During all of our travels around the world there has been nothing more confusing than tipping.
The question of why rarely came up. I always felt that I tipped for a number of valid and well thought out reasons, perhaps the most significant of which is the fact that I have worked in the service industry in the United States and I understand that tips can be a significant portion of a service worker’s income.
I was also able to place myself at least somewhat near to the worker’s shoes, despite the fact that I’ll never be a young Nepalese lady working in a restaurant in Abu Dhabi, or a Panamanian man trying to support a family by working as a bartender.
I always felt that I tipped, and continue to do so, because it’s the right thing to do.
Not everyone feels that way.
Since moving to Mexico three months ago I have had the fortune of seeing and interacting with more Americans than I have in recent years. Most of these people are tourists that come to this little piece of the Mexican Riviera for a vacation or a honeymoon, or any reason that they might have to get away for a while. I see them, I wait behind them in the grocery store, and I sit next to them in restaurants. The following is something that happened here in Tulum just recently.
Man 1: How much do we tip on 1200 pesos?
Man 2: We don’t have to tip. We’re in Mexico!
Man 1: Sweet!
Following this little exchange there were high fives all around. They actually high fived each other. These guys were absolutely thrilled that they could save some money by not tipping due to a misguided notion that they don’t have to.
How much money did they save? By not tipping the generally accepted 10% they saved about $8, more or less.
Is that really worth a high five?
Do you have to be such insensitive dicks?
I recently saw an infographic on the Conde Nast Traveler website that illustrates the tipping standards around the world. The section on Mexico lines up perfectly with what is already my standard practice.
10%. At least.
And here’s why.
Does Your Server Speak Some English?
One thing that I believe is very important for tourists to remember is this: if your server speaks English they are likely self taught, or they have paid from their own pocket to attend classes. English is not often taught in schools outside the larger cities in Mexico, and in some areas of the Yucatan peninsula your server might have actually grown up speaking Mayan.
Any English that is spoken should be taken as an extra sign of good service. This person has gone out of their way to learn or improve a skill that is vital to their job. Please take that into consideration.
Of course, if your server does not speak English you should still tip. You are in Mexico and you should have at least enough Spanish to ensure that you can feed yourself. Even if you have to point or stumble through your limited vocabulary you should be prepared to leave some cash on the table when you’re done with your meal.
Which brings me to my next point.
Tip in Cash
Ask any server in the United States and they’ll likely tell you that the best way to tip is with cash.
Credit card tips often don’t make it to the server’s pocket until the charge has been processed, which could take weeks. Additionally, credit card tips are often taxed.
I’m not suggesting that service workers in Mexico need to avoid the tax man because, frankly, I don’t know how their wages are taxed. What I do know is this:
For someone who makes very little money, being able to take home some pesos at the end of a shift could mean that the baby is fed, or that the lights stay on, or that the rent is paid on time. If you’re not the humanitarian type then look at it this way. Tipping is a great way to let someone know that you appreciate what they did for you. Your tip could help ensure that the next customer also receives great service. Pay it forward.
Always Tip at Least 10%
While 10% is the bare minimum that you should tip you should always tip more for exceptional service. We recently had the pleasure of attending Joya by Cirque du Soleil in Playa del Carmen and we chose the dinner and champagne package because it was our anniversary. Our server was so friendly, so poised, and so professional that we would have felt like dicks had we not tipped. So, even though we had already paid for the entire experience on a credit card we left him a generous cash tip.
How generous? 20%.
If you’re dining at high end restaurants, chain restaurants, or at larger hotels the service charge will likely be included. If you’re dining anywhere else then make sure that you leave your 10% tip on the table.
If you’ve received exceptional service then by all means leave more, even if it’s on top of an already included service charge.
All Inclusive Hotels and Resorts
I realize that all inclusive resorts are very popular. For travelers with minimal time, groups, and others who would prefer to stay at a property that offers all meals and activities these resorts can be a logical choice. While I’ll never understand the rationale behind traveling abroad to stay inside of a glorified compound and pay through the nose for a sanitized experience, to each his own.
Regardless, they are expensive and people might have a thought that resembles the following:
I’ve just paid thousands of dollars for this stay. There’s no way I’m tipping.
I can somewhat understand that rationale, but I don’t agree with it at all. Do you think the middle aged woman who served your well rum daiquiri has an employment contract stuffed with stock options and quarterly bonuses?
If there are any service workers who deserve your tips it’s them. For the people that you do see– the ones who are mixing your drinks and serving your food–imagine how many people you don’t see. The dishwashers, the carpet cleaners, the maintenance workers, the laundry attendants, the pool cleaners, and more.
It literally takes an army to run and maintain those large, all inclusive hotels. And that army is routinely underpaid for long hours and less than ideal working conditions.
Of course, you can’t expect to flit around throwing pesos at anyone wearing a branded uniform but you can make sure that you’re taking care of the people that you interact with. This means bartenders, servers, and housekeepers. If you take part in activities then tip the guides and the drivers if you leave the property.
Don’t be dick, especially at an all inclusive resort.
Dollar Bills Ya’ll
Visitors to the Riviera Maya will find that US dollars are accepted most everywhere. If you’re a smart traveler then you’re not likely to use them, as you already know that you won’t get a good exchange rate at restaurants and shops.
But your dollars are very valuable as tips. Most of the large grocery stores offer a very competitive exchange rate for dollars, which means that when those dollars are spent at the grocery there is little money lost in the transaction. And since the dollar is very strong against the peso this means that the recipient of your tip can actually buy a little more than they could with pesos.
Even if you’re using pesos consider tipping with the dollars you have in your wallet.
I know that, for many people, this will fall upon deaf ears. People who have already decided that they won’t tip in Mexico just won’t. However, for those of you who may be on the fence or are just unsure about the protocol, please know that your tips are genuinely appreciated.
And your pesos (or dollars) can make a real difference.