Knowing how much to tip and even if it is appropriate is a dilemma that both tourists and ex-pats experience. Certainly some things are cut and dry but there are so may unanswered questions. This page will cover massage, restaurants, taxis, Tuk Tuks, hotels, and most certainly bars.
First understand the practice of tipping is a western custom and not a Thai custom, however if it means money coming in the Thais will and did adapt quickly. Tips are and should be directly tied to quality of service. If the service is good then you can tip. If the service is terrible or non existent then just tip a minimal amount. By under tipping it sends a powerful message that you are unhappy with the service, it is that simple.
Thais that speak English simply tend to make more money because they are more valuable employees simply because English is the language of commerce. They should at least know the work related words such as menu items or services in English. Today all Thais have the opportunity to learn English in school. If they decided not to bother learning English and then they are trying to work where English is necessary, you consider your tip carefully. Being able to communicate with customers is part of customer service. Remember it was their choice on Learning or not learning English.
To help understand how much to tip it is best to know what the wages are for each type of work. Thailand has generally low wages when you compare them to other countries. That is why Thailand is rapidly growing to be the destination of choice for elective surgeries. Why pay $6000.00 + for breast augmentation in the USA when you can have it done in Thailand for often under $2000.00. Even if you factor in the price of airfare it is cheaper to do surgery in Thailand. The savings is directly related to wages paid to the Thais.
Below are some sample monthly base wage ranges paid in Bangkok.
Keep in mind the wages are less in other parts of Thailand. Commissions are not included.
|Sales associate small store or department store||4,500 – 9,000 baht|
|Restaurants||3,000 – 8,000 baht|
|Hotels||4,000 – 9,000 baht|
Below are average monthly wages in Thailand for 2005
|Agriculture, hunting and forestry||3,019 baht|
|Mining and quarrying||7,646 baht|
|Electricity, gas and water supply||17,841 baht|
|Wholesale and retail trade, repair business||6,760 baht|
|Hotels and restaurant||5,680 baht|
|Transport, storage and communication||11,752 baht|
|Financial intermediation||19,325 baht|
|Real estate, renting and business activities||9,571 baht|
|Public administration and defense||11,375 baht|
|Health and social work||10,804 baht|
|Other community and social work||6,311 baht|
|Private households with employed persons||4,068 baht|
|Extra-territorial organizations and bodies||5,753 baht|
Dangers of Over Tipping
The value of a tip compared to US dollars is a 20 baht tip to a Thai is roughly the equivalent of $4.00 – $6.00 to someone living in the USA. It all depends how thrifty one is as how far they can make 20 baht go. Over tipping has caused the Thais to raise their prices thinking that they were pricing too low. There is already a significant double standard in prices in Thailand for Thais and non Thais. Over tipping simply causes that gap to widen. Tourist from Japan grossly over tip in bars and as a result the Thai entertainment venues and restaurants that cater to Japanese have compensated by raising some prices to be in line with Japanese incomes.
The first thing to do is take note if the restaurant has a service charge on the bill. If they do then they have already deducted the tip. Do not confuse the service charge with VAT tax. This practice is more commonly found in restaurants in and around the more expensive hotels. However if you do decide to tip 10 to 20 baht is usually enough as you are tipping for service. If you want the tip to go directly to the waitress/waiter then you must put it in their hand and not on the tray. If you put it on the tray then it more than likely goes into a pool that will be split evenly among all the service staff. Tipping is not required for street vendor type eating, the Thais don’t tip so neither should you. This is because it is a family type business and they get all the money anyway.
Taxies run by the meter or a flat rate to a more distant destination. If it is a flat rate then that is all you should pay. If it is a meter then rounding up to the next 5 or 10 is fine. Example if the meter is 71 baht to 74 baht then paying 75 baht is fine. Some taxies may even only charge you 70 if the meter is 71.
This fare is negotiated so pay what you negotiate. Don’t be afraid to negotiate to about 75% of what the driver offers for first quote. Example if the driver quotes 100 baht then negotiate to about 75 baht and you should be in the correct price range. If the Tuk Tuk is making flat rate runs up and down a soi then pay what is asked. Tuk Tuk fares tend to be a bit higher than taxies but the drivers buy and maintain their own Tuk Tuk so the cost difference is justified. A Tuk Tuk is a short distance type of taxi in most cases less than 3 km. Fares over 100 baht should be questioned. A 3 km fare in a regular taxi by meter without traffic delays is about 40 baht. The key word here is delays. Depending on the time of day particularly during afternoon rush hour the fares may be higher or some may even refuse to go because of the heavy traffic.
Thai foot massages range from about 140 baht in the Thai areas of town to a ridiculous 500 baht in some hotels. The going rate for most places is between 200 and 250 baht. The person working on you gets half the take and the remainder goes to the house. You also need to consider the money earned depends on the number of customers. In the Thai areas the Thais may tip 20 baht for a foot massage. Typically tipping 40 to 60 baht is a good range for a foot massage.
Thai massages range from 300 to 700 for a two hour massage. The person working on you gets half the take and the remainder goes to the house. Here you need to use your best judgment on the skill of the person working on you and not how cute she is. The idea behind a Thai massage is to remove the knots and kinks and not put them in. Considering it may be wonderful for you, the person working on you is having a bit of a workout. Tipping between 100 and 150 baht is a very generous tip. If happy endings are offered then the tip is negotiated.
Oil massages typically require the least amount of skill and also often provides a more intimate contact. The person working on you gets half the take and the remainder goes to the house. Typically a tip of 40 to 60 baht is good unless happy endings are involved. As for happy endings the tip is negotiated.
Going to a bar depending on the type of venue you will find a variety of tips. In a gogo bar if you buy a dancer or service staff a lady drink they make money on it. If the girl asks for a tip after you buy her a drink you can simply state her tip was in the lady drink. Placing a tip on the tray goes to the service staff, so remember to take care of both. A tip of 10 baht would be the minimum for good service but certainly not over 100 baht. If the service was very bad then simply don’t tip and tell them that’s why you did not tip. Hopefully the service will improve based on that. If you want the tip to go directly to a particular member of the service staff you must put it in her hand and not on the tray. Placing it on the tray will split the tip between all service staff. Many service staff only make about 4,000 baht per month so don’t be afraid to be generous to them. As a general rule 20 baht in Bangkok, 15 baht in Pattaya and other resort type locations, and 10 baht up country or in Thai areas would be the average tip.
In hotels it is not necessary to tip however it is your own choice. If you have a lot of heavy bags. then a 10 to 20 bat tip for the bellboy is more than enough. Consider that it is his job to help you, and for a hotel of 300 rooms he may make 500 to 1000 baht in tips per day.
Keeping your tips in line with the local economy is very important. Even if you feel your tip is small by your home country standards, it is correct for Thailand. Over tipping causes greed and will take some of the charm out of Thailand.