Samui Wining & Dining
When it comes to gratuities, being generous on Samui will make all the difference.


It can be confusing. And often uncomfortable, if you don’t know the rules. Tipping is a unique economic phenomenon, as it involves voluntary payments for service that has already been provided by the time the tip is given. Why do we tip, who do you tip and how much do you leave? I think most of us would rather contemplate one of Stephen Hawking’s theories on the origins of the universe than try and understand what the right thing to do is when it comes to leaving gratuities.

      In your own country it’s usually no problem, you know the score. But that rarely means that somewhere else will be the same. And it’s the British who really are to blame for all of this. I know it’s easy and even pleasurable to blame the Americans for just about everything, and whilst they’ve had a hand in modern tipping etiquette it all goes back to 16th century England. In the late Middle Ages a master or lord of the manor might give his servant or labourer a few extra coins, either as appreciation of a good deed or in

compassion for exceptional hardship. It’s known that in the sixteenth century brass urns with the inscription ‘To Insure Promptitude’ were placed first in coffee houses and later in local pubs. People tipped in advance by putting money in these urns so that they would receive attention quickly. Visitors to private homes were also expected to give sums of money (known as vails) at the end of their visit for service given by the host’s servants beyond their usual duties. Thus, at the beginning, vails were given for something the tipped person did above his duties – either additional services or extra effort. Even though vails began as a compensation for extra services or effort, they later became expected from every guest that dined or slept in another’s house. This custom became somewhat annoying for the tippers. By 1760, footmen, valets and gentlemen’s servants all expected vails. In some cases people avoided visiting their friends because of the high costs associated with doing so.

       This custom of tipping spread quickly throughout Europe, especially in areas that had a servant class. Tips were not given in the United States, however, until after the Civil War, possibly because the country didn’t have a servant class. Instead, waiters and coachmen in the United States regarded themselves as employees and were not interested in tips. European travellers wrote about their amazement in finding that they were not expected to tip in America. In the late 1800s, tipping was established in the United States as well. Affluent Americans, who travelled in Europe and had to tip there, started tipping in the US as well, to show that they had been abroad and were familiar with the customs of Europe.

          While the acronym T.I.P makes sense if given first to indeed insure promptness there are several other theories on the word ‘tip’. Most of these are put forward by etymologists who contend that the word stems from Latin, Norse, Dutch, Romany or Old English words. All possible, though you really need to be a student of ancient languages to worry much more about it. Some also mistakenly believe that the word stands for ‘To Improve Performance’. It doesn’t.

          So what happens, in general, around the world? You could come up with more than 30 different professions that expect a tip, depending on where you are. Michael Lynn, an associate professor of market and consumer behaviour at Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, researched the variations of tipping in different countries. Comparing the types of services that were tipped in each country with personality tests that had been given to people in those countries, he came to the conclusion that countries with more extroverted and neurotic people gave tips to the greatest number of services and also tipped the largest amounts (the U.S. was at the top of both of those categories, by the way).

          In Australia and New Zealand, tipping is virtually non-existent and in Japan it’s just not done. It may be that visitors from those countries don’t tend to leave tips when abroad and as such receive an unfavourable response when they return to a restaurant. That’s also the case in China, although by state-law foreign visitors get charged more. As for South Africa, Mexico and underdeveloped countries, you’ll be expected to tip almost everyone. In Europe, many restaurants have a service charge or cover charge added to the bill.

          So what about here in Thailand, and Samui specifically? Well, almost all of the hotels and resorts will add a 10% service charge to your food and beverage bill as will some of the better restaurants. And it’s always printed on the menu if that’s the case. I’d advise checking or even asking if it’s not clear on the bill. Where a service charge is levied, generally this will be split between all hotel staff evenly each month, not just the restaurant staff. Fair enough, I think. How much they make, of course, depends on how busy the restaurant is, how many staff there are and what the establishment charges.

          As far as average salaries go, that varies. But a housemaid will earn around 5,000 baht per month, a waiter/waitress/barperson/junior chef around 6,000-10,000 baht and supervisors and department heads a bit more. Service charges, once shared out, can double those salaries. Most also get free accommodation, food, health insurance and uniforms. Even still, you do the arithmetic. As for stand-alone restaurants that don’t have a service charge the amount the team make on tips each month wouldn’t even cover your beer bill on a good night out, particularly at small Thai-owned restaurants. This perhaps may be the time to leave a bit more than 10%, given that the bill will only be a few hundred baht. Nothing to you, but it will mean a lot to them. It’s also customary here to leave a tip in a bar, something you wouldn’t do in the UK, for instance. One set of people not to leave a tip for, and everyone I’ve spoken to agrees on this, is taxi-drivers. For a start they won’t be using their meter, which they do in other destinations in Thailand, and they already charge exorbitant amounts for comparatively short journeys. All that’s missing is a set of pistols, a three-cornered hat and some bloke shouting, “Stand and deliver!”

          That aside though, there are some potential economic reasons not to tip too much. If, say, a waiter can make 20,000 baht per month with the addition of other benefits, then they are doing very well. So well, in fact, that they are paid far more than nurses, police officers, firemen, postal workers, garbage-disposal men and teachers, to name but a few. And I think you’d agree that they all provide essential services. What you’ll also come across in the resorts is a good proportion of staff who have a college education or university degrees. They choose not to pursue other professions as they can make more money waiting tables. Okay, good for them, we all want the best for ourselves and our families. But what happens when there just aren’t enough people in essential professions? You don’t need me to answer that one for you. Check out any Thai public school here; around 50 pupils to a class is not unusual. Pop into a non-private hospital and tell me you’d be happy to have your family treated there. I’m not saying don’t tip, the opposite actually, but there are larger issues.

          We tend to tip more out of embarrassment, a desire to perform social norms or to make a statement about ourselves. On the other hand you couldn’t survive here a week on what most Thai people are paid each month, and they bring up families on that. Here’s the only tip I’ll give you on this, listen to your own conscience – I’m sure you’ll do the right thing.


 Johnny Paterson



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