Tipping culture varies a lot from country to country, so it’s always good to get an idea before visiting a country for the first time. In some countries staff rely on tips to make a living wage, in other countries tipping is very much a faux pas.
Whether you’re dining out, hailing a taxi, or checking into a hotel, I’ll share insights and information so you know how to tip in London.
After all, London is my home so I’ve been to plenty of restaurants, bars, pubs, cafes and taxis in my time! It’s also a fantastic place to visit, and one of the best cities in the world.
Understanding Tipping in London
Tipping in London, and the UK in general is less about obligation and more about showing appreciation for good service.
All businesses in the UK must pay their staff the national minimum wage, which is set at a minimum hourly rate which is reviewed each year by the government. Businesses cannot rely on tips to make up this amount as they do in the USA.
This is why it is so important to check the tipping culture before travelling. When I was road-tripping around the US I was very careful to leave at least a 20% tip, and I often left a bit more.
I was in some slightly obscure places that Brits don’t typically visit. I didn’t want one of their few encounters with a UK tourist to leave an impression that we are cheap simply because I didn’t research the practice.
Tipping: Appreciation, Not Obligation
In London, the amount you tip often depends on the context and your personal experience. A standard tip might be around 10-15% in a restaurant, but in other situations, like a quick coffee at a café or a drink at a pub, tipping might not be common at all. The key is to feel no pressure; tip according to your judgment of the service quality and your comfort level.
Tipping in Restaurants
Levels of Service
The first thing to understand, especially if you are visiting from America, is the service level that should be expected.
In restaurants in the US, servers tend to come to your table much more frequently than in the UK. As staff in US restaurants are so dependent on tips to make money, I’ve found that they keep appearing to top up water and check if you need anything to leave you in no doubt that they are paying attention.
In the UK that would often be considered excessive. Once you have your food they will generally check on you once and then leave you to it until it becomes clear you have finished your course.
Flagging down a server in the UK to ask for more drinks etc is common and needing to do so is not considered bad service.
In high-end restaurants, you’ll probably get more visits from the staff to confirm you are still happy but otherwise, they’ll err on the side of not interrupting your meal and conversation unnecessarily.
If you do need to get their attention, don’t ever snap your fingers, just say ‘excuse me’ when they pass you, or if they are looking in your direction raise a hand slightly to get their attention.
Unlike some restaurants in the US they won’t bring your bill immediately after finishing dessert. You generally ask for the bill, as appearing to try and rush you out of the restaurant wouldn’t go down well with UK diners.
‘Optional’ Service Charges
The first thing to do when paying in a restaurant is to check the bill. It is becoming increasingly common for restaurants to add an ‘optional’ service or gratuity charge.
Although you can ask for it to be removed if the service is bad I haven’t ever heard of someone actually doing that. We might grumble about it to our dining partner, but we will pay the charge.
Some restaurants only add on the charge for larger groups – if this is their practice you will usually find a line at the bottom of the menu saying something along the lines of ‘an optional service charge of 12% will be added for groups of 6 or more’.
You do not need to add anything else if an optional charge has been added to the bill already.
Tipping When There’s No Service Charge
Some bills will specify that service is not included, although optional service charges must be noted. If nothing is noted on the receipt you should assume a tip has not been automatically included.
If there’s no service charge on your bill, a tip of 10-15% of the total bill is customary for good service. It’s not mandatory, but it’s a common practice and a way to show appreciation for the staff’s effort.
If you don’t tip you won’t have anyone chasing you for money as they don’t rely on it to make a reasonable wage.
Personally, I generally tip around 10% if the service has been good, although I won’t bother calculating it to the penny. A rough 10% is completely fine. If I feel service has been excellent I might go up to 15%.
Cash or Card?
In the past cash was preferred as it ensured the tip goes directly to the staff, however, it’s becoming increasingly common to add the tip to your card payment. Many establishments no longer accept cash to pay a bill, and gone are the days when I would carry a selection of notes and coins to leave on the table after paying my bill by card.
A new law comes into effect in 2024 – the Employment (Allocation of Tips) Act. This makes it illegal for companies to keep tips made on card payments so you no longer have to be particularly concerned about where your card tip goes.
One key difference about paying a tip – in the UK your bill generally won’t include a line for you to write in a tip amount and then the total amount. Card payments use a Chip and Pin machine that is brought to the table. You won’t pay your bill by signing a receipt.
Many payment machines have the option on the screen to add a tip, otherwise, you can ask the server to add an amount.
Tipping In Pubs and Bars
Tipping in London pubs operates differently than in restaurants and is generally more relaxed.
Ordering at the Bar
In a lot of pubs and bars, you will be ordering drinks and food at the bar. Usually, this also means you pay at the point of ordering, not after you’ve finished your food. In this scenario there is less of an expectation to leave a tip than in restaurants. You might find a tip jar, but tipping is very much optional.
Table Service in Pubs
You might receive table service in some pubs, especially those that are more upmarket or in tourist-heavy areas. Here, the approach to tipping can be a bit different.
If you’re served at your table, leaving a small tip, like rounding up the bill, is a nice gesture but not mandatory. It’s more about acknowledging good service rather than adhering to a strict tipping percentage.
Tipping in Cafes
I was quite surprised when I arrived in America for my 48-state tour and found it now seems to be common practice that when you pay for your coffee there will often be a tablet tipped towards you with the option to add a tip. I would always add a tip to avoid leaving a negative British impression on the places I was visiting.
In the UK, tipping in coffee shops is completely unnecessary. I’ve probably tipped in UK coffee shops less than 5 times in my life, and if you do it would be a couple of small value coins in a tip jar, not adding on to your card payment. The vast majority of people do not tip in coffee shops like Starbucks. It is not an expectation.
Taxis and Rideshares
Getting around London by taxi or rideshare is a common experience for tourists. Understanding the tipping etiquette in these scenarios can make your journey smoother and more pleasant. It’s also very common for black cab drivers to have a little chat with you, usually about the weather or how busy the roads are. A little bit of small talk is often appreciated.
Standard Tipping Practices for Taxis
London’s iconic black cabs are a reliable and often preferred mode of transport. When it comes to tipping cab drivers, it’s customary to round up the fare to the nearest pound, especially for shorter trips. For longer journeys or exceptional service, adding on a few pounds is appreciated.
Tipping in Rideshare Services
Rideshare services like Uber have become increasingly popular in London. These services typically do not require tipping, and the fare you pay through the app is all-inclusive. However, if you feel that your driver went above and beyond, you can add a tip through the app after your journey.
It’s entirely optional but can be a nice gesture for excellent service. They will also appreciate a good rating on the app, even if you don’t tip.
Hotel Staff Tipping Etiquette
Staying in a hotel in London offers a range of experiences, from luxury to budget-friendly. Understanding how to tip hotel staff can enhance your stay and show appreciation for the service you receive.
Tipping Hotel Staff: A General Guide
In London hotels, tipping is seen as a gesture of gratitude for exceptional service, but it’s not as routine or expected as in some other countries. Here’s a breakdown of common tipping practices for various hotel staff:
- Bellhops: If someone helps you with your luggage, a tip of £1-2 per bag is a considerate way to say thank you.
- Housekeeping: For housekeeping staff, leaving a cash tip of around £2 per day can be a nice gesture, especially if you find your room well-maintained. You can leave this in an envelope or a clear spot with a note saying it’s for housekeeping.
- Concierge: If the concierge provides exceptional service, such as securing a hard-to-get restaurant reservation or helping with special requests, a tip of £5-10 is appreciated.
- Room Service: If a service charge is not included on your bill, a tip of 10-15% is customary for room service.
When Not to Tip
In many UK hotels, particularly modern or budget ones, tipping isn’t considered necessary. Always gauge the situation and the level of service provided. If you’re ever in doubt, a small tip or simply saying thank you is sufficient.
Tipping on Tours
Participating in guided tours is a common part of the tourist experience in London. Understanding the tipping etiquette in these scenarios can enhance your interactions and show appreciation for good service.
Guided Tours: How Much and When to Tip
- Private Tours: For private tours, a tip of 10-15% of the tour cost is standard if you’re happy with the service. This is a way to thank your guide for their knowledge, expertise, and personalized attention.
- Group Tours: In group tour settings, tipping is less about a percentage and more about what you feel the experience was worth to you. A tip of £5-10 per person is generally acceptable for a job well done.
When Not to Tip
Scenarios Where Tipping Isn’t Necessary
- Fast Food Restaurants and Takeaways: In fast food outlets, cafes where you order at the counter, and takeaway joints, tipping is not customary. The service is considered part of the transaction, and there’s no expectation of a tip.
- Self-Service Establishments: In self-service environments, like some casual eateries or coffee shops where you pick up your order from the counter, there’s no need to tip.
- Pubs with No Table Service: As mentioned earlier, in traditional pubs where you order at the bar, tipping is not a common practice.
- Chain Restaurants: Many chain restaurants in London include a service charge in the bill, making additional tipping unnecessary. Always check your bill to see if this is the case.
UK Tipping Etiquette
While this guide focuses on a London tipping guide, the same etiquette generally applies around the country.
Major UK cities, particularly London, have a higher cost of living so tipping is appreciated. The ‘London Living Wage’ is set at a higher level than the national minimum wage but it is only a guideline as to what people need to live on in London – businesses do not have to pay the higher amount.
The minimum wage goes a lot further in Nottingham than it does in London, so tips in London are particularly welcome. Nevertheless, it is not mandatory to tip, just a bonus for staff.