Tipping In The UK: How Much Should You Tip And Where Does The Money Really Go?

Get the lowdown on UK tip etiquette.

Don’t leave a tip for a waiter or bar staff in some countries, such as the US, and you risk being branded a villain. In the UK, it’s not always customary to tip, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an etiquette minefield – what if the service charge is added to your bill but the service was poor? Or you’re worried the tip won’t go directly to the person who served you? Should you tip a cabbie? What about a hairdresser or beauty therapist?

As Theresa May announces steps to make things fairer, with a plan to ban companies taking a cut of workers’ tips, we address common tip dilemmas.

When should you tip and how much should you pay?

According to Visit Britain, the UK’s tourist board, a tip should usually make up between 10-15 per cent of your bill, but it’s always discretionary.

Tipping is most frequent in the hospitality sector and most common after a meal in a restaurant if the service was good – though it’s not so customary to tip after service for fast food though – say at McDonald’s or a coffee shop.

Caiaimage/Paul Bradbury via Getty Images

Visit Britain suggests that people give a couple of pounds to porters in hotels, and to cab drivers and hairdressers if you’re happy with their service, although it’s not mandatory.

“Tipping is not expected in Britain the way it is in some other countries,” the advice reads. “Workers don’t officially have to rely on their tips to live and all staff in the UK must be paid at least the National Minimum Wage. Employers are also banned from topping up wages with tips from customers. Although it’s not necessary to tip, it’s always greatly appreciated.”

Essentially then, if you feel the service warrants it, leave a tip. But don’t feel you have to.

What happens to the tip money?

This depends on the company and its own internal policy. Some companies let staff pocket their own tips directly, whereas others distribute a pot of tips at the end of a shift equally among all staff, including chefs and kitchen porters.

This can cause problems because some waiters claim they should get to keep the money when it’s their good service being tipped. Recently, TGI Fridays staff have been on strike, arguing the chain’s new policy is unfair. According to the Unite union, which represents the waiters, some staff will miss out on hundreds of pounds a month. They claim TGI Fridays is essentially using the tips to give kitchen staff a pay rise without paying for it themselves – a claim the company disputes.

Other companies offer a “tronc” system for tips paid on card. The company appoints someone called a troncmaster who is responsible for distributing tips to staff. This representative can be appointed internally or externally but again, this can sometimes causes problems where representatives take a cut of the tips for running the tronc. Pizza Express, Giraffe, Wahaca are among those that have been called out for doing this in the past, but have since stopped.

It’s not clear when the new government legislation will be drafted yet or what it will include – so for now the best way to find out where your tips are going is to ask your waiter.

What’s the difference between a service charge, a cover charge, and a tip?

A service charge and a cover charge are not the same as a tip. While a company might choose to share the money with staff, both are essentially a surcharge – or extra way of charging you. Most companies will pass at least some of the money on, though this is currently not mandatory. For example, in 2015, the Côte restaurant chain was found to be allegedly pocketing it, though it has since changed its policy to ensure it goes to staff.

According to Which? a company must make it very clear to consumers that they are expected to pay a surcharge before they start ordering, for example by displaying it on the menu. But you can ask for the charge to be removed from your bill if you feel that you did not receive reasonable service.

Again, if you want to tip, it’s worth asking your waiter or the manager to explain how service charges are distributed to avoid paying a tip twice, or not paying one at all.

What’s better – a cash or card tip?

Again this will depend on the policy of the establishment you’re visiting. But as a general rule, cash is a better way to reward good service – because lots of venues give cash tips straight to waiters but centrally distribute tips paid on card to lots of different staff.

There is currently a voluntary code of conduct drawn up by government which states places of work should make it clear to staff and consumers if cash and card tips are treated differently.

This is why certain restaurant menus have a note about tips at the bottom stating, for example, that 100 per cent of tips go to the waiter.

You can also find out more information online or ask a manager directly. Take Pizza Express, for example. It allows waiters to take their own cash tips but takes 30 per cent of a tip paid on card and redistributes that percentage to other staff too including cleaners and kitchen staff.

Before You Go