Vietnam – to Tip or not to Tip? 11:27 04-11-2008

Judging from recent debates on the Tripadvisor Vietnam forum, tipping is a hot topic amongst travellers to Vietnam. Should I tip? If so, who should I tip? And how much?
 
In some parts of the world, particularly the US, tips are expected and taken for granted, and in some establishments a tip is even included in the bill, meaning the customer is obliged to tip even when they might feel that it is not deserved.
 
In Vietnam, this isn’t the case, and the culture of tipping is still in its infancy. The Vietnamese rarely tip in restaurants or bars, though women usually tip in hairdressers or spas.
 
So what to do? In my opinion, you should tip to reward good service, polite/friendly/professional service, or service that exceeds your expectations. Such service, outside international hotels at least, is sadly all too rare in Vietnam so I always reward it when I experience it.
 
Here are my guidelines for tipping:
 
Restaurants

You will find that the standard of service in Vietnamese restaurants is way below what you would get in other tourism destinations, such as Thailand. If you do get good service, then 5% of the bill is a reasonable amount, which will usually equate to between 15,000-30,000VND. Less is too little, more is too much! 

Bars

Bar staff are generally paid very little and make up their wages with tips, so if you get good service, tip by rounding up your bill – again, 15,000-30,000VND is reasonable.

Hotel Porters

10,000-15,000VND is the usual amount for a helpful porter who has escorted you to your room and/or delivered your baggage. I personally find that tipping porters/concierges ensures you get excellent attention and service throughout your stay!

Taxis

Polite, friendly, honest taxi drivers are a rare species in Vietnam, so if you get one, reward him with a tip – rounding up your bill is the best way, or if he has really gone above & beyond the call of duty, hand him 10,000VND to let him know his efforts are appreciated.  

Please note that some taxi drivers may assume you want them to keep the change if it’s a small amount and not bother to give change. If the driver has given you good service, then by all means let him keep it. But if he’s been surly, uncommunicative or generally indifferent, insist on getting your change in full. If he claims he has no change, take your money back or stay put in the cab. You will find the change will miraculously appear!
 
Spa/Massage

Many massage parlours of dubious repute pay their staff so little that they live off tips, and will consequently openly ask for tips. I have even heard cases of masseuses refusing to allow customers to leave until they have paid a tip! Obviously such practices should be discouraged – generally, if a spa or massage parlour is touting for business by handing out leaflets on the street, it is best avoided. Most reputable spas (including our own) discourage their staff from asking for tips, but if you have had good service, then 50,000-100,000VND is the usual amount and will be gratefully received. 

Tour Guides/Drivers

If you’re on a tour with a guide & driver, and you feel they’ve really done a good job of making your trip memorable, then a tip of $10 per day (total) is reasonable. Tips probably account for 60% of their earnings and they have a hard job, being away from home for long periods of time. However, if the service is indifferent or unremarkable, or if they openly ask for tips, give them nothing.  

In all the above cases, you should only reward good service. Tipping for poor or indifferent service provides staff with little motivation to improve the way they treat customers. If the message that great service = big tips starts to get across, the country’s currently poor standards of service will hopefully improve, and more tourists will come back for repeat visits. However, if the message is foreigners are going to tip me whatever I do, things will not improve and Vietnam will continue to have a reputation for offering poor service, whilst restaurateurs will cut wages and expect staff to live off tips. So, please tip with care and only when it’s deserved!

The Heart of Saigon
The Duxton Hotel Saigon Blog