12/09/2011...1:52 pm

Tipping on board: Are Brits mean, or are we just different?

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The BBC’s consumer champion, Watchdog, has been having another pop at cruise lines, criticising the system of auto-gratuities, when tips are automatically charged to your on-board account. Most mainstream lines operating out of the UK now use this system.

Regular cruisers know and accept auto-gratuities, although whether they like them or not is another matter. But to someone who had never cruised, how would cruising have come across on that Watchdog programme? Pretty absurd, probably.

One woman had been charged a £65 gratuity for an eight-month-old baby to sit in the dining room on a Royal Caribbean cruise, just because she’d opted for flexible dining (when you have to pay the tips in advance). That particular charge subsequently was removed. Another passenger was aghast at the fact that MSC was going to add $12 per person per day to her bill for tips, without even consulting her.

A regular cruiser may think, “Yes? So what?” But the fact is, Britain is not a tipping nation. It’s just not in our culture. There is no other industry I can think of where the amount of an automatic tip is dictated in advance when you, the consumer, don’t even know how good or bad the service is going to be. Restaurants often add ‘optional’ gratuities automatically – but a lot of people ask for these to be taken off and leave cash instead.

As a rule, Brits are uncomfortable with tipping and we resent the idea of having to pay a worker’s wages. On the other hand, we do want the crew to be paid well, and we don’t mind rewarding outstanding service. Does this make us tight-fisted, or does this just suggest we’re different from Americans, who usually tip generously, whether from guilt or tradition?

Australians are so anti-tipping that when P&O Australia added auto-gratuities to its cruises, there was uproar, and the system had to be scrapped. This doesn’t mean the crew on P&O Australia’s ships aren’t being paid. The tips will simply be built into the fare. The luxury cruise lines already do this, as do Brit-only lines Thomson Cruises, Saga Cruises and Spirit of Adventure.

But if the mainstream cruise lines were either to pay their crew better in the first place or build tips into the overall cruise fare, the basic price of a cruise would go up. Would that make us any happier?


Read Cruise Critic’s ultimate guide to cruise tipping here
What happens when you opt out of paying auto-gratuities? Find out here


  • Peter Horton

    I will be interested to see the comments on this subject. Yes, in short, as compulsory tipping is not part of the UK culture, it is difficult for some to understand.

    However, this in no way indicates that we are ‘mean’ but we are different. I object vehemently when Brits are accused of being ‘cheap’ and that we try to ‘stiff’ the onboard staff.

    I take this personally as I do pay the required gratuities and at least I turn up on the last evening to ensure that the wait staff get their tips, even if I am not dining in the main dining room, I make a visit to those who have served us during the cruise to thank them for all their hard work.

    I have witnessed on several occasions when cruisers of all nationalities do not appear on the last evening and therefore, must have no intention of providing the staff with gratuities. Yes, they may have pre-paid them, but the forums still have many people who object to pre-paying so I can only conclude that they are ‘stiffing’ the staff, so it is not only those nationalities where tipping is not part of their culture but others from where tipping is part of the culture that are not paying their dues.

  • Cruises out of the UK are already very expensive compared to other areas, the exchange rate against the Dollar (and Euro) is rubbish and drinks on American ships are way overpriced.
    15% plus $12.50 pp per day on top of all that is totally over the top.
    As a result, I now only sail with P&O.

  • Ian Parkinson

    I don’t watch Watchdog anymore as their reporting is not ‘balanced’ or fair. You also don’t get anywhere if you complain to them about inaccuracies or unfair reporting. They appear to have one set of rules for others and a different set of rules for themselves, under which they cannot be held to task for what they broadcast. Shameful.

  • I drive a Taxi and often take crew members back to their ship or an airport and have never had a tip off one of them yet. I can NOT charge more than the meter shows by law.

  • I have taken a taxi from Heathrow to Southampton twice in the last 15 months to take a cruise. I was very satisfied with the service (Smiths for Airports) and both times we tipped the driver pretty much the same as we would have here in California. Both times the drivers very graciously thanked us and wished us a good cruise. I didn’t feel like they acted as if they were unaccustomed to this. That being said, I must also say that as an American it is very refreshing to me to be in cultures were service personnel aren’t literally standing around with their hands out after every little service they provide.

  • “As a rule, Brits are uncomfortable with tipping and we resent the idea of having to pay a worker’s wages.”

    did you even read what you wrote?
    Brits, & most other nationalities, pay a workers wages when they pay the bill for the service/product. We don’t in any way ‘resent’ paying their wages.

    Go to a restaurant, order food, get the bill. The bill covers your food & the serving staff, kitchen staff, premises, running costs etc.

    • cruisecriticuk

      Richard – what I mean is that some people resent making a worker’s pay, which of course we know is contributed to by the cruise fare, up to something even resembling a liveable wage by having to tip. Some people feel that the cruise fare alone should be enough for the crew to be paid properly, and a tip should be an extra reward for outstanding service.

  • You can always opt out of the gratuities and then
    pay just the people that you deal with. I do not drink
    so why should I pay towards a barmans tips. As for paying up front for \anytime dining\ I also had to do this on Royal
    Caribbean but did not have the same waiter once, and felt
    obliged to tip my cabin steward again just to make sure he
    knew I appreciated his hard work.
    I do agree that 15% 0n top of peoples bar bill is a bit too much.

  • Ian (jaz33)

    Having cruised on various cruiseline for the last 16 years or so I became used to tipping. Tipping is traditional to Cruising and in my opinion if you don’t like tipping don’t cruise. There are plenty of other types of holiday you can take where tipping is not expected. I don’t tip because it makes up the staffs pay, I tip because I, more often than not, recieve exceptional service. If I am extremely unhappy about something then I will inform guest relations and it will be rectified.

    Having said all that, I do not agree with auto tipping. If I want tips adding to my account then I want to make that choice and have the flexibility to alter them as necessary. This I have done many times. I also disagree with the 15% on beverages as I believe that this is over the top and can make an already overpriced drink extremly overpriced. There is no need for this in my opinion. If a bartender has provided excelent service then they will be tipped accordingly, my choice.

    The solution would be to add all tips to the cruise fare. That way the customer doesn’t see it and they have the choice, when seeing all costs up front, whether to book that kind of holiday or not.

  • Hi There,

    We take longer cruises, 28 days or more, I can not think of any time a travel agent has told be to budget for this expense.
    In fact a few have told me that tips were included, so did not need to tip at the end of my cruise.
    These auto tips should just be added to the cost of the cruise, or the cruise line should be made to include them in their advertised price.
    We are happy to tip our room steward, barman , waiter etc but this should be our choice.

  • On a recent Oceania cruise they added 18% to our wines.
    To me that is nothing short of highway robbery !

  • I personally am quite happy to tip staff for good service but in the case of pre-paid tips how do you know the right member of staff is getting the tip !!!

    Are the cruise company’s passing on the full tip or do they take their share as well….And what about tax on the tip?

    I prefer to tip the appropriate person in cash that way you know the right person is getting the full amount you are giving

    I confident that with the amount of money that cruise company’s take in pre-paid tips their accountants will be using it in some way to benefit there profit’s

  • Charles Pope

    Hi. Both my wife and I strongly disagree with the automatic tipping system also the exorbitant practise of adding a set percentage to all bar drinks. Upon boarding. we head straight for the pursers office and have the automatic tip stopped and then give our own tips to those that actually look after us, in other words the restaurant waiters, cabin staff and any others that we feel have given us good service. This ensures that those who deserve it, get it. We do agree that the cruise lines should not rely upon the passengers to suplement the crews wages. They should factor in all costs and include them in the price of the cruise. Brits are not uncomfortable
    with tipping although its not really in our culture as it is in the USA where everybody holds there hands our like Oliver Twist.

  • I don’t mind paying the daily tip, as I have always believed the money would go not only to the staff ‘front of house’ but also those doing the laundry, keeping the ship looking smart, and keeping us moving through the water. Maybe I’m wrong about that.
    I always give a little extra for especially good service from a room steward or waiter. I would hate to have to go around tipping all and sundry – it’s a nightmare in the States, always worrying about having enough change to tip everyone who crosses your path, then how much to give them, etc

  • I am going on a princess cruise and must admit the tipping issue really annoys me, do we really have to have them taken from our account. The 15% off drinks is a rip off, I will be taking my kettle to make my own coffee.

  • I do not usually begrudge any tips, as, by and large, the crew give very good service on all ships I have travelled on. I love Royal Caribbean and Princess and have been very happy with interactions with all staff. I am happy to ensure behind-the-scenes staff also benefit from the system. I do, however, appreciate the comments from cruisers who feel they are entitled to decide if a tip is deserved. We tend to add additional dollars to tip envelopes where it is deserved and provide positive comments where we can on evaluation forms. However, on holiday, I do not like to be told that this score affets an employees promotion prospects and this has been said on several occasions by dining room staff. I want to be able to review our experience without bias – and usually our experience has been excellent.

  • Julie Williams

    On a previous Princess cruise we had a surly unhelpful waiter. I was reluctant to complain early in the cruise as I was worried things may be uncomfortable (or worse) if they had known I complained. Toward the end of the cruise I asked to have a portion of the auto tips removed & used the money to give extra to the good staff. I have never done this again as the person removing the tip from my account was quite rude and clearly very irritated & that I wished to do so & made me feel very uncomfortable. I have not removed tips since & don’t feel I could even if the service were diabolical. Following that incident I feel pressurized to tip but with the MDR only availiable to us at lunch for 2 days of my next cruise I am unsure whether I will be getting the service I am paying for in the tips.

  • I always thought tipping was to reward good service – so how can an automated system be justified ?
    IF I get good service then I will tip – but don’t you DARE take my money off me before I have had the chance to be served !
    When I have paid thousands for a cruise WHY do I then have to help pay the staff’s wages ?
    Shouldn’t the cruise lines be paying their staff a decent wage anyway rather than expecting the passengers to ” top up ” their wages ???

    • AAAh! at last, a sane person. Well done Angela. I can’t believe what some people are saying about forced tipping, in my opinion a form of theft that many cruise ships do to supplement the wages of their staff.
      Note to cruise companies: If you can’t pay your staff a decent wage, don’t run a cruise ship!
      Just when did someone change the rules of tipping? …. Whatever happened to tipping someone for service above and beyond the call of duty. It was and NEVER should be an automatic process.

      To all you foolish people who keep saying the cost of the cruise will just go up if tipping stops ….. YES! please let it happen …it’s still going to be cheaper than tipping and I for one will be pleased that the staff will FINALLY get a decent wage.

      To be a little more controversial, why ever tip at all… Who decided which jobs deserved tips and which one did not? I don’t tip taxi drivers because they earn more than me and are charging me large amounts of money to drive me to my destination… so as I have already paid them, why give more.
      Don’t even get me started on bar staff… they serve drinks…that’s their job…I pay for the drink and I drink it… that’s MY job. The age old excuse from the liberal minority that they get a bad wage, just will not wash. Pay them more, increase the price of the drink if you have to or shut down your bar.

      In England we give the government a “tip” every time we buy something, it’s called VAT. But it is added on to the price of the goods or service. So it’s not a new concept, it’s easy to do and would be accepted in a very short time.

      GET RID OF TIPPING… Leave it to the Americans who know no better.

      • too right, i dont drink and are on anytime dining, which will be mainly in buffet, i would much rather tip those that i get good service off. i also agree that staff should be paid a decent wage and cruise lines shouldnt expect travellers who have saved for ages to go on a cruise to subsidise poor wages. i am not a skinflint and do not agree with some of the remarks on this site that make out brits are tight?!

      • I completely agree with Rodger. I simply do not understand why we have to or feel obliged to tip anyone for doing what is their job.
        I am totally put off ever wanting to go on a cruise because I simply do not agree with having to pay hundreds of punds extra when i have already paid a shed load of cash for the cruise in the first place.
        Let the cruise companies put up their prices and then pay their staff a decent wage to provide decent customer service.
        I`ve read that some cruise staff put up lists of those `guests` who opt out of auto tipping; I`ve heard of people getting diabolically bad service if they dare to opt out; I`ve read people saying if you dont tip then dont go.
        This is utterly crazy. Why the hell should people be expected to do it or forced into doing it.
        I work in a hospital and I give our patients 100% no less and I dont get or expect a tip from them and I dont get a decent wage either.
        End this American farce of tipping

    • Here! Here! I completely agree. Good service should be rewarded at our discretion and staff should earn wages they can live off without us supplimenting them. I’ve booked with Royal Caribbean and spent a LOT of money, I had to pay my tips in advance, but they say I get vouchers to hand out as I choose, so I intend to reward those who deserve and earn them.

  • I am happy to pay the auto gratuities and also add maybe $20 extra to the steward if they did a good job. I feel uncomfortable handing over tips so leave an envelope with a Thank You note for them.

    I wouldn’t be too bothered if the tips were added into the fare but I think that the cost would go up by the price of the tips plus at least 20% so it would make things more expensive for everyone.

    I don’t think people understand that even if the ship is sailing ex UK it is not governed by UK employment laws, rather they are governed by the registration of the ship. P & O does things it’s way to cater to the UK market and charges lower gratuities but anyone sailing P & O is paying it somewhere most likely it is base fare.

    If you pay thousands for the cruise why whinge about a couple of extra quid? I prefer to sail with Americans, some of them whinge and whine but not as much as Brits do. As for service I never get the quality of service I get on a ship anywhere I go at home. Service standards in the UK are take it or leave it from people who would rather be elsewhere or texting on their phone and think the world owes them a living.

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