How Much You Should Really Be Tipping For Room Service

Ah, tipping. The tradition of tipping began in the Middle Ages of Europe as an exchange between aristocrats and serfs, per NPR. From the feudal system to America, the practice now serves (for better or worse) as the fundamental economics of the modern service industry — at least in America. While tipping in most of Europe is pretty commonplace, some Asian cultures consider it rude. However, in the global tourism ecosystem, Americanized tipping practices are becoming more common.

When it comes to tipping for hotel room service, you'll need to consider the where, how, and how much. According to American Hotel & Lodging Association, the organization recommends tipping between 15-20% if a service charge isn't already included with the bill. It should be noted, however, that service charge is not always synonymous with gratuity. Outside of the guidelines of the "American" Hotel & Lodging Association, international travel will require a bit more research regarding tipping cultures. While tipping may depend largely on how your hotel charges and where you're traveling, there are a few ways to ensure proper tip etiquette.

Read the fine print to tip appropriate

In an article on hotel tipping by the The New York Times, the etiquette columnist Karen Cleveland put it pretty simply. She described travel as a luxury, and as such, travelers should tip for the services that support travel. That may be, but when and how much to tip can be murky, especially when there's a bunch of additional charges already included. In some cases, you'll see an extra service fee attached to a room service bill. You can interpret the charge as you'd like, and every hotel is different, but this charge is typically paying for the convenience of room service. While you may consider delivery as part of this convenience, a portion or the entire service charge may go to the hotel rather than the server, notes Go Banking Rates.

Some hotels will also automatically charge a gratuity between 15-20% for room service, reports USA Today. However, in the space under the baked-in gratuity, you may see another line for leaving an additional tip. While adding another 18% tip on top of the two other charges may not be necessary, you can overcome any tip-associated angst by leaving a few dollars or rounding up. If the hotel's room service bill does not include gratuity, then leaving a 15-20% tip is probably appropriate. 

Tip etiquette while traveling may take some research

For Americans, tipping is ingrained into daily life, but the practice isn't common everywhere. In other countries, service industry professionals earn most, if not all, of their income from wages instead of tips. According to Rick Steves, the pleat-panted European travel guru, each country tends to follow its own tip etiquette. If we assume tipping for room service mirrors a country's restaurant tipping culture, then some basic geographical guidelines may help.

For example, in countries around the Mediterranean, a 10% service charge is typically included, but tipping a few euros on top is common. In England, a 12.5% service charge is usually added to the bill. In this case, no tip is expected. However, when service charges aren't included in the bill, then leaving a tip that amounts to the service charge of the area is customary. 

Overall, it's just smart to perform a little research on tipping cultures before traveling internationally. As the BBC reports, in some countries, tipping is actually considered rude, especially in Japan and China. In China, tipping was considered a bribe in the past and was actually illegal. In Japanese culture, good service is expected, so giving a tip can be viewed as belittling or rude. 

In Japan, the hotel staff is actually trained on the etiquette of refusing any gratuity, and it's wise to follow their lead. Even in the culturally ​insular world of international hotels, your best bet is to just adhere to local tipping customs.