elb's hovel of thoughts

Sunday, July 17, 2005


One of the faux pas that many Malaysians commit while travelling is well, failing at tipping. After all, how many people would give a second thought to it especially when a 10% service charge is inbuilt into the bill, even for cheap items? In my opinion (and lets face it), Malaysians in general being the stingy/ignorant/enter-choice-word-here people they usually are, would more than likely conviniently forget to tip.

Well, why do we tip?
From my observations and from what I've heard, waiters are generally paid less compared with other kitchen staff. They make up for this shortfall by earning tips from customers - although the amount they get can vary enormously depending on the quality of service, the mood of the customers, and obviously the price of the final bill.

If the waiter does something beyond what is required, such as calling a cab for you, tip more - to cover the cost of the call and as a way of thanking him for doing more than what was required of him. Or if the tour guide accommodates requests outside of the planned itenary - then it is worth a good tip!

But tipping sounds like bribing!
Not exactly. It depends on when money is exchanged - if you pay to get something done, then that is bribing. Tipping is done as a gesture of thanks for doing something. How ironical it is that Malaysians excel at the former but not the latter.

Who do we tip?
It depends. In some countries we do not need to as it is included/ forbidden by law. As a rule of thumb, I recommend bearing in mind that anything that relates to services (including restaurants/ cafes, taxis, bellboys, bartenders, tour guides) should get tipped.

How would I know whether I should tip?
Read the invoice/ cheque. Many places drop a hint by saying 'Service not included'. Other places plonk in a percentage - say 20%. But beware! That percentage could very well be the government tax, and may not represent the inclusion of any tips.

If in doubt, look it up on a website before travelling. Or your travel guide books. Or ask the locals. Or better yet, examine the reaction of your waiter when he receives the tip - a bright smile tells you you've given beyond the expected norm.

How much do we tip?
The rule of thumb in many places is, 10% (up to 20% in some places) of the total bill or enough to pay for a small drink, which ever is bigger. The service charge is inbuilt into the final total automatically if the charge is too big however; this I suspect is due to the fact that a 10-15% increment's pinch can be felt rather harshly at these prices (so the customer might feel like undercutting the amount deserved), or it helps the need to return too many coins (A good waiter returns some change in coins so that the customer can decide how much to give).

However, one thing to bear in mind is that if any inconvinience is caused to you not by the waiter, but the kitchen instead (which could explain why the food is slow), it is harsh to 'punish' the waiter for something beyond his control. If the waiter is slow in serving you the menu because he is busy cleaning up after lunch, well, I don't see any reason not to cut down on the expected tips.

Some people argue that the 'skill' required for opening a 10 Euro and a 100 Euro bottle of wine is the same; therefore the tippage for these sort of stuff should be fixed.

I got shortchanged! My meal cost me 15 Euroes; I paid 20, but I only got back 3!
Some waiters don't trust tourists - so they help themselves to their share of the tip. A bit rude of them I must say, but I suppose she had more than her fair share of customers who didn't tip.

Okay I'm bored enough. Give me a story!
Alright here we go: We had lunch in a restaurant in Czechoslovakia (I think the name is more elegant than the Czech Republic; bite me), and it was time to pay the bill. After double checking with the waiter that tip was not included; I recalled that the Lonely Planet guidebook suggested rounding up to the next twenty kroner. However for some reason my English was bad that instant: The bill was X12 Kr, and I paid X30 Kr.

He was not happy. He commented that he'd rather get no tips than to get 18 Kr in tips, which would be insufficient for him to buy a 300ml of Pilsner Urquell (beer is even cheaper than some mineral water and soft drinks in Czech!). There was confusion for a while; his English was not very strong and we obviously spoke no Czech. At the end of his explanation he returned the change. I shrugged and pursed the cash; then stood up and got ready to leave.

Then all of the sudden he asked us whether we had understood what he was saying, and where we were from. He then mumbled something; we did not catch it however. He refused to repeat because it was apparently not a nice thing that he said, but we presume it to be connected with experiences with his previous Malaysian employer (cough cough). We made our move when 5 minutes later I realised that he had given back all the change and that I had forgotten to tip him out of absent-mindedness. No wonder he was raising a fuss! But never mind, I sort of atoned for it by tipping the next person a whooping 30%.

I hope I did not confuse anyone? :P

Note: All the above is based solely on my experiences while travelling.
Note: I will NOT be pinging any of my travel experiences any longer to PPS from now on. I have a lot of material which I will blog at my own pace. If you want to read, pop by and you might be lucky!


  • Nice FAQ! I always tip ever since moving to Europe. Bad habit really that has been brought over to Malaysia whenever I go for holiday. 

    Posted by Jon

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thursday, July 21, 2005 9:12:00 am  

  • jon: You mean you tip on top of the service charge back in Malaysia? I bet they are grinning all the way to the bank! :) 

    Posted by pat

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Saturday, July 23, 2005 12:20:00 am  

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