or they would complain about all the taxes on their bill (15 %) as though this justified them not tipping.

  14. Funny. I recently commented on another post about tipping and a fellow Dutch person also commented here. This probably isn’t helping our case.
    Even so, I feel obliged to say something.
    I myself am a very cautious person. When visiting another country, I’m often scared of unintentionally offending the “natives”. I will always ask people about their experiences with a certain country and I will find as much information as possible on the internet.
    However, when visiting a fellow Western country, you don’t expect to find a lot of differences. So doing a lot of research doesn’t seem necessary. If nobody ever tells you about “minor” things like tipping and you don’t read blogs like these, there’s no way of knowing.
    Also, it’s impossible to study the American culture, because you don’t have one specific culture. There are enough differences between the several states of America and on top of that you have all kinds of immigrant subcultures. There are no tourist guides for that.
    So, I get that some people try to get out of stuff they don’t feel like doing by playing the tourist card, but most of the times people aren’t trying to screw you on purpose. It pains me to see that you assume the worst, especially considering the fact that “you Americans” like to be seen as the friendly, hospitable and tolerant nation. (Although I’m not sure that goes for New Yorkers).

  15. Okay, I know old thread, but I’m adding my two cents.

    To every forgin person whose going on and on about how they don’t know what’s going on. I can tell you, ninty percent of the people from Europe have some sort of guide book infront of them, they point at it and ask me where they can find various things they see in it. Tipping procedures are in that book.

    If you can’t afford to tip, you can’t afford to go out and eat. That’s the truth. The resturaunt doesn’t care that I get paid 2 bucks an hour and my table just stiffed me on a 100 dollar meal that i now have to pay taxes on. You paid the resturaunt you didn’t pay me.

    You didn’t pay me for my time, for the four million questions you asked not relating to the meal, for the instructions to get to the Jazz fest or anything like that. All that sweetheart is extra.

    You got bad service, try and see if you have unrealistic expectations, shut up and tip at least 15 percent, if you can afford that fourth martini you can afford to tip. If not, say hello to McDonalds.

  16. Actually i’m a waitress in canada and tipping is definitely NOT the same as in the states. waitstaff minimum wage in canada is more than they pay in the states so that might explain the difference. i see 15% as a good tip – i rarely see 20% or up. 10% is standard. Seriously.

  17. i used to work for disney world doing little girls hair and making them into princesses. average bill was between 60-220$ a kid. best tipper i ever had? she was from saudi arabia and tipped 85%. i wanted to clone her.

  18. If Tineka happens to come back to read this entry, I’ve got some news for them: You don’t tip in NZ because you folks actually pay your waitstaff a living wage. Here in Canada servers get a little less than minimum wage, under $6/hr CDN as I recall. Down south in the US? They get paid shit. Less than $3/hr US in many states, and they also get taxed on the tips they are assumed to have made WHETHER THEY MAKE THAT MUCH IN TIPS OR NOT! Many waitstaff get a ‘paycheque’ that is actually $0 because after taxes that’s all that’s left. Tips are the ONLY way they can possibly pay their rent, so when you come to visit this part of the world, you bloody well tip, or you’ll be seen as a cheap, rude tourist who won’t be welcome back any time soon.

    Whether you think you should have to tip or not, that’s how it is over here and you have to accept that not every place is like your home place. If you don’t want to offend the locals when you’re traveling, become VERY familiar with their customs BEFORE you visit to avoid people getting angry at you just because you don’t know something. In places where the workers are treated with less than basic decency, always tip generously because it’s the RIGHT THING TO DO. And if your budget is that tight, you probably shouldn’t be making such an expensive trip to begin with. Stay home, learn a bit more about the customs of other countries, save your money, and when you can TRULY afford it, then come on over. And tip generously. Is it THAT hard to be nice to people?

  19. I can’t believe everyone who is justifying not tipping because they didn’t learn the culture. Any tour guide book you buy (I have a very hard time believing anyone would just waltz into an unknown country without buying one) has tipping and other specific culture related items that are important to know when in another country. Food is going to be a number one priority when visiting a country because you’ll most likely be eating 3 times a day. And for the England comment, I stayed in London for a few months and unless they specified a service charge on the bottom of the bill, if you were served your meal you were expect to tip at least 10%

  20. Especially to people like WaiterSuck! Goddamn those of you who would have the audacity to judge a people as a whole based on the ideas of one. I personally absolutely agree that it is the responsibility of a guest to familiarize themselves with local custom; being a foreigner won’t get you out of a speeding ticket, and generally one of the first things you learn in a foreign language is “Do you speak English?” and “Please?”. These are signs of respect for your hosts. I’m currently residing in Ontario, Canada. Canada, though a wonderful place to live, is one of few countries where “minimum wage” falls below the poverty line – somewhere around 65 percent of what is considered the poverty line. As a server in Ontario, I’m legally paid a dollar an hour less than the minimum wage. It’s also difficult if not impossible to get 40 hours a week, as there often aren’t that many man hours on the floor, depending on your staffing situation.
    I’ve done what I do for 12 years, in four different countries and consider myself very good at what I do. Most of my guests do too, and I live comfortably, despite regular bi-weekly paychecks of less than 325 dollars. That’s half what I would get if I were on welfare. Now I also tip out to the house and bar, as most servers in Canada do. That can vary from 3.5-5%, though I’ve heard tell of 10%. So when I serve a hundred dollar meal to anyone, whether they’re from Toronto or Timbuktu, I’m kicking out 5 dollars to the house. If I get no tip, it cost me money to serve you. If you leave me 10%, I keep 5%, and yes I legally have to declare my tips, taxed about 40%. In the hour you can justify a hundred dollars worth of wine and steak, or maybe you’re out with the family and that hundred dollars was lunch, and cappuccino, either way, and you drop a 10% tip, never mind those of you who don’t tip at all, the server in ontario gets to take home about 13$ ( if he commits tax fraud and doesn’t declare a cent) and 10 otherwise.

    If I were a plumber, painter, carpenter, or any other trade, I would have wages that have for years been protected and buffered by unions in the United States, and other international factors. I would have job security, paid vacation, health plan that extends to my family and maybe one day a pension. Instead I choose each and every day to go out and make the world a better place, one guest’s smile at a time. I consider what I do to be honourable and I sleep very well at night. I also love the fact that I can pick up and go ply my trade anywhere at a moment’s notice- I suppose there’s a form of job security. And yet a service essential to generating billions of dollars in annual tourist revenues continues to be neglected by the governments of both Canada and the United states.

    Now I don’t mean to be all moan and groan, a tip does need to be earned. Though my girlfriend has VERY recently broken me of the habit, I have had no problem not tipping if the SERVICE is poor. The server isn’t responsible for cooking your food, nor for dealing with the miseries you carry upon your shoulders. He or she is responsible for ushering you through an morning/afternoon/evening/moment of gastronomic self indulgence. Maybe just a morning cappuccino, discussing events with the barista, or a romantic 25th anniversary at a high end chop house. There are people working both front of house and back of house that are depending on the generosity of those enjoying the fruits of their labour. Elsewhere in the world, and in most other skilled professions, dedication, commitment and results are rewarded with pay; in a restaurant the guest is the employer. Period. You may not tip in countries where it’s not part of “custom” but you’ll be hard pressed to find an working adult who doesn’t appreciate a little cash bonus for a job well done, particularly in an industry devoted to the wants of others.

  21. oops, and one more thing WAITERS IT IS NEVER ALL RIGHT TO CONFRONT YOUR GUEST ON MATTERS OF THE TIP. THAT IS RUDE, DISRESPECTFUL AND AN INSULT TO YOURSELF AS WELL AS YOUR PROFESSION. It may be just as rude to not tip out of ignorance, but beggars can’t be choosers. If you don’t like depending on the generosity of strangers get out of the game. Go work in a call center. Do landscaping, be a lawyer.

  22. you should have a list of how to say
    “giving a gratuity is customary”
    in various foreign languages. here I’ll start

    dar una propina es de costumbre – Spanish

  23. I am going to completely agree with world waiter. I typically do tip 20% here in canada for above average (mind you not great service because well everyone makes mistakes). However if you do not like what you are doing, you wouldn’t be doing such an unstable work (obviously I’m talking about the general and not the exceptions where circumstances unknown to me are involved) but no matter how much you complain and huff and puff, there will always be customers who simply don’t tip want you want and at times don’t at all. I’m sure there are people here in canada and the u.s. who don’t even know that you have to tip or even think that 10% is for decent service; it’s something that won’t change for a long time, but thanks for waiter’s book, A LOT more people have come to the conclusion – if you want to go back to that restaurant in the future TIP 20%!!

  24. I agree that when foreigners come to America they should learn to tip like we do in the U.S. (hell, AMERICANS need to learn this).

    But conversely, Americans need to do the same. I used to be a waitress at a restaurant in the U.S. (I’m American btw), and now I live in Japan. One of my old waitstaff buddies came to visit and we went out for drinks and dinner. He was so rude and loud the whole time we were out that I was embarrassed to be seen with him. It would have been fine if we were in the States, but we weren’t. And this is the same guy who always used to complain about tourist tippers and yell about Spanish-speaking workers who need to “learn English or get out of the country.”

    I’ve also seen examples of foreigners acting ugly a million times. One group of students were riding the train, talking loudly and laughing. One guy opened a beer, spraying it all over the girl sitting next to him.

    I go out and have a really good time too… but there’s a difference between having a good time and making an ass of yourself. My Japanese friends all comment on how “Japanese-like” I am because I’m not loud and rude like my other American counterparts. (Way to represent, guys.)

    The bottom line is we should ALL be respectful of our surroundings, no matter where we’re from or which country we’re visiting.

  25. okayyyy… people
    most of the time waiters get paid about two to three dollars an hour.. and we work in shifts so we dont always work all day every day… so we rely heavily on our tips… i dont know how it works in other countries.. but this is most common in the states… some waiters get minimum wage.., but thats not very common. being a waiter or a waitress is a pretty good job espically when your going through school when you have a complicated scheadule.. saying that, this is our job we need and want to make money just as much as anyother person working in an office or any other job.. so please treat people as you wish to be treated and tip.. if the waiter gives really awful service talk to the manager.. and remember people always have their bad days..

  26. I know its an old thread but I’m a little shocked at the whole thing.

    Tipping isn’t really customary in Australia, to put it in perspective I was earning $12.70 per hr AUS (roughly $11.43 US at 90c to the dollar) at a major fast food joint when I was 15. To hear that the minimum wage for an adult waiter in New York was $4.90 nearly popped the eyes right out of my head. No wonder you guys get pissed when people don’t leave a tip!!

    and by now with all the movies and TV shows about American culture I don’t think there’s anyone who can fain not knowing about ‘tipping’. How much to tip however, is a different matter, but then again its all about research, and some people are just plain dicks when it comes to service.

    Come move to my country, here you’ll get a decent pay, sick leave AND paid holidays…
    But you’ll have to put up with lack luster cable options.

  27. K posting a really long time after but… I lived in England for a year (from Canada) and travelled Europe. My friends and I would often to try to see what other people were tipping, ask a friend beforehand if we remembered, look to see if it was somewhere on the cheque/etc., or even ask the people at the next table. We felt awkward asking the staff- but in doubt, we always tried to leave something. Poor students traveling around, we couldn’t afford to leave a lot, but we hoped that even if we left something and you weren’t supposed to, that the waiters would understand that we were foreigners and didn’t want to have them lose out on on their way of earning money. It is an awkward situation to be in. [Then again, loved England where it was included and what it said it cost, was what it cost (had to tell my mom she once gave the equivalent of $15 canadian to a taxi driver for a 5 minute ride- in a country where they don’t tip).] I found that the waiters were never rude to us though- if we tipped too little, or tipped and weren’t supposed too (like customs- they would tell is if it was already included). It is more of a US/Canadian thing I think to be mad at people who don’t tip. On a final note, as a I did my year abroad through my university, I always ran information groups for students traveling abroad and tried to inform them on some of the info on tipping before they left- same with the Brits who were coming to Canada!

  28. Hey all you foreigners talking about how much America and American people suck? GO HOME. We don’t want you here. This country was founded on immigration, and it’s insulting to people who have given up everything just for an opportunity to start a life here. Most of you assholes complaining that America sucks, are probably the same ones living in government housing collecting government funds so you don’t have to work for your money. If you’re going to come here, learn the language or find a translator.

  29. For the past few days I have been stiffed by more Europeans than ever, and despite all the obvious complaints made by everyone else here, I don’t think anyone has mentioned that we as servers have to tip out many employees that you don’t deal with directly that help your whole meal come together REGARDLESS if you tip us or not. For example, your bill is $100, I have to give 1% to the host $1, 1% to the bartender (regardless if you got a cocktail, maybe you got a hand shaken lemonade etc) that’s another dollar. 2% to the expos (the people running your food), and to the bussers that’s 4 dollars. so that is 6 dollars total. If you left me a lame 10% I only take home 4 of that, and you left me nothing, I’m in the negative. I’m sorry, I didn’t run around and fill all of your requests that come with $100 dollars worth of food to go home with less money than I had before. ugh

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