Tipping

Context 

Tipping is not always expected in the UK in the way it is in the United States or Canada. All staff in the UK, must by law, be paid at least the National Minimum Wage 2013 (£6.31/hr, unless under 21) whether they receive tips or not.  An employer is not allowed to use tips to top up wages to the legal minimum.Therefore, unlike in much of North America, the need and culture for tipping is much less.

Equally, British people have a reputation in the USA for not tipping, and indeed many object vociferously to the practice, arguing that the cost should be included in the price of the food. Others however feel it appropriate to tip in various scenarios.

Taxis

It is not a requirement to tip in taxis, but it is customary to round up to the nearest pound on metered taxi journeys, more as a convenience to both passenger and driver than as a tip.

On an airport journey in a booked minicab you might wish to tip two or three pounds if the driver helps with your luggage.  If taking a licenced London taxi cab to or from Heathrow or in London a 10% tip is the average amount, although as in the previous paragraph, it is not a requirement, nor should it be expected by the driver.

There is a big difference between a taxi (usually a black cab) and a mini-cab. Anyone who can drive can become a mini-cab driver whereas taxi drivers have received a lengthy training, tend to know their way and serve better.

Takeaway food

If your food is delivered to your hotel or apartment, tipping is not required, but the delivery driver would obviously appreciate a pound, or some/all of the change as appropriate, as a tip. Some customers tip, some do not.

If you pick up the food from the takeaway restaurant, tipping would be inappropriate. Don't do it.

Fast food, cafes and coffee shops

No tips are ever offered in fast food restaurants.

In a cafe, you may receive waitress service to bring your tea, coffee, sausages, or whatever you have ordered to the table. In these establishments tipping is not usual. If you feel the service has been especially pleasant you can leave a pound, or your change in appreciation.

In coffee shops, such as Starbucks, there may be a tip jar on the counter, but very few customers offer tips.

In casual cafeterias, where you collect your food and place it on a tray, commonly found in tourist attractions, tipping is never appropriate. 

Restaurants

In casual restaurants, where you pay for your order at a counter, but food is brought to your table, tipping is uncommon. You are welcome to leave a pound or two if you wish.  

In restaurants where you place your order with your waiter/waitress and receive food, and your bill, at your table, it is usual to tip around 10%. The expectation does vary from place to place - in fine dining restaurants where you receive personal service, a tip would always be expected (while never compulsory, it would be considered rude unless there was a problem with the service), whereas in the most casual of restaurants tipping is not universal.

If you have been unhappy with the service, you should not leave a tip. 

In some restaurants, a service charge is added to the bill, typically 10% or 12.5%. This should be noted on the menu, sometimes only for larger groups. If it is not then the restaurant is acting unlawully and it would be appropriate to object, to ask that it be removed. If you are otherwise unhappy with the service, you should also request that it be removed, explaining your unhappiness.

In any case where a service charge is added, or the menu notes 'service included', you should NOT add any further tip. Beware that in some cases a service charge may appear on your bill, and if you pay by credit card the machine may then ask if you want to add a tip. Check your bill to see if a service charge has been added before paying, and if it has, be sure not to add any more on at the machine.

In some cases a restaurant may print 'service not included' on the bill or menu. This is a request for a 'tip'! You are not obligated to offer anything, but 10% would be normal in this scenario if the service warranted any sort of tip.. 

Keep your voice down! The British do notice if someone's voice is raised and if other people can hear your conversation, they will think you are very rude.  

Pubs and bars

Bartenders in pubs and bars do not expect to be tipped. If however you have developed a rapport with the barman you can buy him a drink, by saying 'and one for yourself', which is an offer that they buy a drink for themselves, although since this may not be permitted, they would take it as a tip of around £1. This is far from typical, and would be inappropriate for instance, on your first visit to the bar.

Hotels

As with anywhere in the world, a porter bringing your bags to your room expects to receive a cash tip. Around £2 would be reasonable. 

You should not tip room service bringing food/drinks to your room.

A few guests choose to leave a tip for their chambermaid, and this would be considerate especially if you have left a mess in your room, but it is not a requirement.

In smaller hotels and guesthouses tipping is not expected as they tend to be family run establishments. Such places appreciate repeat custom or positive feedback on recommendation sites.

Massage, hair and other services

In the UK the price you pay for a spa treatment is all-inclusive. You are not expected to secrete money somewhere about your person in order to tip your masseur!

If you get a hair cut, tipping is common but not universal/required. Tip around 10%, in cash, rounded to the nearest pound, if you are happy with the service.

Etiquette

  • Avoid controversial lines of conversation if you don't know the people you're talking to that well. Religion, racism, homophobia, and criticism of government are ones to avoid, the list is not limited to these, however.
  • Avoid the middle finger or reverse peace signal (known as the V) whilst in the UK. They are both highly insulting and could land you in serious bother if used in the wrong situation.
  • It should go without saying, but 'please' after you ask for something, and 'thank you' upon receipt are two phrases you should use. People generally get offended when these are not used and may not be forthcoming the second time round. 
  • When you first meet someone a verbal greeting such as 'Hi, I'm (your name), how are you?', usually breaks the ice well and makes people amenable. A limp handshake is perceived as rude and insincere. Only in a business setting is hand shaking generally the norm. In an informal setting take your lead from those around you. To lead with a strong handshake may be seen as being over familiar.
  • When talking or listening to someone, eye contact is a good idea. It shows interest and sincerity in the conversation. Don't stare at people. It is considered rude and will not go unnoticed.
  • Don't discuss the cost of your possessions, how much your holiday cost etc. In the UK, people will get a bad impression of you and not warm to you at all.
  • Smoking in all indoor public places (this includes platforms at train stations) in the UK is now illegal. Do not light up unless you are outside or in a designated smoking shelter. If you do light up in a shopping mall, pub or cinema, for example, you will find yourself thrown out rather swiftly and could get yourself fined or even arrested.
  • Avoid talking loudly on your mobile/cell phone. It is considered highly ill-mannered, especially when in a quieter public place, such as a train, bus or library, and will probably earn you a stern rebuke mid-conversation.
  • Some trains have "Quiet Zone" written on the outside of the carriage. Passengers want peace and quiet to read or continue their laptop to or from work. Loud and long mobile phone calls and conversations in this carriage can result in being "told off" by the train guard. Train staff do not expect to be tipped. You can tip porters a small amount (if you can find one) these are only normally found at big tourist cities such as London.
  • Excessive hugging and kissing in public is not appreciated either. A peck on the cheek or lips and an embrace are fine when you are saying hello or goodbye to someone close to you.
  • The two classic signs a person would like to be left alone are reading a newspaper or listening to music through headphones. Only interrupt if you actually know the person.
  • In the UK, younger people like to be on first name terms almost immediately. However, do not take this as a sign of life-long friendship, it's just a way of breaking the ice and opening up discussion. Older people like a little more formality and many object to a younger person calling them by their first name. 
  • If you are addressed as "Sir" or "Madam", it will generally indicated you are in a formal environment and you should behave as such.
  • When eating in the UK, it is usual to use cutlery (fork, knife and spoon) in order to get food from plate to mouth. The fork is used in the left hand and the knife in the right, there is usually no swapping the fork from the left to right hand, as in the U.S. There are some popular meals, however, that don't need cutlery. This group include sandwiches, fast food meals (burgers, chips, kebabs, souvlakis) and curries (a flatbread called a naan bread is often served. This is used to mop up the sauce and is not used to make a sandwich as this is one meal where it is acceptable just to use a fork). If unsure, observe the people around you for cues.
  • Belching, burping and breaking wind are considered rude during a meal. If you have to, try to do so quietly or make apology and leave the room. If it is heard, excuse yourself.
  • When you enter or exit a room or building and someone is following you, it is well received for you to hold the door for them. On escalators and moving pavements, stand to the right and walk to the left, as a general rule. When getting off or on a public transport vehicle, you must allow people to disembark before you board. This is a requirement of public health & safety regulations and the driver/conductor can refuse you travel on the vehicle should you not comply.
  • When waiting in line for an ATM, stand at least 1 metre (3ft) away from someone using the ATM to afford them privacy whilst carrying out their transaction. If you need to ask where the nearest one is you will need to use the term 'cashpoint' as ATM could result in blank stares.
  • Try to move with the flow of pedestrians when walking in a crowded area. If you need to cut across, try to wait for a reasonable gap.
  • If you are travelling on public transport, you might be asked by the driver to give up your seat if a disabled or blind passenger or a parent with small children should board. It is a matter of courtesy but not a legal requirement that you comply. The best advice is to offer your seat to these people before having to be asked. 
  • Never share your personal and/or bank details with strangers.
  • Do use the proper nationality when referring to a resident of the United Kingdom. That is, remember that the nation actually comprises the English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish. Never refer to someone from say Scotland, as "English" as it is liable to offend. Either use the national origin (e.g. "Scottish") or use "British" if you're not sure, except for in Northern Ireland (where it's easier to just avoid the issue of nationality altogether).
  • When you join a queue, make sure you join it at the back and wait your turn. The British public do not take kindly to queue jumpers and will react in a number of different ways (from tutting and shaking their heads, to manhandling you out of the queue and, possibly, out of the establishment).
  • If you arrive late to the theatre you may be asked to stand at the back until the interval. Best to arrive 30 minutes before a performance time. Do not get up to go to the toilet (yes we use that word not bathroom) while the main lead is singing.
  • When dining out in a busy premises such as a cafe or larger restaurant, you may be required to stand at the front of house to be seated by a waiter/waitress. In 'self-service' establishments (e.g. sandwich shops, coffee shops), many consider it acceptable to ask your friends or partner to occupy the table waiting for you to arrive with your food, although some consider it rude as it may be preventing those who have already got their food from finding a table. 
  • If you go to a pub (some look like restaurants) staff will not come to your table to ask for your order - they are not being rude or lazy, they are respecting your privacy. You need to order drinks and food (if they serve any) from the bar. You may then be asked for a table number. You need to find a table that is free, then and shout out the number to the bar. You take your own drinks to your table. You need to listen out for your ticket or table number being called. You need to collect the food from the serving area unless they have informed you that they will bring the food to your table. In pubs you may hear a "Last Orders" bell ringing. This means this is your last chance to order drinks (not food) which must be drink quickly because they are about to close. You may be asked to leave the establishment if you are still hanging around after 10 minutes.

Most members of the British public will happily provide you with directions if you approach them politely.  Make sure you are familiar with terms like roundabouts, level crossings, traffic lights, zebra crossings, bus lanes, contra flow, and, if using any of the motorways, traffic jams.

An easy way to begin a discussion with a stranger (in a pub, queue, train, etc) is to talk about the weather. All British people have an opinion on the weather and most can tell you what the weather is due to do for the next 4/5 days. Being knowledgeable about the British weather is an essential part of living / visiting here. You will sometimes see people carrying umbrellas (brollies) on roasting hot, sunny days because they know that it will rain intensely later in the afternoon for about 45 minutes. You ignore this expert knowledge at your own risk.  Remember - in Britain, there is no such thing as bad weather: there are only the wrong clothes. Avoid this by checking the forecasts, a good website for a 5 day outlook is  http://news.bbc.co.uk/weather/