A request just came in through the pipeline to cover tipping etiquette, and I needed a post for today, so let’s get right on it!

We learned early on that tipping is handled differently here. Shortly after we arrived, a local friend invited us to go on a day trip with his extended family. We stopped at a restaurant for lunch and there were probably close to 20 of us at the table. They refused to let us help with the bill, so my husband asked if we could cover the tip, and our friend said sure. My husband asked how much would be a good tip, and his friend suggested P50, or about US$1.25… For 20 people. We are not in Kansas anymore…

My Tagalog teacher once saw me leaving a P22 tip on a bill for a Coke Zero in the restaurant where we meet every week, and I think she thought I was out of my mind. But, I figure we are there taking up space in the restaurant for an hour once a week and I only ever order a soda, so it is the least I can do to keep the waitstaff happy to see us.

Tips here are not based on a percentage of the bill. It’s a token of thanks. What you decide to give is, in most cases, up to you. The one exception is that in some restaurants, you will see a service charge listed on your bill, between 7-10%. I usually only see this in foreign chain restos, but there are a few local chains that include it, as well as some of the nicer restaurants. That is a tip. You could just consider yourself covered. It’s up to you. However, keep in mind that being a member of waitstaff does not pay well, and a little bit of generosity will go a long way toward receiving great service on a return visit.

An acceptable “token” tip in most situations would be between P20-P50. This goes for anything from manicures to waitstaff to taxi drivers.

When I get my hair cut, I leave P100 for the hairdresser and P50 for his assistant. Again, these are people I see on a regular basis and I am always happy with their work. I am being generous in the hopes of getting consistently good service in the future. I have regularly seen local folks tipping P20 to just the stylist. So, it’s up to you. Some salons will have envelopes for tips, some may have an area where you can stick the money into a box or slit in the wall with the worker’s name over it, and some you have to hand directly to the person. I have never seen a stylist exhibit body language where they “expect” a tip at the end of their work. Sometimes, they will even skedaddle away to the back room before you get a chance, so do a scan for tipping locations as you arrive, and if you see no way to tip and intend to do so, have the money ready as they finish their work.

In a restaurant, I tend to leave P50-P100, at least. If my kids are with me, I may leave a little more. (You only need to tip in restaurants where someone takes your order, even though you don’t have to bus your own tray in fast food style places.) We recently left a P200 tip for a regular waiter, because we didn’t want to wait for change. The next time I went to the restaurant, he walked up to my table with my regular drink order already in hand.

If a bagger at the grocery store helps you to you to your car with your bags, P10 or so is acceptable. At the airport in Manila, you may end up having to be helped by 2 porters, depending on what gate you come in through. If you are in the older part of the airport, one can only take you as far as customs, and the next will help you to the curb. If the first actually got the bags off the carousel for you and on to the cart, you may want to go as high as P50-P100, but that is very generous. If the second person to help you just gets you to the curb and leaves, a P20 tip is fine. But, if he waits with you at the curb until your ride arrives, then you have to factor in that he isn’t off earning tips from other people that whole time and make it up to him when your ride does get there. If you figure he is able to make P20 every 10 minutes or so, you can figure what your final tip to him would be. Instead of thinking of it as a tip, think of it as babysitting fees. 🙂

If someone delivers furniture to your house, you can figure P20-P30 for each of them. We usually just hand it all to one person and let them divvy it up. If it really is a big job, like the fellows moving your entire houseful of goods into your home when you first arrive, then you’d want to do higher than that. If it’s an all-day job, you may want to order lunch for them as well as offering the tip at the end. You could also have a helper cook something for them, like adobo and rice.

With all these tip amounts, I tend to be a little more generous than normal during December.

You will find that you start getting little envelopes at your door in December from the folks who deliver your water, or who bring your mail (even if you haven’t ever actually received mail at your house), or whoever else may have at one time brought something to your door. Tip as you see fit. A regular delivery person who you don’t tip normally when he does deliveries (like the water guys) may deserve a couple hundred pesos, but the mailman who brought you one letter way back in March probably doesn’t need a tip for that one service. Make sure your helper knows to keep track of where the envelopes come from, because some are, literally, just envelopes with “thank you” on it or their first name, but not their job.

Service staff here rarely behave like they are expecting a tip from you. However, from time to time you may run in to someone who is used to dealing with foreigners who are unfamiliar with the local tipping culture and still tip according to how they would in their homeland. (My own experiences with this have been with bellboys in hotels and porters at the airport.) There have been a very few times when I’ve tipped a person where it was obvious by their body language that they were hoping for more than I gave. Generally, people are happy they got something.

In addition to generous tips encouraging good service, you have to remember that most of these service jobs are just not high paying at all. An extra dollar can go a longer way for them than it will for me, so I don’t mind tipping 2-3 times more than is normal, especially since even those “generous” levels are still so much lower than my culture of origin.


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