Gratuity – Top Tips on Tipping in London

John Sheerman

Tipping. Gratuity. Whatever you want to call it. It’s important to understand how it’s done wherever you go. In some cultures tipping can seem almost mandatory and in others it can be considered downright rude.

You might assume that tipping was an American custom that has spread to the rest of the world but tipping has been around in London since the 1600’s and one theory is that the term “tip” was originally an acronym meaning “To Improve Promptitude”. Despite it being an age-old tradition there isn’t a clear set of rules to follow in the UK so here are a few guidelines that might help:


1. Wining & Dining

If you are eating in a restaurant then leaving a tip is entirely expected and often relied upon. In 2019 the average tip is 10-15%. If you are a large group some venues will automatically add a service charge so keep an eye out for that when the bill arrives.

Exceptions to this rule: If you had a great experience and you want to tip more then go right ahead! Your waiter is NEVER going to be offended by a big tip; it will most likely make their day. Want to leave a Rolex on that little silver tray? That’s up to you.

On the other hand, if you had an awful experience, if the food was horrendous or they growled at you when you asked for a glass of water then you’re entirely within your rights to raise this with the staff and reflect this in the tip you leave. However, most British people will just leave the tip anyway and then spend the rest of the evening seething about the injustice of it all.


2. Tipping in Pubs and Bars

If you are propping up the bar, ordering a couple of drinks then there is no expectation to tip your barman, but that’s not to say that you can’t.

Traditionally if you’re feeling generous you can just say “and one for yourself” which generally means they’ll charge a couple of pounds on top for themselves. In the old days the barman might literally pour themselves a half pint of beer and drink it whilst they work but as you might imagine this often resulted in the barman being blind drunk by the end of the evening and considerably less effective at their job.


3. Cocktails

If you order an elaborate cocktail and watch a mixologist chucking bottles in the air, wafting the ingredients with flower petals like a mad scientist then most likely serving it up in a hollowed-out grapefruit then arguably this is a service and a performance worthy of a bonus. Tip away!


4. Tipping in a Taxi

Tipping a cabby isn’t expected in London but is appreciated. Don’t get tied up trying to calculate 10% of the fare as you bundle your family onto a busy London street. Most Londoners just add a pound to the total or round up to an easy amount. If the cab fare was £8.90 then it’s a lot easier to hand over a £10 note rather than standing around waiting for your change. But again, if you built a great rapport with the driver, if you had an experience you enjoyed and you want to show your appreciation then go right ahead, they aren’t going to chase you down the road in a rage at the extra income.


5. Tipping in a Coffee Shop

In central London there are coffee shops as far as the eye can see. Most of these will have a jar or bowl on the counter where you can leave a gratuity and these are always welcome but again it isn’t expected. The earliest examples of tipping occurred in coffee houses around 400 years ago so why not keep the tradition alive by dropping a little change into a jar as a thank you.


6. Tipping Tour Guides

Whilst you are in London you will probably be planning to visit some of the incredible historic sites on offer and one of the best ways to do this is on a walking tour. If so, you’ve come to the right place, SANDEMANs has you covered. If you are doing a walking tour in London there are two factors to look out for when it comes to tips.

  • Paid tours

If you are paying up front then there isn’t an expectation that the guide should receive a tip for their services but if the guide did a great job and you want to show them it was appreciated then by all means tip them at the end. The guide will always be grateful for the extra income.

If you are going on a “tip-based” tour then the guide will be entirely dependent on the money they receive at the end and would otherwise be working for free. If you had a wonderful time, if the guide captured your imagination and told you some great stories in an enthusiastic way then tip them accordingly, as much as you like. The sky is the limit.


7. Hotels

Tipping can really vary depending on the star rating of the hotel but in general if a porter has taken your bags the suggested amount is £2 per item of luggage or if it’s a really fancy 5 star glitz and glamour place then as much as £5 a bag can be expected (in which case perhaps consider packing light!).

Once again there is no expectation to tip housekeeping at a hotel but its quite common to leave a little cash in the room when you leave as a thank you.

So to sum up, if you are feeling generous and you are happy with the service you are getting then don’t hold back, hand out cash like its monopoly money but remember its not a tax, it’s an opportunity to show your appreciation for a job well done.


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Kate S.

Our family hasn’t been overseas yet but we plan to in the near future. I’ve always wondered what customary tipping is in various other countries. So thanks for the input!

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