Although tipping in India is not compulsory, doing so is a nice gesture. In some circumstances, a small tip is expected. The rules of etiquette for gratuity in India are a little muddled as a colonial past, tourism, and cultural influences clash.
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 cultural mutation.
Tipping in China and a handful of other countries can cause confusion; tipping in Japan can even be considered rude!
What Is Baksheesh?
The word "baksheesh" is actually Persian in origin; travelers hear it all too often in Egypt, Turkey, the Middle East, and many other parts of the world. Although baksheesh sometimes refers to simple gratuity, connotations differ based on context.
For instance, a beggar may demand "baksheesh! baksheesh!" even though no service was rendered. Simply asking "baksheesh?" can be a way of inquiring whether someone with authority is willing to bend the rules a little.
Baksheeh in India
Tips in India are typically referred to as baksheesh. Think of giving baksheesh as a small act of appreciation for good service. You will be asked for baksheesh in India often but may refuse anytime.
Tips in India are often much smaller (up to 10 percent) than what is expected in the United States and other countries where employees depend on customer gratuity as an important part of their salaries.
Get some small change as quickly as possible after arriving in India. Make a practice of separating 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 to snatch thieves each time you give a small tip — which you may find is more often than expected.
Note: 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. Child begging gangs and hierarchies are a serious problem in India — don't perpetuate this nefarious industry by making it profitable.
How Much to Tip in India
As always, exact numbers are debatable and depend on the quality of service, but there are some loose guidelines.
Although seeing the poverty in India makes Westerners want to be overly generous and err on the side of giving too much, doing so causes cultural mutation over time. Expectations for gratuity shift as tourists get preferential treatment. Locals, who aren't in the practice of tipping as much as tourists, find they can't get decent service in their own countries. Staff would rather wait on the naive tourists.
- For meals: around 10 percent; 15 percent if someone really went out of their way.
- Hotel porters: 20 rupees per bag carried
- Taxi drivers: round up the fare to nearest multiple of Rs.10.
- Airport transfer drivers: 50 rupees for timely service
- Guides and personal drivers: between 100 – 300 rupees per day, depending on service.
- 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 in doubt, default to 5 percent, and go up to 10 percent for great service.
Tipping in Restaurants
Before deciding how much to tip in a restaurant in India, you should check the bill. Charges on the often-bewildering document should be itemized.
Look for "Service Tax" which the government gets and any "Service Charges" that the restaurant gets. These are separate items. You may see that the restaurant has already added 5 or 10 percent to the bill as a service charge; you can adjust your gratuity accordingly.
Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that management will give any of the service charge to staff. It may simply be used to cover their base salaries. If service was exemplary, consider leaving a cash tip of 5 - 10 percent.
If no service charge is present, you can tip around 5 - 10 percent on basic dinners in restaurants. If the bill is quite high (around Rs. 1,000 or more), you can tip a little less.
Leaving between 5 – 7 percent will suffice.
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.
- 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 after tours in India is customary, if they do a good job. A tip of around 200 - 300 rupees per day is considered an excellent tip.
- Tip drivers and boatmen by rounding up a little if they got you where you wanted to go quickly and safely. Traffic is terrible in many places in India, so 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. Locals often allow the driver to keep small change when paying.
- Sometimes a centralized tipping box is present in hotels and restaurants. Use these when possible. A few large hotel chains may have no-tipping policies in place.
When to Leave a Tip in India
Tipping in India is more about a gut feeling and doesn't follow rigid guidelines; you'll catch on quickly enough as you travel through the country. Keep a wad of small banknotes (Rs. 10) to hand out when saving-face situations occur.
Some scenarios may even call for you to offer a little baksheesh in advance so that you receive faster or better service later — use your judgment. If you decide to tip in advance, ensure your proactive tipping is not misconstrued as a bribe!
Just as when tipping in the West, don't offer gratuity in India 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.
One of the most important rules for tipping in India is to do so discreetly and nonchalantly without drawing attention to your generosity.