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What Does Tipping Look Like in the United Kingdom?

In the United States, many people think the tipping culture is out of control. The standard 20% tip you expect to pay in a bar or restaurant has now expanded to takeaway coffee or just buying milk. Even some self-checkout machines are asking for a tip. But that’s not the case in other countries like the United Kingdom, where tipping isn’t expected or essential.

To tip or not to tip? That’s often a tricky question for Brits, because tipping is still generally seen as optional. “Most people expect to tip when they have had a meal in a restaurant,” said Jane Pendlebury, the CEO of Hospa, an organization for hospitality industry workers. “If they were serving themselves or they were up at a counter picking something up, then I don’t think there would be any expectation for a tip.”

In restaurants, the standard tip is around 10%, but people won’t leave any extra if they think the service hasn’t been good enough. Taxi drivers don’t expect a tip, but sometimes people will say “keep the change” when they pay with a bill; tips are also now built in to ride-sharing apps like Uber.

In the U.K., employers have to pay a minimum wage of roughly $13 an hour and everyone gets free health care, so there’s less reliance on tips to top up workers’ income. That’s something Rhys Mason, the bar manager at the Sun Tavern, a bar in London, has had to get used to.

“If you’re out with a couple of your friends, you just want to have a couple of pints, we don’t expect you to tip,” he said, “but if there’s a group of 25 people celebrating an engagement party, there’s going to be a little bit more of an expectation.” Mason is originally from Ontario, Canada. There, “a few years back, a server wage was a few dollars lower in expectation that you would be getting tips on top of that, usually somewhere between 15% and 18%,” he said.

But now, Ontario has introduced a minimum wage of $15.50 an hour, a third more than the U.S. federal minimum wage. Plus, Canadians get free basic medical care. So where do tips go in the U.K.? Some restaurants and bars allow workers to keep them, while others divide them between everyone on shift. But it’s not illegal for employers to use a service charge — when an automatic tip usually of 12.5% is applied to the check — to boost their revenue.

And that’s partly why people like Louise Kennedy only tip in certain places. “I tend to tip 20% or more if I’m in an independent establishment,” she said. “I feel comfortable with an independent that I know who’s getting the money, whereas when it’s a chain that isn’t quite as clear.” That’s changing next year when all the tips will have to go to staff.