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Say you're travelling on a shoestring budget, say at the end of a long trip where you've spent almost all your money but still have time before your flight home.

Sometimes people you meet travelling want you to go out with them for a meal or drinks, which you could squeeze into your budget if you choose cheap places and the cheapest options on the menu.

But what should you do when this happens in a country where tipping is necessary and expected (due to extremely low wages for waitstaff for instance)?

Is being skint ever an excuse not to tip or to tip below the "normal" percentage? In such circumstances should you always just say "no" to going out and self-cater instead rather than do something which would be rude and/or offensive to staff and/or local people?

(Assume the service was good but not amazing, and if it matters which country, then assume USA.)

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3 Answers

up vote 19 down vote accepted

Not sure if this is quite the scenario you are outlining, but:

If you're really really broke, chances are you won't be eating at restaurants or places that require tipping in the first place :) At least in the US, tipping is not the norm (or is completely optional - eg. tip jar might be present) at fast food (McD, Chipotle), sandwich shops (Subway) or other similar food outlets even in countries where tipping is expected at restaurants. Generally tips are only expected where you have sit-down service; if you're standing in line at a counter, no tip needed.

At least in the US, the best way to look at tipping in a restaurant is to consider it to be part of the price of the meal. It's standard for good service. If your budget doesn't cover the full price (including tax and tip), then choose a more appropriate dining option, otherwise you're essentially underpaying and stiffing the waitstaff. So the analogous situation is: if you were in a country that didn't require tips, what would you plan on doing? (Probably not underpaying!)

For going for drinks, check to see if there's anywhere that has happy hour specials that you can take advantage of, you can often get decently cheap beer ($2 PBRs!) or appetizers depending on the venue and time; or it might be possible to chip in with the others to buy a pitcher of beer so you can still participate without having to over-commit.

Just being upfront with the other folks about being at the end of your budget might be the best strategy; depending on their cultural background, they may well be up for covering you for a drink or so in exchange for your travel stories or as a matter of hospitality - that whole kindness of strangers thing.

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I guess the big difference for those of us from non-tipping cultures is that we are not used to having any part of the price not being on the bill, so we couldn't go to a place where the advertised price is more than we have. But you've cleared that up for me, thanks. –  hippietrail Oct 19 '12 at 11:52
    
I gave you +1 even though PBRs do not count as "decent" beer in my book. If I wanted water, I'd go to a water fountain and get it free. ;) I do think the analogy you presented -- in a country that didn't require tips, you wouldn't underpay -- was especially good. –  Roddy of the Frozen Peas Oct 19 '12 at 14:41
    
I think in 3rd world countries, fast food is a lot more expensive than many other restaurants. –  gerrit Oct 19 '12 at 15:08
    
@hippietrail As a complication, consider Paris, where bar service and table/waiter service have two different prices with the 'tip' in effect put in the price for table service. At least in that situation you can see the price diff on some menu someplace. –  Rich Homolka Oct 19 '12 at 17:48
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For anyone else reading who, like me, has no idea what "PBR" refers to, it turns out to be Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. –  hippietrail Oct 20 '12 at 4:16
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While it may make you feel a bit cheap, sometimes you just can't tip - so in those situations you might just have to accept it.

You should let the members of your party know before you agree to go, though, as they may be able to pay a bit extra as a tip.

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In such circumstance you generally feel cheap no matter what, but can still hopefully try to avoid insulting people. Thanks for the advice. –  hippietrail Oct 19 '12 at 9:07
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I have had this a couple of times, but talking to the rest of the party and explaining before accepting the invitation has worked both times. They understood and loaned me the tip money. –  Rory Alsop Oct 19 '12 at 9:17
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There are two things you absolutely should do:

  • Let your friends know upfront that you won't be able to tip much due to being at the end of your budget. If they are locals they'll probably know the best cheap spots to go to. Or maybe they'll offer to help cover the tip.

  • In the event you decide to go somewhere that you won't be able to give an appropriate tip let your server know before you order the first thing. This is one instance where it's better to ask permission than forgiveness. And some places they may be able to comp you a drink or give you a discount which would then allow you to tip appropriately. Or maybe they have on "off-menu" special that is cheap enough so you can tip appropriately after all. Don't expect special treatment, or even ask for it, but if they offer accept it gracefully.

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