Guide to Tipping in Thailand Etiquette. Is it Customary? Where, When and How Much to Tip?
Tipping isn’t expected in Thailand. There isn’t a culture of leaving a tip in Thailand. So, you won’t see staff with their hand out automatically expecting a tip, unlike in some countries.
That being said, salaries for service staff are low compared to Western countries and many people rely on tips to allow them to afford a reasonable standard of living. So tips for good service are definitely appreciated.
A 20 Baht tip is nothing for the average tourist in 2020. But if you are earning 300 Baht a day, a few small tips make all the difference.
How Much is an Appropriate Tip in Thailand?
It would be great if there was a simple table that you could look up and it would tell you the correct etiquette for tipping. How much to tip someone, doing a specific service in a particular country. But there isn’t. The rules of tipping depend not only on the culture of the country that you are visiting, but also on the culture of your home country.
That makes it doubly hard to know how much, where and in what situations you should (or shouldn’t) tip. On the one hand you don’t want to appear to be an ungrateful skinflint. On the other, you equally don’t want to appear to be a high roller with a bottomless wallet.
So as well as writing this guide on tipping in Thailand customs from the perspective of a tourist visiting Thailand, I’ve also added a section about how Thais tip. This is based on my experiences of living in Thailand for the last 20 years.
In general, tourists will tip more than Thais. Especially Americans who have a tipping culture. I know Thais who can identify accents and who will fight for the chance to serve, drive, carry bags etc for an American. As they know they’re pretty much guaranteed a tip.
It’s also worth mentioning that although over-tipping may help the person the money goes to, it isn’t a good idea in general. It just creates more inequality and, in the eyes of some people, leads them to expect more from other customers or clients. The best way to help more people is to frequent locally owned small businesses and restaurants when on vacation.
When to Leave a Tip in Thailand
I’ll start with when not to tip – as that’s very brief.
Although this is 2020, people will assume you are mad, and will often try to return the money to you, if you try to leave tips in certain situations. For example, people who won’t expect any tips include: market vendors; bus or tuk-tuk drivers; security guards; cashiers at the 7-eleven or sales assistants in shops. Likewise anywhere where you order food or drink at a counter won’t require any tip. For example, coffeeshops or fast food joints.
And if you do leave a tip directly, always try to do so in Thai currency (Baht), not with USD, EUR, GBP etc notes.
Tipping Tour Guides
You should always tip your guide if you are on a small group or private tour in Thailand. Where you are receiving a more personal service. In which case, a tip of 100 – 200 Baht per person would be fine at the end of the day.
If you’re on large group tour with 20 or 30 other people, then no tip is required for the tour guide. Or on a day snorkelling trip for example on a boat with 100 fellow visitors. There maybe exceptions, such as a crew member who goes out of their way to help your kids or do something to make the day memorable. But in general, tour guides on this type of trip won’t be providing much personal service. Their job is to herd you.
Tipping Private Drivers
Many people will take a private transfer when they are on holiday in Thailand. The tip should reflect the length of the drive. If you are getting picked up at an airport and dropped off at a hotel in a nearby town then there’s no need for a large tip. 50 Baht would be fine for a driver who helps with your bags and is personable.
There again, if you are spending several hours on the road the driver should receive more. Especially if you have a driver who will anticipate when you need to stop for lunch or toilet breaks and drives safely and sensibly. In which case, anywhere from 200 – 500 Baht is common. You might be paying a few thousand Baht for the transfer, but this isn’t going to your driver. They will be on a few hundred Baht a day wages, and probably won’t be doing jobs daily.
Tipping Taxi Drivers
There’s no need or expectation to tip a taxi driver in Thailand. But we’ve all had nightmare taxi journeys on vacation, so when you get a friendly, safe driver it can be a blessing. In which case, round up the fare on the meter to the nearest 50 or 100 Baht.
Taking a traditional Thai massage is a popular way to kill an hour or two. Especially if you have spent the day on your feet touring temples or out in the burning sun on the beach. It is customary to tip the masseuse who has been pummeling you. A service charge won’t automatically be added onto your bill.
At small massage shops or beach massage huts, the ladies are paid depending on the number of clients they have. The owner will split the money with them. So on a quiet day they may only receive 200 – 300 Baht. Therefore any tip goes a long way.
If you’re fortunate enough to have found a masseuse who has managed to put your back into shape, soothe your tired limbs or just make your stress ooze away, then surely that’s worth a 100 Baht tip.
Tipping in Thailand – Hotel Staff
Personally I always tip the room maid. I know what a tough job they have in large hotels. Each will have a quota of rooms they have to clean daily. In theory there’s plenty of time to do this. But in reality, it’s a never ending hassle which can be very stressful for the housekeeping personnel.
Some guests get up late. Others don’t checkout when they said they would. Some want their room cleaning first thing in the morning. Others want to work and can’t be disturbed all day. Some guests arrive early and want access to their room immediately, so a room has to be quickly prepared.
Workers in Thailand, aren’t usually in a position to complain to their bosses. But will always be the first to be blamed if a room isn’t ready on time. So if your room attendant does a good job, please reward them. In some hotels you’ll have the same person cleaning daily. Therefore, you can leave a tip at the end of your stay. But, in others, there might be different staff on a rota system, in which case leave a little something daily.
Base your tips on the room rate. In cheaper guesthouses, say 20 Baht/night. In a more expensive resort, that probably requires more work from the maid to get the room into perfect condition, 50 Baht/night is good.
A benefit of always tipping daily is that you’ll soon know the handful of room attendants on your floor. So, if you ever need extra towels, more shampoo, a couple of bottles of water, they’ll nearly always oblige with a smile.
However, don’t leave the tip laying on a counter or desk. Because, they won’t know for sure that it is a tip and so will probably leave it or try to return it if you’re checking out. Much better to give it to them personally or leave a note with it to say the money is a tip for them.
As soon as you check in to any hotel in Thailand you’ll always notice bellboys circling. Eager to take your luggage, show you how to press the elevator button, open a room door and turn on the TV. Sometimes they are useful. For example if you’re travelling with a family and are loaded down with luggage. Some times it’s a bit annoying.
Regardless, a 20 Baht tip is fine. There’s no need to go overboard with tipping. Unless they are unusually helpful or they have to trudge up flights of stairs with your 40kg of luggage as the elevator is out of order.
Something that is becoming more widespread is the practice of having a tip box on the reception desk. To my mind that looks more like begging. It’s usually an old coffee jar with just ‘Tips’ written on it in pen.
They aren’t expecting a tip for checking you out efficiently. The jar is there in the hope that people leaving and heading straight for the airport will throw some of their remaining loose change or small bank notes in it.
If you have enjoyed your stay and have some Baht you aren’t planning to exchange, then go for it. But otherwise ignore it. Your room bill will have already included a tip for all staff.
Tipping at Street Food Stalls
If you leave anything more than loose change as a tip there’s a good chance the vendor will think you’re confused about the price. Street vendors in Thailand aren’t used to tipping.
They’ll worry that you think you have to pay more. This can cause for amusing scenes . With a tourist trying to offer a tip and the vendor assuming the tourist thinks they have to pay more. Then chaos reigning as the vendor doesn’t want the money and the tourist then feels they have upset the vendor in some way.
Tipping in Restaurants
There’s no need to tip in small roadside restaurants. Neither waiters nor the owner will expect even a small tip. But if you have enjoyed your meal and just want to say ‘Thanks’, leave a 20 Baht note on the table when you leave. There won’t be any service charge. All prices are net.
If you are in a fancier restaurant, the first thing to check is the small print on the menu to see if tax and service charge is included or not. If it is included then don’t leave a tip, as the restaurant is already adding on 15% service charge. Whether or not the staff receive all of that tip money or not, is matter for the owner to decide.
If the prices are net. Then rounding the bill up to the nearest 100 Baht is usually the way to go at most restaurants in Thailand. Tips will be put into a kitty that gets divided equally among employees. So if your waiter has been especially good or efficient and you want the tip to go to them, you need to make a show of putting it in their hand or pocket. This is so their fellow staff know that you have done this and that there’s no need for that person to put it in the kitty.
If you leave the tip on the table or in the billfold at the end of the meal, it will go into the shared kitty.
The flipside is that if you have bad service or the food is just average, don’t feel obliged to leave a tip. You won’t get hassled for one. Just pay the bill and leave. Try a different restaurant tomorrow.
Tipping in Bars
As with restaurants, the first thing to check is if the gratuity is already included on the bill. But it also depends on the bar and your interaction with the staff. If your hanging around a quiet bar and there’s a friendly bar steward who is chatting away with you, then why not give them a tip. Regardless of whether service charge is included or not. Again, nothing astronomical, 100 Baht maximum.
Pubs where you walk up to the bar and buy your drink then sit and drink it don’t require that you tip the bartender. That’s not expected. But this type of place is quite rare in Thailand. In the majority of regular bars you’ll take a seat and get a beer menu, then one of the waiters will take your order and bring your beers over. The idea of ordering at the bar isn’t common in Thailand and especially not at places that cater mainly to Thai drinkers.
If you’re chilling on an oversize bean bag and enjoying a few sunset cocktails at a laid back beach bar, then when it comes to paying the bill, just round it up to the nearest 100 Baht. That’s assuming the cocktails are good.
Tipping in Beer bars or Gogo Bars
You won’t be expected to tip the bar girls in Thailand. As you’ll be coaxed into buying them over priced ‘lady drinks’, which is a form of rewarding them for their sparkling conversation or games of Connect 4. They will receive commission out of the price of the drink as well as the drink itself.
If you want the entire bar to benefit from your generosity, ring the bell. There will be one hanging from the ceiling somewhere near the counter. That’s the signal you will buy everyone a drink and all the girls will receive some commission. It will be quite expensive. :-)
You’re trusting someone to come up with a design, which may take several attempts over the course of a day or two to get perfect. And to then mark it on your body permanently. There’s a good chance you could be spending hours lying motionless while the tattooist focuses on doing the best job possible. After all that, they deserve a tip.
If they’ve aced the design and you can’t wait to post a selfie with your new tatt – Geez . . . give the tattooist a decent tip. A few hundred Baht for his trouble.
When Do Thais Leave Tips?
In most situations Thais are minimal tippers. And even more so outside urban areas and tourist resorts and islands, where a 40 baht tip can be considered excessive. But as a general rule, the posher the hotel or restaurant, the more you tip. This isn’t based on any percentage rule. Simply just on worrying about how you might be perceived by service staff.
Allow me explain . . .
Do Thais tip at food stalls?
Street stalls are busy places. There are no airs and graces and no attempts at good service. You order, you eat, you go. There’s no written bill. A total amount is tabulated mentally, a banknote is handed over. Any change comes from the owner’s or server’s apron pocket.
Most diners will pocket all the coins and leave. But some will just take 5 and 10 Baht coins and leave 1 and 2 Baht coins on the table. Technically a small tip, but more because they don’t want their purse or pocket filled with heavy loose change.
Do Thais tip at sit down restaurants?
These are the sort of places you’ll find in any shopping mall. Where middle class families go to eat at the weekend and sometimes after work. Many Thais will tip at these kind of places. Although, again, this isn’t a fixed amount and it’s just as much for convenience as it is for gratitude or a comment on the quality.
Assuming the food is good and your server are pleasant, the small tip will either be a small banknote – 20 Baht being the most common. Or rounding the bill up to the nearest 50 Baht.
Do Thais tip at local hotels?
When Thais are travelling and staying in the usual 2 star tourist hotels upcountry they aren’t usually thinking about leaving tips.
The bellhop might get 10 or 20 Baht if they’re carrying bags a long way to the room. Guests might leave some loose change for the chambermaid. But receptionists who go out of their way to offer help or useful local tips – especially on essentials such as the best restaurants in the area – will often get a good tip at check out if their advice proves useful.
Percentage-wise, this is still much less than the average American would tip. And less than the the average tourist who’s calculating tips on, say a simple 5 or 10% rule.
Do Thais tip at fine dining or Western restaurants or luxury hotels?
What’s the use of having money if you can’t show people how much money you have? Thais with a bit of cash like to show off their wealth. This can be in the form of gold jewelry or nice cars. Or it can be by bestowing generous tips on staff at high end restaurants and five star hotels.
If you are staying or eating somewhere expensive then most Thais won’t want to appear to be too tight with their money. Patrons at high end establishments will often hand out 100 Baht notes with abandon. Also worth noting that this will be in addition to the ++ (15% service charge and 7% VAT) that is added on to bills in places like this. In theory the service charge should go to the workers but that doesn’t always happen.