I come from America where our average tip is around 15 to 20 percent of the total bill. Of course we are allowed to exclude cocktails from this equation, but it is still a lot of money at times. Not only is it expected, but in certain places, it is actually required. So it may not come as much of a shock that when it came to tipping in Thailand, at first I was a bit out of my element.
A pile of Thai Baht. | Photo by: Peter Hellberg, on Flickr
How Much to Tip
If you were to ask your average Thai person, they would likely tell you that 20 baht at the most is an acceptable tip in pretty much any situation. That 20 baht amounts to about 65 cents American give or take. Considering that your average Thai will work for about 200 dollars a month, I suppose that is reasonable? It’s difficult for me to really accept this, but I am a product of cultural brainwashing that insists that 15 to 20 percent is the minimum.
Being the product of my culture, I just can’t help but feel a bit Ki Niao (stingy), every time that I tip a mere 20 baht on any sizable bill. I always try to tip at least 10 percent (a modest compromise I suppose?), and sometimes as much as 15 percent. Of course I need to do this when my Thai girlfriend is looking the other way.
It’s also okay to tip less than 20 baht when your bill is relatively small. If you were at a restaurant and charged 85 baht for a meal, giving them an even 100 baht isn’t going to draw any angry faces from the staff. Sometimes it’s all about simplicity and giving 15 baht is just easier than giving 20 baht in a situation like this.
I’ll admit that I may be a sucker, but I also know that an extra dollar or two here and there really isn’t going to set me back much. What I do notice however, is unlike America where the tips are expected, if you are a generous tipper in Thailand, it will pay off in the end. People here remember those who tip above and beyond the average. You will likely get better and quicker service from someone that is genuinely happy to have you around. Maybe they are happy that your money is around, but really, semantics. So it’s a win-win situation for all and only at the cost of a few extra bucks.
A Tuk Tuk in Bangkok. | Photo by: Kevin Chang, on Flickr
Who to Tip
So the next question that you may be asking is, who exactly should I tip? I think it’s a given to say that waiters/waitress at a restaurant and bar should be tipped, but who else?
My rule of thumb is to tip anyone who provided a form of manual service that I actually requested or benefited from. This definition is a bit convoluted and up for a bit of interpretation. Basically, if it was physical labor and it saved me a bit of grief, I will give them at least 20 baht. This includes everything from carrying my bags to my hotel room to loading groceries into the back of my car.
It’s a bit of a gray area when it comes to those Thai’s who do something for you just so you feel obligated to tip them, even though you could have easily done it yourself. If I’m feeling generous I’ll give them a tip, if not, just a friendly smile and thanks. Yes I know, sometimes I can be a cheap bastard, try not to judge me!
When it comes to taxi drivers, it all depends on where I am and if I feel that I am being ripped off. If the taxi driver is nice to me and isn’t trying to overcharge me for a fare, I will give him an extra 50 baht or so, assuming the total charge justifies that amount. If I am somewhere like Phuket and know that I am being gouged, then I feel no obligation to give a tip.
The Choice is Yours
Ultimately, it is up to you who to tip and how much you feel comfortable giving them. The above is just based on my understanding of the culture and the people of Thailand. There really is no right or wrong amount to tip so long as you are giving what you feel comfortable giving. If you are strapped for cash, feel free to give less, if you are rolling in it, by all means give more, the choice is yours.