Service charge culture varies from country to country and Brits have traditionally had an uneasy relationship with it. Here, we try to clear up some of the confusion
Tipping has undoubtedly become a greater of a part of British life over the past decade of so, with many restaurants now placing an optional service charge on the bill, that few would ever think to have removed. Brits have traditionally had an uneasy relationship with the practice and, of course, our tipping culture differs dramatically to the US, where certain industries are reliant on it.
In part, this is due to the difference in minimum wage. In restaurants in the US some staff earn as little as $2.13 an hour, plus whatever they make in tips, but in the UK where the minimum wage is higher, we see tipping as an added extra, rather than a necessary charge. In ignorance, Brits in America often land themselves in hot water by leaving a smaller tip than is expected, and cruise lines – most of which are American-owned – can be something of a minefield, too. Staff on cruise ships earn less than they would on land in the UK, so tips are often needed to bump up their wages.
Broadly speaking, cruise lines don’t let guests tip in the traditional sense any longer, given that cruise ships are virtually cash-free with credit cards registered to room keys (see below for more about how onboard currency works), meaning that tips are either added per day (and paid at the end of the cruise), or included in the price of the cruise. The cost depends on the line: on P&O Cruises it’s currently £6 a day, but this is set to rise to £7 from March 23; on Fred Olsen it’s £4; on Princess Cruises it’s $12.95 – the weak pound clearly making a big difference here. It’s mostly the luxury end of the market (Azamara Club Cruises, Crystal and Regent, Seabourn and Silversea, for example) that includes the tip in the price.
On river ships, some include all tips (Tauck and Uniworld for example), while others just include tips for onboard staff (Avalon includes tips for the ship staff but not local guides and drivers). On Riviera Travel, for example, €5 to €10 per person, per day is encouraged (but at guests’ discretion). An envelope is left in cabins on the final evening of the cruise, for guests to drop off at reception, should they want – a system that was once widely used across the industry.
Your advice for your customers? Always check with the line. On some premium, but not all-inclusive, lines, the charge can be quite high – and it can come as a bit of a surprise at the end of the week, especially if you’re not expecting it.
The lion’s share of cruise lines are US-owned and the currency used onboard these ships is dollars, even if you’re in Europe. Of course, with the pound so weak, drinks and gratuities are now more expensive than they were before.
Cruise lines don’t accept cash on the ship, except when settling the account (for this they will often accept euros), but it’s worth noting that many lines will only let you register a credit, not debit, card to the account. This is the easiest and more sensible way to pay, and will eliminate the risk of a situation where you haven’t got the cash to pay your bill. One of the joys of all- inclusive cruises is knowing you can indulge as much as you like and not worry about the bill on at the end.