If there’s one question that truly mystifies American (and some Canadian) travelers about London (and the rest of Europe), it’s this: should I tip? Especially in the United States, tipping is an everyday practice: you tip servers, hairdressers, bathroom attendants, you name it! Heck, it’s not even uncommon to be asked to tip when you order at the counter and get your coffee to go (“take away” in British parlance) at your favorite coffee shop!
London has a different set of rules when it comes to tipping, as it does about many aspects of life. These rules aren’t written down; locals might know the tipping etiquette in London simply because they call the city home, but the rest of us travelers have to figure it out – ideally, before we arrive so we don’t offend anyone.
This post is all about tipping etiquette in London, covering the basics to ensure you’re within the general guidelines of how locals tip, help compensate service workers fairly, and understand what might be expected of you.
Ready to dive in and get your head wrapped around tipping in London specifically? Read on for some general rules and then several specific circumstances for tipping in London and how much to tip in each one.
For clarity’s sake, this post has nothing to do with “fly tipping” in London, which is illegally dumping your trash (or “rubbish,” as the Brits say). We’re talking about the more traditional tipping – the kind you do at restaurants, bars, and other service industries.
Do You Need to Tip in London?
Well, in short, yes, tipping in London is appreciated and in certain situations, tipping is actually expected of you.
In some parts of London, tipping is considered an essential practice and you would be judged for not doing so while in other areas the tipping procedures are not quite so strict. So, figuring out what is expected of you before you visit the city will allow you to feel much more relaxed about the whole London tipping etiquette.
Cash vs. Card/Contactless Tipping
London is an increasingly cash-free society; most people pay by card, using the contactless payment (tapping) method.
Leaving a tip in cash is easy – but what about when you’re paying by card or contactless? In most cases, the terminal will prompt you to add a tip in a few different amounts (10%, 15%, and 20% are common). You can then just select the button for the amount you want to tip or use another button to add a custom amount.
In some cases, when paying by card, you may not touch the terminal yourself (such as in some taxis); in that case, you can just tell the service provider what percentage or amount you want to add as a tip.
Service Charges vs. Tipping
People are not always sure of the distinction between service charges and tips, yet they are significantly different. A service charge is not a tip – in one very important way: who gets the money.
A service charge is a fee added to your bill to cover services related to what you are purchasing or indeed a service that you have paid for. Service charges are paid directly to the business; some or all of it may go to the service workers you encountered, though it’s not clear unless you ask in every instance. These are most commonly found on your bill at a restaurant. Service charges in London, particularly in restaurants, are common so be sure to check your bill before deciding if you want to tip on top of the service charge.
A tip, on the other hand, is paid directly to the staff, at the discretion of the customer. If the customer does choose to tip the staff, the amount is also up to them, although there are basic guidelines that we will look at next.
You might hear people say that you don’t have to tip when a service charge is on your bill, but that’s not the case; tips are still expected in certain circumstances, detailed more below.
How Much to Tip in London
When it comes to tipping etiquette in London, how much you should tip depends very much on which industry you are referring to. The tipping rule of thumb and indeed London tipping etiquette differs from restaurants to taxi drivers, and all the industries in between!
Tipping Etiquette in London Restaurants
Let’s take a look at the rules of thumb for tipping in London restaurants. It is customary to leave between 10-15% of the final bill as a tip when eating out in most parts of London.
Remember though, some restaurants add a service charge to your bill so be sure to check if this is the case before deciding if you would like to tip the staff in addition to that charge.
Tipping Etiquette in London Pubs & Bars
Photo courtesy of Fox & Anchor
It can be difficult to know if tipping is expected in London pubs and bars. A good way to think about it is if you order your food or drinks at the bar itself then it is not customary to tip. Whereas at a pub or bar where a staff member attends your table to take your order in person then a tip is expected. This would usually be around 10-15% of your final bill.
Editor’s Note: When I lived in London, I always tipped at pubs, even when ordering at the bar. I usually just left a £1 coin (or tip on the machine) per drink if I had the change. – Valerie
Tipping in London Hotels
Photos courtesy of Booking.com
When it comes to tipping at London hotels there is no exact answer to what is right and wrong, although there are some good solid guidelines to stick to.
Interestingly, rewind a century or so and you would find that tipping staff at London hotels was very much expected of you. However in the present day that is no longer the case in every scenario.
Many hotels now automatically add a service charge to your final bill, which is usually around 12%. In most 4- and 5-star establishments these days tips are not expected but they most certainly are appreciated by the staff, most notably the porters and the maids. A good tip would be £2-5 when a porter helps you with your bags and it would also be customary to leave the maid or housekeeper around £5 on the table or the nightstand.
In a hotel that is rated less than 4 stars, tipping is not common practice at all, so it’s really up to you if you want to tip a similar amount to at higher-end accommodations.
Tipping Taxis & Rideshares in London
It is a common turn of phrase in London for taxi cab customers to tell their drivers to “keep the change.” This usually rounds the fare up to the nearest pound. However, it is customary and more than acceptable to tip these drivers 10-15% of the fare if you see fit to do so; since most people pay by contactless/card now, it’s easy to add that amount when using the machine to pay your fare.
Tipping for Tours in London
Photo courtesy of Get Your Guide
Tipping your tour guide is not obligatory in London, although it is very much appreciated; assuming that they have done a great job of entertaining and educating you then it is quite common.
If you decide to tip the tour guide then how much you give would depend on the nature of the tour as well as the length. A good rule to keep in mind would be to tip between £2-4, or 10% of the ticket price, per person in your group who took the tour. Either is a common amount depending on the tour.
Have any other questions about tipping etiquette in London? Let me know in the comments below and I’ll try to help you avoid any faux pas!