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August 19, 2013

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Tipping can lead to some astonishing reactions

A Scottish expat asks us:

Should I offer a tip when I get good service at local restaurants?

A: The answer to this question is a bit complicated. It’s a question of culture, and in a big metropolis like Shanghai where cultures of the East and the West clash and sometimes blend into each other, questions like this always get complicated.

For Western tourists, it seems that when they first arrive in the city, they retain the habit of tipping, which they do back home. But they often ditch the practice once they realize they don’t really have to tip here.

Some of our readers might be very familiar with what Julia described below.

Julia, from Chicago, told us: “I once tipped a waiter 10 yuan (US$1.61) but he looked at me with such astonishment that it made me feel very strange.”

Incidents like these are fairly common and foreigners gradually become aware of the fact that tipping is simply not a custom in China. This finding is shared then among them.

Hannah, a Swede who works in Shanghai, said she doesn’t give any money to waiters or waitresses in China because she was told by her friends that tipping is not a custom among Chinese and there is no need to give a tip.

Some foreigners, however, still give tips. Johnson, a 28-year-old traveler from Canada, said he tipped 10 yuan to 50 yuan to porters and bellhops.

Other foreign tourists have said they offer waiters or waitresses tips of 10 yuan to 20 yuan when they provide very good service, otherwise they seldom do it because they have learned it is unnecessary.

This tipping reluctance is confirmed by service providers.

An attendant at a downtown hotel said few foreigners tip them nowadays. Only when they are very satisfied with the service do they offer 10 yuan or 20 yuan.

Perform your duty

Another server at a five-star hotel in downtown Huangpu District said fewer foreigners are giving tips because they are aware Chinese don’t tip.

So why don’t Chinese tip?

According to our research, employees in service industries like waiters have fixed incomes. Most Chinese people are not used to offering a tip as they think everyone should do the utmost to perform their duty.

And in some high-end places such as five-star hotels and Western restaurants, a service charge is added to the bill, which suggests it’s unnecessary to also give a tip.

A waiter in a Western restaurant told us, “We are not allowed to take money left on the table or we could be accused of bribery.”

This might explain the look of astonishment the waiter gave when Julia offered a tip.

At smaller restaurants tipping is far less common.

Steven, an American technical manager who has been working in Shanghai since 2004, said: “The best tip in China is talking to the staff, giving them your business card and allowing them to take a photo with you. They love it and will remember you for years.” 

(Chen Yingqian and Chai Ke-ting contribute to the answer.)



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