Answers from Our Experts (3)
There's no hard and fast rule about tipping in London (or indeed in the UK as a whole), which means that this can be quite a confusing issue for visitors to the city. Here are a few guidelines though, that should keep you out of trouble.*
Tipping is customary in some cocktail bars and the bars of upmarket hotels, but that's it. Pretty much everywhere else you pay for your drink, say thank-you and you're done. When I worked in a pub as a teenager the regulars would occasionally tell me to 'get one for yourself too', but otherwise tipping in pubs is almost unheard of.
In restaurants and cafés on the other hand, tipping is encouraged. Tips don't count towards the national minimum wage in the UK, so waiting staff aren't dependent on them to earn a living, but it's customary to leave 10-12.5% depending on how much you've enjoyed yourself. Many restaurants these days add an 'optional service charge' to your bill – you don't have to pay it if you don't want to. And even if you do, it's worth bearing in mind that this proportion of the bill doesn't necessarily go directly to the staff. If in doubt, ask, or tip in cash.
Restaurant cloakroom attendants and hotel porters
£1 per item is usually about right.
Usual practice is to round up to the nearest pound or tell your driver to keep the change, but there's no obligation to tip if you're unhappy with the service.
Hairdressers and beauty therapists
This is the trickiest area to navigate. Some people don't tip at all, many do and many more only tip if they're feeling good about the service they've received. It's a minefield.
*Not literally. Although there are various situations in which tipping is expected, not tipping doesn't provoke anywhere near the level of ire that it does in the United States. So people who forget to tip (or choose not to) won't be refused service or treated rudely on future visits. Well, not that rudely.
The etiquette of tipping always generates a lot of debate and is a highly personal concern. I've heard of a general rule in the past that seems about right: you should tip anyone who moves you, your food or your hair. With that in mind, here is my advice on how much to tip:
Standard practice is generally to round up the fare. In my view anything over about £8 should be rounded up to £10 – who wants to hang around waiting for that much change anyway? If your driver has been particularly helpful with recommendations or helping with luggage then tipping more will of course be appreciated. Carry some change so you can choose how much to give on hopping out rather than having to wait around awkwardly for a few pound coins.
For a long time standard practice in the UK has been to tip about 10% but in recent years a "service charge" of 12.5% has crept onto bills and has not been a popular initiative. If this is on your bill you don't need to tip in addition and if service has been bad you are within your rights to ask that it be removed. As a rule, if nothing has been wrong with the service or the food, leave at least 10%. Most restaurants will give you the option of adding a gratuity when paying by card but leaving cash is probably better if possible as you can be sure it will get to the staff.
Tips are not expected in pubs and as a rule if you've gone up to the bar to order your drink, paid there and carried it back to your table yourself then you needn't tip, and hardly any Londoner would. However, if you've had table service you should tip about 10% and, as with restaurants, you may find a 12.5% service charge added when table service has been offered.
Tipping is standard practice for many services in London.
If you are eating in a restaurant, it is not uncommon for a 12.5 percent service charge to be automatically added to your bill — and even if it isn't, then a tip of around 10 percent is probably expected. If you are staying in a hotel, you should probably keep two or three pound coins handy for tipping the porter, and factor around the same amount for each day the maid cleans your room. And when it comes to taxis, a good rule of thumb is to round the fare up to the nearest pound, then add a couple of extra on top.
But in all these cases, it's important to remember that tips remain an optional extra for good service. If your food arrives cold, you room isn't tidied or your taxi driver gets lost, don't feel obliged to reward this.
One place where you do not generally tip is in pubs or bars. You will usually have to go up to the bar to order drinks, so this obviously does not incur a service charge, but even if you also order food, there is no great expectation to tip. However, if a waiter or waitress really goes out of their way, it may be worth considering.