In United States and many Western countries, it is customary to leave a tip for the waiter/waitress at a restaurant or bar. The amount of the tip varies depending on the quality of the service. The exact tip amount is of course at the discretion of the customer. In the USA for average service, the acceptable tip percentage is 15%.
Things are far different in Southeast Asian countries like Thailand and Malaysia, where tipping is not the standard practice among the locals and in general, tips are not expected by most of the local restaurants. However in high-end restaurants - or those that cater exclusively to oversea tourists - tipping is more commonplace, and in many instances the gratuity - normally 10-15% - is included in the bill.
I have experienced the built-in gratuity myself at high-end restaurants like the Rang Mahal, the most prestigious Indian restaurant in Bangkok. At the more humble Raan Derm, a Thai restaurant on Sukhumvit Soi 22 which caters both to middle class locals and tourists, they add 7% gratuity to the bill.
To give you an idea about the prevailing attitude towards Tipping in Southeast Asia, I have two relatively comical stories that I will share with you – both experiences took place in Malaysia.
While I was in Taiping, a very lovely city located in Perak State (Northwest Malaysia), I patronized Su Hean , a Vegan Chinese restaurant which had recommended to me by a local. The restaurant was very proper but not flashy by any means and catered primarily to the relatively affluent Chinese community in Taiping.
On my 2nd visit there, I ordered a couple of veggie plates. The total bill came to roughly 14.00RM (or $4.30USD). Very cheap for me! Since the service was fairly good , the waitress was very nice (and the food was delicious), I left a tip of 4.00RM (or about $1.20USD). Upon leaving the restaurant, the young girl came running after me with a very concerned look on her face and said to me “Sir, you forgot some monies on the table”. Smiling, I said to her “Young lady, that is your tip.”
Several days later I traveled to Penang, the most popular tourist destination in Malaysia, and well known for its excellent restaurants. On my last night there, my Taxi driver took to me Luk Yea Yan, a well-regarded Vegan Chinese restaurant. Again this was a proper restaurant, not a greasy spoon affair. Upon hearing my story about my experience in Taiping, he laughed and told me that only Americans tips - most Europeans do not!
So after the meal, since the service was better than average, I left a tip which represented about 22% of the bill. Upon leaving, the taxi driver told me that the restaurant owner said to him “Your customer forgot some monies at the table”. We both had a good laugh!
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