Although tipping in India is certainly not compulsory, doing so is a nice gesture and can ensure that you receive better service from the same establishment in the future.
It's no surprise many travelers in India aren't sure whether they should tip or not. A majority of countries in Asia don't have a culture of tipping, although that may be slowly changing as Western influence spreads. Tipping in China and a handful of other countries can cause confusion; tipping in Japan can even be considered rude!
Baksheesh in India
Tips in India are typically referred to as baksheesh and are generally just a small token of appreciation given for good service. Tips are often much smaller (up to 10 percent) than what is expected in the United States and other countries where gratuity is an important part of salary.
The best practice is to separate your money; carry a few small bills in an accessible pocket so that you can give baksheesh quickly without digging through a wad of money in view of everyone. You shouldn't have to expose your wallet each time you give a small tip.
Beggars in India often approach with demands of "Baksheesh! Baksheesh!" Someone asking you on the street for baksheesh without providing a service is simply begging. Begging gangs and hierarchies are a serious problem in India — don't perpetuate the nefarious industry by making it profitable.
General Guidelines for Tipping in India
- When giving a tip in India, do so subtly and quietly without making a big production of it. You may attract additional begging if noticed. Some employers may demand that their employees turn over their tips; be discreet.
- Some large eateries and upscale hotels may add a service charge or gratuity of around 10 percent to your final bill; the service staff may or may not actually receive that money. If you really want to ensure a staff member receives a tip for excellent service, give it to them directly or leave some small change on the table.
- A tip of 10 percent in restaurants is considered excellent and will be greatly appreciated. Leaving 5 percent of the total bill is average.
- Anyone who carries your bags — whether you asked for assistance or not — will expect a tip of 50 rupees per bag, with 20 rupees being the absolute minimum. Do not allow porters in the airport, train stations, and hotels to grab your bags for you if you do not wish to pay them.
- Tipping guides and drivers on tours in India is customary, if they do a good job. A tip of around 200 rupees per day is considered an excellent tip. The guides who are operating more expensive tours will expect as much as 500 rupees per day. As always, only offer gratuity if you received good service.
- Tip drivers and boatmen by rounding up a little if they got you where you wanted to go quickly and safely. Sometimes, a hair-raising ride is the result of a driver wanting to get you to the destination quickly in order to earn a tip. Traffic is terrible in many places in India. It is customary to round up a fare to the nearest whole amount, or allow a driver to keep the change when paying.
- Barbers, spa staff, and anyone providing a direct, personalized service to you will appreciate a small tip at the end of a job well done.
When to Leave a Tip in India
Tipping in India is an art and doesn't follow rigid guidelines, but you'll catch on quickly enough as you travel through the country. Some situations may even call for you to tip in advance so that you receive faster or better service later — use your judgment — and make sure that your proactive tipping is not misconstrued as a bribe!
Just as when tipping in the West, don't offer gratuity if it isn't deserved. Rude interactions and poor service should never be rewarded with additional money. For obvious reasons, never offer a tip to policemen or government officials.
Whatever you do, smile, and try to never cause loss of face during interactions. One of the most important rules about tipping in India is to do so discreetly and nonchalantly without drawing attention to your generosity.