Cathay Pacific’s Guide To Tipping In Asia

Filed Under: Cathay Pacific

Tipping is one of the things I struggle most with when traveling. The more places I travel to, the more confused I am. There are places where you tip varying amounts, places where you just “round up” the bill, and then places where you don’t tip at all. And similarly, the expectations of tipping for different kinds of services vary greatly as well.

What makes tipping especially confusing for me is that it’s something I feel passionately about. I don’t tip for the purpose of “bribing” people, but rather for recognizing good service and making sure people can make a living. People in the service industry work hard, and deserve to be recognized for that, both in kind words and pay, in my opinion. That being said, I recognize that lots of people are opposed to the concept of tipping, which I can appreciate.

For me it comes down to a simple question — does the person providing me with service rely on tips to make a “fair” living? If the answer is yes, I tip.

I’ve written a few posts about tipping at airports and in hotels, including the following:

Anyway, Cathay Pacific has prepared a fantastic Southeast Asia tipping guide. In the infographic they compare the tipping policies in different countries when it comes to porters, taxis, and restaurants. It’s broken down into three categories — tipping is customary (5-10%), tipping is optional (5-10% or small change), and tipping is unnecessary or prohibited.

Here’s the awesome guide:


I guess there’s a further “layer” to this which gets even trickier. Presumably expectations of tipping vary not just based on what country you’re in, but also what nationality you are. For example, the infographic suggests that tipping porters, taxis, and in restaurants is optional in Vietnam.

But over time my guess is that the expectations from service staff do vary based on who you are. In other words, they might not expect a tip from a Japanese customer, for example, while if they have an American customer they’re much more likely to expect a tip, even if it’s not otherwise customary.

Bottom line

For me tipping is about doing what “feels right.” Will I tip in Japan? No way, because it’s not only not expected, but also sort of rude. Aside from that I tend to overtip rather than undertip. Regardless, the above chart certainly helps me to better “calibrate” my tipping going forward.

What’s your general approach to tipping internationally, and how does it compare to the above infographic?

  1. My decision rule is simpler yet. Is a tip customary? If yes, then I tip. If not, then I don’t. This has nothing to do with subjective fairness.

    In the US, restaurants often explain that tips are necessary because the “tipped minimum wage” for servers is $2/hour and expect tips to make up the difference. But in some states there’s no such thing as a “tipped minimum wage,” i.e., servers make at least $8/hour even before tips, and yet tips remain customary for servers in those states. I get angry thinking about this, so I try not to think about it.

  2. So wait a sec here…

    No tips in Japan, where the service is stellar, but above average tips in USA are perfectly fine for mediocre service, which is part of the job anyways?

    Tipping is one of the worst parts of our American culture – it promotes substandard service and actually lowers our already low expectations of those working in the service industry. I equate it to giving kids medals just for showing up.

    The worst part is the rest of the world is catching on to this terrible custom.

  3. I don’t tip in China, in fact I never tip anywhere in Asia, as prices usually included 15% service charge.

  4. @J.Grant: Could not agree more with your comments. Mediocre service and tip is expected or included in the bill. Totally unacceptable. There has been a lot of debate about tipping in the US and I am all for to increase the price you pay for a meal/service but just forget about tip. I cannot stand when someone insists to follow me to my hotel room to show how the room works and keeps talking until I give him a tip. The worst for me is when the check is brought to the table while I am still eating and you are expected to add 18% to 20% to the total. Love Uber for that reason. It is all included in the final price.

  5. I hate US tipping because its a constant reminder that im being socially forced to subsidize to owners profits, people dont seem to understand that the actual cost to owners is the absurdly low $2/h or whatever it is, someone who says yeah but the employer has to pay the difference to meet minimum wage clearly doesnt know how much percentage of the time that actually happens.

    Owner gets super cheap workforce and I dont even get cheaper food, if it wasnt so completely a tragedy and laugh at them making out like bandits.

  6. Agree with everyone…but the first thing came to my mind is that little tipping envelop in those US Marriott hotels! It actually makes me mad…does someone really think I have that much money to tip when the company pays over $200/nt and we spend around 6 months on the road? (and not getting reimbursed since there’s no receipt!)

  7. I also don’t like to tip at all. Every employee should get a decent salary.

    This is why I love Japan. You can’t put a price in honest and hearty service.

  8. I was in Singapore and Malaysia last month, and didn’t tip at restaurants. First because it is optional, and second because I find service extremely bad in this part of the world. I feel like waiters never come by your table to check on you and you always have to signal them to ask for something. Oh and they don’t bring plates at the same time for everyone at the table. It’s odd. But you get used to it, it’s part of discovering another culture!

    I also didn’t tip the porter that insisted to get our luggage up to our room even though I told him that we would take care of them ourselves.

    As for taxis, I didn’t tip, except to round up a fare.

  9. I guess directionally this is good. But there’s a big difference – the red – between unnecessary and prohibited. Does prohibited mean I am breaking a local law?

    And did they leave HKG off because they assume most of their passengers know the rules there?

  10. Sooooo apparently (according to Cathay Pacific) I’ve been doing it all wrong! If only I could go back in time and re-tip everyone….

  11. GUYS AND GALS, PLEASE LISTEN… There’s NO tipping in Entire Asia!!! If they expect tip from you it’s because foreigners like yourself are teaching them about tipping. Take it from me, they are laughhing behind your back when they receive tip.
    So stop tipping. You are acctually doing more harm .

  12. 1) As far as the “service charge” goes, it is never certain if the service charge is distributed among employees or not. I’ve traveled and Asia and no one can ever gaurantee if the service charge is actually a tip or is something else. This service charge may be used to pay salaries, or it may not.

    2) The debate about whether tipping subsidizes owners profits misses the forest from the trees. Restaurants don’t make much money (particulary in competiitve cities). Margins are very thin. The customer will end up paying, either in the form of tips, automatic “service charges,” or higher official prices.

  13. I think prohibited means that they aren’t allowed to accept tips, like in Singapore taxi drivers can get in trouble for accepting a tip.

  14. Many restaurants in Thailand charge service fee, mostly of 10%, and that’s when I don’t tip. I do tip the bellmen, the checkin agent who walk me to my room etc.

  15. By and large, there isn’t any need to tip in Europe, Asia or Africa. If they expect it, a service charge is automatically added. American tipping culture is totally warped. Oh, and Cathay should focus on improving their service in First and Business class first.

  16. Tipping is bribing. No matter how you put it… Government MUST make it mandatory for all employers to pay their staff a decent salary and include all cost in the food.

    I don’t think tipping did any great to the service, in fact I see quite the opposite most of the time as the servers are more interested in taking care of more tables to get more % of the bill.

    Airline industry is the best example for what happens to the customer service when you start separating the cost.

    Everywhere you go, all you can see these days is how to take more money from the customers without ever doing any real service. I will just call it a organized stealing completely supported by the government.

  17. @BlackHill – “Government MUST make it mandatory for all employers to pay their staff a decent salary”

    “I will just call it a organized stealing completely supported by the government.”

    These two statements are kind of ironic, no?

  18. JeffL – You should always tip your hotel housekeeper if they’ve done a good job, which is why Marriott started the envelope.

    Housekeeping is an extraordinarily difficult job, many of them clean 16 rooms per shift. While they are compensated, a few dollars truly goes a long way for them.

  19. I always laugh at places that put a tip line on my bill for carry-out orders.

    Tipping artificially deflates the cost of whatever service or good you’re purchasing. Tipping is made worse by corporate travel policies that reimburse tips, especially for taxi drivers who generally give you a blank receipt.

    Actually, what if corporate America banded together to lower their bills by eliminating tip reimbursement? They could take it to Congress if they wanted (I believe there’s a special place in Hell for the Congresscritters who passed laws allowing restaurants to pay their employees less than minimum wage).

    It’s interesting that there are so many here who do not tip as well as the typical American (hi, Lucky!). Personally, I refuse to tip more than 20% at US restaurants and there’s nowhere else I tip, including cabs. If you don’t make enough money at your job, go find another.

    More importantly, the rate at which a waiter/waitress is tipped is determined in part by their attractiveness, their skin color, sex/gender, etc. It’s an extremely unfair system, full of unintentional abuse. There’s seriously research on this if you don’t believe me.

    And @Lucky, that’s means you’re significantly contributing to systemic abuses. Think hard about whether you want to be a part of that system.

  20. @Brian L.: How so? They are complementary when you think abt it and both point to one solution.

  21. @Thanh – No, they’re NOT complimentary. On the one hand, he’s saying that the government should force employers to pay their employees a certain rate, and on the other hand that the government is supporting theft from customers by forcing them to tip. They are most definitely not complimentary. And the second point is blatantly false. The government doesn’t, and shouldn’t, force anyone to tip.

  22., and thanks to the Amerircanization of the world, seems to be making unnecessary creep here into Australia.

    Service staff here are paid handsomely, often over $20 an hour. More for nights and weekends.

    What I can’t stand about tipping is who decides who gets tipped? The cleaners at my work place are on the same industrial award as the cleaner at a hotel, do I tip them? They work just as hard. A bus driver? What about the receptionist at a doctor’s surgery? He/she is providing a service, probably earning similar income.

    Set fair, livable minimum wages (we already do here) and then be done with it. If a job is particularly difficult or unpleasant the market will adjust the wages required for businesses to attract/retain staff, who in turn will pass on those costs (in a fair and up front manner) to consumers where necessary.

  23. I don’t think Singapore is quite so accurate. Considering a mandatory 10% service charge is applied to most goods and services rendered, including at restaurants.

  24. Speaking of tipping in Japan, I noticed that the Japanese, especially the younger generation, are becoming more inclined to accept tips and not viewing it as a rude gesture. They, of course, never expect tips (unlike in America) and are genuinely thankful whenever one offers tips (unlike in places where tips are socially mandatory). I don’t think travelers should particularly worry about them getting offended if tips are offered.

    Maybe this is a bad thing though? I, personally, would rather over-tip in Japan out of my own free will because of good service, than be forced socially to tip a set percentage for mediocre service. However, tip-culture-wise, I wouldn’t want to contribute to the “Americanization” of Japan, if this is indeed a slippery slope.

  25. @tk – “Set fair, livable minimum wages (we already do here)”

    Except that hasn’t happened in the United States with any consistency, and (for a variety of reasons) isn’t likely to happen any time soon, if ever.

  26. @Mike – there absolutely is tipping in Asia, depending on the country.
    @Mark – I’ve lived in SG and spent a lot of time in Malaysia and found service to be mixed – sometimes genuinely friendly and better than in the US, sometimes not.
    Keep in mind, some of your issues are due to local customs: food is usually served family style and dishes come out of the kitchen as they are finished. Even some expensive restaurants serving Western cuisine can’t get the order right or bring all main dishes at the same time… go with the flow and eat local style – or order drinks and appetizers first and main courses when you got your appetizers – at least you are getting your food in the right order…
    In general, while the Cathay guide is on the generous side, it’s the best guide I’ve seen so far.
    In the Philippines, it’s complicated by the fact that a service charge of 5-10% is often on the bill – so most locals round up or add $1-2 for good service that goes directly to the employees (which is not always a certainty with the service charge).
    Singapore also often has service charges of 10% and I’ve seen few people tip additional, except maybe a round-up.
    I’m with Lucky – I tip for good service – and in some of the poor SE Asian countries, a buck or two make a big difference for the staff…

  27. To all those commenting about Cathay not including Hong Kong in the South East Asia tipping guide – please note that Hong Kong is NOT in South East Asia, but rather East Asia.

  28. @Paul W. – my humble apologies. I was going by the title of the article, not by what was written on the Cathay pic, as I’d not noticed it.

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