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Just like the United States, Mexico is a tipping culture. Poor wages, stellar service, and proximity to the United States have gradually made tipping part of the Mexican culture. However, there are some key differences between tipping in Mexico and tipping in other countries. Therefore, WeExpats has put together a guide for expats and travelers who are curious about the basics of tipping in Mexico.
TIPPING IN DOLLARS IN MEXICO:
When I’m in Mexico, I generally try and tip in MXN pesos. I hardly ever try and tip in dollars. You will end up paying more unless you have loads of $1 USD bills lying around, and it also saves the staff a trip to the casa de cambio (currency exchange). Never tip in American coins, these cannot be exchanged at a currency exchange.
I would not recommend tipping in any other currency, such as Euros or GBP. These are only rarer and more difficult to exchange. If you are forced into a situation where you have to tip in another currency, make sure it’s a hefty sum to compensate for the added hassle of exchanging them. £5 or €5 can really make someone’s day in Mexico.
TIPPING AT RESTAURANTS IN MEXICO:
The standard tip in Mexico for a restaurant bill is 10% of your total bill. This is obviously assuming that the service has been acceptable—which it so often is in Mexico. If the wait staff has been stellar, attentive, and offering you extra bread and salsas on demand, then I would recommend tipping 15%. Rarely do people tip 20% like strong tippers in the United States. The economy simply isn’t that strong to do so. Similarly, a 5% tip for a hefty meal at a decent restaurant—especially in an urban environment—is also considered missing the mark. The argument made by so many waiters and waitresses is that: if you couldn’t afford the tip, then you shouldn’t have gone out to eat at a nicer restaurant.
Let’s be honest. If you’re eating at a divey torta place at 2:30am in Mazunte, they are not going to expect you to tip 15%. They might appreciate it, but no one will fault you for tipping a little less if the establishment’s business model is built around heavy table turnovers, and late-night meals with cheap ingredients. At these places, you can probably get away with tipping 7% or 8%.
HOW TO TIP AT A RESTAURANT IN MEXICO:
If you are paying in cash, it’s no different than in the United States or other countries with a tipping culture. Simply add up the check and leave what you think is appropriate.
If you are paying by card, then it is a little different. Often the wait staff will ask you in somewhat obscure language if you would like to leave a tip. They might ask you in Spanish if you would like to add on for the service (agregar para el servicio). This is just a polite way of not sounding pushy, however the tip is expected. I’ve misunderstood what they were asking before, and when I replied no because I didn’t understand exactly what they were asking, they repeated it in clearer language. The typical answer is to add on 10% or 15% and this will get added on to your bill. Only weirdos like my father add a specific amount to the tab.
Read the check first to see if it says, “Propina Incluida”. This means that the gratuity is included in the bill’s total, and that you do not have to tip. High-end restaurants will often include the tip already calculated at 18%.
TIPPING AT TACO STANDS, STREET CARTS, AND MARKET STALLS:
Tipping at tacos stands in Mexico—or other street or market vendors—is not necessary. However, these individuals generally work so hard and for so many hours, that I often round up. Many times, I will just leave them the change. Other times, the taco stand will have a jar where you can throw in some coins. Either way, I’m sure it’s appreciated—but it isn’t necessary.
WHEN YOU CAN’T TIP AT A RESTAURANT:
If you’re a starving 19-year-old student backpacking through Mexico, and the support staff can tell that you’re traveling on a shoestring budget, many places will be understanding of your situation. They’ve likely been poor youths at some point as well. Waiters will generally understand. Just be conscious of this fact.
When I was a college student, I would let the waiter know that I was on a meager budget, and I would be apologetic and understanding. If you begin making strict demands of the staff to cater to your needs, and then you do not tip them for their extra-attentive service, this is considered rude. You won’t get assaulted in a back alley somewhere, but I wouldn’t make a habit of it.
TIPPING AT OTHER ESTABLISHMENTS IN MEXICO:
GAS STATIONS ATTENDANTS:
In Mexico, all gas stations are full service. There are no self-service pumps. Sometimes these attendants only work for tips. I would recommend leaving them between $10 – $20 MXN—especially if they check your tires or wipe your windows. . . etc.
PARKING LOT ATTENDANTS:
Many people set up in a parking lot to help people pull in and out without getting hit—especially in tight spaces or overcrowded spaces. Sometimes, it’s just the security guard looking to make a bit of extra cash. Other times it’s a just a person with an entrepreneurial spirit trying to make ends meet. Either way, I would recommend tipping some coins.
My grandmother used to stay, “Mexico survives on coins.” Be wary about keeping them in a change tray because valets have been known to help themselves to supplement their income. Now we just make sure to keep some lose change. It can be embarrassing to be caught without a coin after someone helps you pull out.
In some areas, like the Condesa in Mexico City at night, there are men who will charge you to park on a public street. They often put up cones or pallets and remove them for paying customers. They will expect payment up front. This is a racket often run by rather dangerous people. I would recommend avoiding parking spots like these. However, if you absolutely have to park there for some reason—because you’re running late or something—I strongly advise that you pay the man whatever he asks to watch your car. It won’t be too much. Don’t worry, he’ll keep it safe if you pay him. You may want to tip him too.
TIPPING HOTEL STAFF IN MEXICO:
When you are staying in a hotel, then you might want to consider tipping the porter who helps you with your bags. I’ve been stuck without some change before, and I insist on taking my own bags up. The way I see it, it’s the lesser of two evils. A $20 MXN bill or two will do.
Tipping the maid is a must in most hotels in Mexico. Many hotels in hubs of tourism like Cancun will have small envelopes on your nightstand where you can put whatever you feel is appropriate. These individuals work hard for little pay, and tips can make all the difference. I usually try to put a $20 – $50 MXN bill into the envelope if the hotel chain has one lying around. If they don’t however, I’ve left a note with the money, or even tried to find them afterward.
TIPPING BATHROOM ATTENDANTS IN MEXICO:
Many bathrooms in clubs or trendy restaurants have bathroom attendants who ensure sanitary conditions in the bathroom. They will generally hand you paper towels after washing your hands, and they will sometimes offer you a spritz of cologne. These individuals work solely on tips, and they don’t make much. If I have a coin handy, I will always offer it to them. However, if I am repeatedly using the bathroom, I don’t tip them more than once.
TIPPING BAGGERS AT SUPERMARKETS IN MEXICO:
Most of the people bagging at supermarkets are either young students or the elderly. These people work solely for tips as a way of making ends meet. I have been caught paying so many times by credit card without a coin to spare, and I always feel awful. I have made it a habit of remembering to bring some coins or a $20 MXN bill to ensure that they make some money for their efforts. If you’re just checking in to the store for a couple items, a few coins are enough however.
TIPPING CAR WINDOW WASHERS IN MEXICO:
At some point, you are bound to encounter someone with a rag or some newspaper and a bottle of soapy solution, asking to wipe your windows for some loose change. Over the years, I have discovered this is a controversial practice in Mexico. Some people think that they provide a good service to commuters, while trying to gather some change to feed themselves for the day. If so, then you can offer them a few coins for their troubles and go on your merry way.
However, others are wary of the chemicals they use—claiming that some can be abrasive to the exterior of the car. Some think that they make traffic worse by holding up traffic as cars are getting washed. Also, I have heard some people say that these individuals are just scraping by, when they could be bettering their life through more productive work. This is a decision to be made based upon one’s own personal value system.
If you do not wish your window to be wiped, simply shake your finger no when they walk up. Occasionally, you will get the window washer who squirts your window anyway, and then asks for change regardless. You can then decide to tip them or not.
TIPPING SHOE SHINERS IN MEXICO:
The practice of shoe shining is alive and well in Mexico. They can be found in places like public parks, bus stations, and airports. If you have some leather shoes that need shining, then they will do a good job. It is customary to round up a bit when you get your shoes shined. The shoe shiner will pay extra careful attention to your pair of shoes.
TIPPING STREET PERFORMERS IN MEXICO:
Street performers are all throughout Mexico, and this is a hefty topic to attempt to pick apart. If you are in a touristic city center like Coyoacan, and you are enjoying some huapango, then you should tip them some change, or even a $20 MXN bill for some exceptional music.
Occasionally, you will get buskers with more heart than talent who are overly officious about making their voices heard. Occasionally, I get perturbed and I will not tip those musicians. As a jazz guitarist myself, I tend to get annoyed with some musicians who make up for talent with volume. This is my personal choice. I do however appreciate a good voice if the musician only knows a few chords.
There are other forms of street performers however. If you are driving in a car, then you will no doubt see hula hoopers, fire dancers, jugglers, break dancers, circus clowns, and all other manner of live acts. These performers sometimes perform alone, or sometimes in groups. They will do a short routine timed-perfectly to end before the light turns green. Then they will walk by the car. If you enjoyed their routine, feel free to offer them some coins. One successful young performer—often found by my street corner in Cuernavaca—solves a Rubik’s cube in the time it takes for the light to turn green. I try and tip him some coins whenever I can.
However, be aware that the fire breathers tend to use harmful chemicals that can cause serious injury esophageal damage with prolonged exposure. Many Mexicans refuse to tip these individuals because of this fact.
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