Tipping in Great Britain

Britain does not have a tipping culture. There is a legal minimum wage and the economy of the UK is such that when you are served in whatever capacity, the server is already being paid for that work in their wages via your bill, so you do not have to pay extra for them doing their job in the expected manner. Having said that, the minimum wage is still a low amount, £7.83 per hour for over 25's and £5.90 for 18-20 year olds in 2018.

Tipping is always optional, it is not expected or required.

You should however be aware that this means that staff will spend as much time with you as they need to fulfill their job and no more as they have other customers to attend to as well. They will not generally strike up conversations or become your friend for the stay in a hope of getting a decent tip when you leave. In restaurants for instance they will deliver menus, explain the daily specials and any menu changes, take the order, serve it and clear away, they will do this courteously and discretely. This is considered ordinary service and generally not worthy of a tip.

If however you place more unusual requirements on the server such as long explanations of the menu or if they accommodate orders not directly off the menu that are non standard or more time consuming, then a tip is appropriate, especially if the extra service has been well delivered. Things can sometimes swing the other way if those from a strong tipping culture expect a lot of personalised service but without leaving a tip.

Tips are for service over and above the norm, not simply for any service that isn't awful.


How much to tip?

Partially of course, this depends on how generous you are feeling and how much you can afford as well as how pleased you are with the service you have received (that you have already paid for once through the bill).

There has been something of a quiet push in recent years by restaurants towards adding a "service charge" automatically to bills, this can be anywhere from 10% and 20%, it is far more prevalent in and around London though is creeping outwards. My experience is that younger people are more prepared to accept this as to some degree they have known no different and for reasons I don't understand are more accepting of paying more money at the simple request of the establishment that is billing them.

There are three common ways of determining the price of a tip:

1 - Rounding up. Probably the commonest approach and most practical when paying with cash. e.g. the bill is £47.39, pay £50 and say "keep the change". A quick calculation to make sure you're not giving too much, more than 10% would be too much, there isn't any lower limit, e.g. bill is £49.60, pay £50 and say "keep the change", you could add a pound or two extra if you feel the 40p would be too little if you have it as change, but don't worry if you don't.

2 - Percentage. Absolute tip amounts are probably more common than percentage amounts, the £4 you have in spare change rather than 10% for instance. 10% is seen as a generous tip already, beyond this is unexpectedly generous. The idea that a server should be tipped more for carrying an expensive dish rather than a cheaper dish doesn't make sense to me at least.

3 - A cash donation from each diner. More common when dining with a group of friends where everyone is paying for themselves. The basic bill is paid (minus the "service charge" if it has been cheekily automatically added) and then everyone chips in a couple of pounds or so from pocket change which is left as a tip, this also allows each person to determine how much if anything they want to leave.

When to tip

Restaurants. The commonest place for visitors to leave a tip. Typically only restaurants where you receive full table service are where tips might normally be left, any of the three above methods can be used.

As a rule of thumb, if you have to queue at all or collect your own food from cafeteria style service or a counter, tipping is inappropriate, there may be a tip jar though for some loose change.

"Service charge", as mentioned above is becoming a more common addition to restaurant bills, this is a tip by another intentionally non-transparent name, so check you aren't tipping twice. If you are not told that this is compulsory in advance (written on the menu, in the window or verbally) you do NOT have to pay it. Compulsory service charges are usually only applied to large groups of diners. Any other service charge applied to your bill is paid at your discretion. In Britain people often use bank debit cards to pay for such bills and removing the charge places the onus on the customer to ask for it to be taken off which many would rather avoid at the end of a pleasant meal with friends or family, so the restaurant benefits from customer politeness and their own rudeness by adding it automatically.

The only exception to this is at high-end fine dining restaurants where not to pay the service charge would be seen as rude unless there was something clearly wrong with the service.

Billed service charges are paid to the restaurant and may or not be shared with the serving staff, even if it is shared, it is often not in full whereas a cash tip will be.

A simple solution is to pay by cash, pay the amount minus the service charge and then add any tip you wish to pay also in cash.

 

Taxis. Taxis are already quite expensive in Britain and tips are uncommon or small. A rounding-up tip here to the nearest £1 or £5 is appropriate if you wish, with the higher amount for a long journey or for significant help with luggage.

 

Pubs and bars.  It is quite unusual to tip in pubs, if you wish to do so then when paying the bill, the phrase to use is "...and one for yourself", the price of a cheap drink will be added as a tip to the bill, alternatively you could say "keep the change" assuming you know roughly how much the change is. If you do this, you will typically do it just once while you are in the pub and not for each round. there might be a tip-jar on the bar for you to add a pound or two or some loose change.

Don't expect the bar person to actually have the drink you got them (they are at work after all), sometimes they might and even then most probably later on, when their shift is over. More likely they will take the cost of the drink in cash as a tip rather than as a actual drink.

 

Hotels. Tipping is not expected, though you may wish to tip an individual who was particularly helpful to you during your stay, as with restaurants look out for "service charge" on the bill.

 

Hairdressers. The chances are you won't be visiting a hairdresser during your visit to the UK, but if you do, rounding up or a tip of up to 10% is sometimes paid if you are pleased with the result. Not tipping hairdressers is also very common.

 

Anything else? These are the most commonly encountered circumstances when a tip might be paid in the UK, there are not any other circumstances when a visitor might be in a position where a tip is appropriate.