Tipping Culture: Variations From Table To Table, Country To Country

The tipping culture is a deep-rooted phenomenon in several societies, which raises the question about its pertinence and necessity. Should this practice disappear? What is its role in different parts of the world?


The opening scene of Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs finds the characters discussing the cost of tips. It’s a good illustration of the complexity of the practice: some stand for rewarding exceptional service, others question the obligation to give anything at all. It’s a dilemma that goes to the heart of economics, ethics and culture — with variations that may depend on who and where you are.

In many countries, a gratuity is considered an integral part of workers’ compensation in sectors such as hospitality and restaurants. However, tipping culture varies significantly around the world. In some places it is seen as an expression of gratitude, while elsewhere it can be perceived as unnecessary or even offensive.

In many countries, a gratuity is considered an integral part of workers’ compensation in sectors such as hospitality and restaurants

In Spain, tipping culture can be very different from one region to the other. According to a study carried out by Alpha Research, only 11% of customers leave a tip, and 17% admit that they have never left any. Moreover, the amount of the tip may be more modest in comparison with countries like the United States, where it is common to leave between 15% and 20% of the total bill, and where tipping is established by law as an essential part of the income of service workers.

Since then, some Spanish restaurants have recently started implementing a mandatory «American-style» tip, requesting an extra fee once you’ve finished your plate and pay, a technique which has raised the alarm for organizations like FACUA (the Spanish Consumers Rights Association).

«It’s a way to force customers to give a tip, and that’s illegal», Rubén Sánchez, FACUA’s general secretary in a recent interview with the news agency EFE. «The tip is a question of gratitude, not of obligation».

To tip or not to tip

So, when should we leave a tip? The obligation to tip varies according to local customs and cultural expectations. In some places, customers are expected to give a specific percentage of the total bill, while in others tipping is completely optional.

It can also depend on the circumstances; For example, for a special event or a celebration, the tip tends to be more generous. Yet despite the diversity of cultural norms, there are occasions when it is more common to give a tip, such as in restaurants, bars and for delivery services. Indeed, some will argue that giving a tip is essential to guarantee an adequate treatment on future visits to the same establishment.

According to several studies, gratuity culture can have a significant impact on the economy. In the United States, for example, the Department of Labor estimates that around 16% of workers in the service sector mostly depend on tips to supplement their salaries. This dependence has led to debates about wage equity and whether tipping should be or not an essential part of workers’ income.

According to several studies, gratuity culture can have a significant impact on the economy

Furthermore, the payment method can also influence the practice of giving a tip. In cash transactions, it is easier to make a specific amount, like rounding up or leaving the change. In comparison, paying by card or mobile application allows you to add a more precise percentage. However, this type of electronic payments, which use has increased from around 16% in 2019 to around 30% in 2022 according to the Bank of Spain, has led to fewer tips.

«Before, people felt bad if they didn’t leave any tips on the table. Now, when they pay by card, they don’t have to say or show anything», says Elisabet Ruiz-Dotras, professor of Economic Studies and Business at the Open University of Catalunya in a recent interview with Diari de Tarragona. «Also, another reason is that they don’t know if the tip will be distributed among the waiters or if it will end directly into the owner’s pocket».

Tipping culture varies

It is a complex context in which multiple factors intervene and which makes it difficult to give a unanimous answer to the question about whether the gratuity culture should disappear or not. On the one hand, many believe that tipping must continue to be conceived as a form of recognition and gratitude for exceptional service. However, its obligation and its impact on wage equity continue to raise serious ethical and economic doubts.

Ultimately, the culture of tipping persists as a deep-rooted tradition in many societies, although its form and intention vary. The solution is based on cultural awareness, generosity and the consideration towards the people who provide services, while we work on systems that guarantee fair wages and equitable working conditions.

The debate over gratuity, just like in the opening scene of Reservoir Dogs, will continue to evolve as society reflects on the meaning of this apparently simple yet culturally significant gesture.

This content is part of a collaboration agreement of ‘WorldCrunch’, with the magazine ‘Ethic’. Read the original at this link.