Unlike the United States, where restaurant staff may be paid lower than the ordinary minimum wage, by law, all British staff must be paid at least the National Minimum Wage, whether they receive tips or not.
Because service industry workers are paid a living wage, tipping 15 percent to 20 percent, as is common in the United States, is considered overkill in the United Kingdom. Ironically, one of the reasons American tipping culture developed the way it did is because of the American aristocrats who were trying to show off to their British peers in the late nineteenth century. Today though, there's no need for Americans to show off when dining out in England and travelers can instead adapt to the less extreme English tipping customs.
The United Kingdom is made up of four countries: England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, all of which use the pound sterling as their currency and share similar tipping customs. Tipping etiquette is pretty much the same throughout the United Kingdom, so you don't need to worry about adjusting what you tip if you make a trip from London to Edinburgh. When dining out in England, or anywhere else in the United Kingdom, tipping etiquette is dependent on what kind of establishment you're in.
Sit Down Restaurants
When eating out at a sit-down restaurant, whether it's casual or upscale, you should tip at about 10 percent. If the service has been truly exceptional, you can tip as high as 15 percent. On the other hand, if the service has been truly terrible, it's perfectly acceptable to not leave a tip at all.
Before you start figuring out how much to tip, check your bill to see if the restaurant has already added a service charge. Many restaurants will automatically add between 10 percent to 15 percent to the bill for gratuity, which means you do not have to pay anything more than what is written on your bill.
Unfortunately, many restaurants are not very clear in showing the service charge on their bills. Some might print the policy out on their menus, but not all do. If you suspect a service charge might have been added, you can ask your server directly about how the bill was calculated.
Bars and Pubs
Most bartenders in the United Kingdom won't accept tips. However, you might like to offer them a little something anyway. In this case, the best thing to do is to give them the cash and say something like "have one on me." They'll usually smile, pour themselves a drink, and add the cost to your tab. Not all bartenders will want to drink on the job though, so don't be surprised if they say that they'll save it for later.
Bars and Pubs with Table Service
Sometimes you'll find that larger pubs, particularly gastropubs that pride themselves on their food, now operate more like restaurants. At these pubs, servers will come to your table to get your order, so they'll be deserving of a tip at the end of your visit. Whenever the pub feels more like a restaurant than a bar, you should tip the sit-down restaurant rate at 10 percent to 15 percent.
Takeaway and Fast Food
If you order delivery from a takeaway restaurant, tipping isn't mandatory but it would be acceptable and nice to give a few pounds to the delivery man. If you pick up your own food, you don't need to tip.
If you're getting something quick to eat at a fast food restaurant or cafe, you won't be expected to tip. However if there's a tip jar, you can drop in some change if you'd like.