I visited Auckland, New Zealand, earlier this month for the 13th APacCHRIE (Asia-Pacific Council on Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Education) Conference. Because I thought New Zealanders would share similar values and customs with their friends in the U.S., I did not do any research about the etiquette in New Zealand — even though it was my first trip to the country.

My assumption was right for a few things, but definitely not for the tipping etiquette in restaurants. In the U.S., we are expected to tip restaurant servers 15-20 percent of the bill, with a recent trend of reaching 20-30 percent.

Nevertheless, tipping in restaurants is not encouraged in New Zealand. What a big difference! According to the advice suggested on TripAdvsior, "New Zealanders tend not to like the idea of it (tipping) it's like being charged twice over for your dinner, which is seen as unfair."

Then, when tipping is not the norm in New Zealand, would travelers receive poor service in the country? It turned out such worry was absolutely unnecessary. I received great service no matter where I went in New Zealand even though I left no tips. I showed my appreciation by clearly saying "thank you" to the service providers.

Would it be better to leave a good tip anyway, as we do in the U.S.? On one hand, tipping shows our appreciation. On the other hand, tips can motivate servers to provide exceptional service. That would certainly be the case in the U.S., and tipping works really well in the places where servers "live" on tips.

For example, some states (not including California) allow restaurants to count tips toward service workers' minimum wage. If a server normally receives $7 an hour in tips and the minimum wage in that particular state is $10 an hour, then the server's hourly wage could be $3 an hour because $3 + $7 = $10. In this case, tipping makes a huge contribution to a server's income.

In the countries (or states) where servers normally receive no tips, they will be protected by the country's (or states') minimum wage policy. In fact, there are many places on this planet where tipping is optional or unnecessary. For example, when I was in Japan earlier this year, I was able to experience the country's great hospitality without an exchange of tips.

If we consider tipping etiquette as a cultural thing, leaving no tips in countries like Japan and New Zealand actually show our respect to country's customs. I honestly do not see the point of enforcing the "American ways" of doing business in other countries. What do you think?

Now, if you are curious of the tipping etiquette in hotels and restaurants in the U.S., here are some subjective suggestions:

  • 15-20 percent in a table-service restaurant
  • 10 percent for take-outs (even though many Americans do not tip when ordering take-outs)
  • 10-15 percent for take-outs that are delivered to the door
  • $1 or $2 per person, or 10 percent in a buffet restaurant
  • Tipping is optional in coffee shops and fast-food restaurants
  • $1-5 daily for the housekeeping staff, depending on the type of hotels and how dirty the room is (unless you do not want your room to be cleaned thoroughly)
  • $2-5 for valet parking (it is important to tip well when dropping off the car if you want your car to be well taken care of, and then tip again when picking up the car)
  • $1-3 per coat for a coatroom attendant
  • $1-2 per piece of luggage handled in a hotel
  • $5-10 for the concierge service (if the staff helps make a reservation)
  • $1-2 per person for a short ride if a hotel provides free shuttle service

Interested in reading more about my trip to New Zealand? Check out my recent discussion on sustainable tourism in New Zealand as well as the photo album on my Facebook Page.