Tipping in China – To Tip or Not to Tip?
It was just after I arrived in China for the first time back in 2000. I was part of a team coming from New York to meet with suppliers in China about our ongoing and future projects. I remember we had a great lunch in China, me thinking “real Chinese food from China!” and when we paid I realized no one left a tip on the table.
I was curious and cautiously asked my host why he didn’t tip, as I didn’t want to offend him after such a good meal (but as mentioned before Chinese are very open about discussing etiquette), and being my first time in China.
He said that tipping in China was not common practice, the server was simply doing his job.
Tipping customs and habits are different not only in different countries of the world, but in different restaurants of the same city as well. This is why you can never really be too careful when it comes to respectfully tipping the server or the staff for giving you a proper service.
During my visit to China, I noticed a considerable difference between the Chinese culture, traditions and customs and the American culture, traditions and customs. Chinese do not necessarily appreciate the tipping custom as we Americans do. Therefore, I think, it is important that you understand if you should tip at all.
In American cities, it is customary to give a generous tip. Each city and State has a general rule, some tip 10%, some double the tax, but tips are normal and considering that the server worked hard for you to get your meal. The tip is a healthy amount of money to express and pay for the gratitude that you feel towards the server.
However, when tipping in China, in most restaurants, the servers in restaurants never really get the tip you give them. Yes, it is true! In fact, the tip that you award the server for his good performance goes right into the pocket of the owner who had nothing to do with serving you the food you ate that night.
This is one of the reasons as to why tipping in China is considered a token gesture instead of anything else. In some restaurants, the tip that the servers get is divided equally among the staff of the restaurant to promote financial equality and goodwill. This means that there is no competitiveness and that the servers work with one another in harmony.
In some local restaurants that only cater to the citizens of China, there is absolutely no tipping policy at all! The restaurant owners do not promote tipping as they believe it is not a healthy practice. However, restaurants that get many foreign customers do bend the rules a little when it comes to tipping the servers because the foreigners are playing by the rules of their own country and would find it hard to understand why they should not tip the server who catered to their needs.
Nevertheless, in the view of many Chinese restaurant owners and locals alike, tipping is perceived to be a very common yet not always understood why a foreigner may just “give away money.”
Tipping is generally considered an unnecessary practice. Therefore, whenever you hire a car or get a bellhop to take your things up to your hotel room, you do not have to particularly worry about this practice as it can make you feel unwelcome in certain circles. Always judge the atmosphere you are in and observe if the people around you are following the practice or not. In other words, if you’re traveling and you’re staying in a known worldwide hotel, the staff and probably most of the customers are used to tipping. If you’re staying in a more local establishment, more so not.
If you feel comfortable, you can even ask your server if tipping is the norm here or not.
Even though tipping servers in restaurants might be a custom that the Chinese have adopted in restaurants that cater to foreign individuals, the habit of tipping bellhops and taxi drivers is still something foreign to them. However, if you want to show your gratitude, do it in a respectful way and tell them that you enjoyed the service they provided you with.
In the end though, with so many westerners visiting and traveling, tipping in China is being accepted, so if you feel like go ahead, nothing bad will come from it.