Tipping & Gratuities
A guide to showing your appreciation for good service on Tobago
This is an incredibly tricky subject and I bow to the many different opinions on the subject. The following comments are very much my personal take.
Most Tobago service industry employees earn around TT$11-15 per hour (US$1.60 / £0.85 / €1.50). That's around £40 / US$80 per week. Waiters and waitresses are therefore reliant upon tips to make ends meet. However, over-tipping can be taken as demeaning and can cause offence, so please bear in mind the local hourly rates and adjust your tip accordingly.
Tobagonians are a wonderfully warm and hospitable people. They are fiercely proud and visitors should be sensitive to their sensibilities. In recent years, I have noticed that some Tobagonians have difficulty differentiating between service and servitude, possibly for historical ethnic reasons (See our articles on Tobagonians for better understanding). Lack of training compounds the problem. The important thing is to be discreet. Making anyone feel that they are being “bought” is bound to cause offence. Equally, do not be surprised if they refuse a tip; and if they do, don’t cause further embarrassment by pressing the issue. This situation may be the exception, rather than the rule, but it most definitely does happen. A returning visitor recently wrote to me, saying that one employee at their hotel had refused a gratuity on the grounds that he enjoyed 'serving' them, and two others had accepted gratuities but then later returned with gifts for their children. This is far from uncommon.
Most hotels and restaurants include a 10% service charge in their account. As elsewhere, one always wonders how much of this actually gets to the staff. If the final bill is inclusive and you have been treated well, a further token gesture of TT$20-30 directly to the waitress will not hurt anyone’s sensibilities or pocket. Similarly, a tip that equates to around TT$5 for each day of your stay would probably be appropriate for the room maid at your hotel. At all costs avoid the American habit of tipping in advance - nothing is more guaranteed to ensure you are given the "pee in the soup" treatment if you do that in a restaurant.
When a restaurant does not apply an inclusive service charge, I would personally suggest discreetly passing the usual 10% (give or take, depending upon satisfaction) to the waiter/waitress rather than including a gratuity in your credit card charge. I am sure that the vast majority of restaurants are honest and distribute the gratuities fairly, but as anywhere, some are not so honest. In fact, an honest and well-managed management-run gratuity system means that gratuities are shared fairly between all the staff responsible for your satisfaction, rather than just an individual waiter or waitress, so is a good policy.
Taxi drivers should, of course, be tipped according to distance driven and service provided. A tip of US$5 is probably appropriate for a trip from the Crown Point airport area to the average hotel/villa 10-20 minutes away; and US$1-2 for trips around Crown Point.
Given the motives of this website, the last thing I would wish to do is deprive the local service industry workers their just reward. Just the opposite - I urge every visitor to recognise good service in the traditional way. I simply ask that visitors do so sensitively.