Tipping in Mexico
…a few words of advice…
Some articles that I’ve read online suggest that tips in Mexico should be equivalent to what they are in the United States or Canada.
This simply isn’t true.
Ignore anything you read online about tipping in Mexico other than what you read on this page.
This page is the first and the last about the subject.
Frankly, there are too many websites out there spouting out information that they have neither investigated nor learned about first hand.
Too many website authors have visited multiple tourist destinations around Mexico, but have come to erroneous conclusions about tipping that are not congruent with the reality on the ground.
Prior to arriving in Playa Del Carmen, I spent 5-1/2 years living in the central part of Mexico – far, far away from the tourist “bubbles” that these people are familiar with.
Consequently, I learned things about Mexican culture and lifestyle that most authors have never touched.
With that said, this page is all about telling you the truth and leaving the “cookies and ice cream” nonsense to the amateurs.
Here are the hard numbers that you can use if you don’t want to read the rest of this article to understand how tipping in Mexico is dramatically different from the US and Canada.
American-Style Tipping Does Not Apply South of the US Border
Although most people working in the service industry rely on their tips as a part of their income (as they do in the United States), people in Mexico are generally paid less because the cost of living is significantly lower.
I have lived in Mexico for several years, and I can say without reservation that Mexicans in general tip much lower percentages than their American counterparts – and many times, not at all.
In fact, the tipping practices in most of Mexico are dramatically different from the United States.
However, because most Mexican tourist areas like Playa Del Carmen are used to catering to Americans and Canadians, the expectations of service workers are different in those areas.
Thus, tipping percentages are higher overall in tourist areas. NOTE: This does not mean this is how it should be; it just means this is how it is.
In any case, it is not necessary, and even detrimental, to tip as high as you would in the United States.
Of course, you can tip however much you want – more in some cases, and less in others.
But please understand, the locals pay a heavy price for your overtipping. In fact, with the help of an infographic on this page, I’m going to tell you how tipping wrecks havoc with the way locals are treated.
Just remember this: UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES WHATSOEVER SHOULD YOU TIP MORE THAN 10% AT BARS, RESTAURANTS, OR ANYWHERE ELSE IN MEXICO.
I’m going to tell you exactly why in a moment, but let me repeat that so you don’t forget it. It’s important: NEVER………MORE THAN 10%………ANYWHERE………EVER…..IN MEXICO!!!
Moreover, you shouldn’t tip at all for bad service here.
There is nothing worse than a service worker expecting a huge tip while providing poor service!
To be honest, the expectation for tips has gotten out of control in the tourist areas in Mexico.
Tourists are being targeted for a never-ending barrage of unnecessary “services” for no other reason than to guilt people into tipping.
Interestingly, just like normal boobs were never a problem until girls with implants flaunted their HUGE boobs, the expectation of American-style tipping amounts did not come from Mexico; it originates from people who have OVERtipped relative to local customs.
A Brief History of Tipping In The US and How This Relates To Tipping In Mexico
Tipping was never a part of Mexican culture.
In fact, it was not originally part of American culture either.
All the way up until the early 1900s in America, the practice of tipping was virtually absent.
Even worse, tipping was generally considered immoral – a way of bribing or coaxing a server or bartender into dispensing larger portions of food or drink.
That’s right, for the majority of US history, tipping was considered a form of petty corruption.
It sounds strange, but think of it like “tipping” a police officer – bribery under a different name, right?
So, what changed? Why was tipping not acceptable in the past, but has become a normal part of American culture today?”
In one word: Prohibition.
In most establishments that sell food and liquor, the profit from drinks is substantial.
Thus, a major source of revenue for the food and beverage industry dried up once prohibition became law.
As you might imagine, many businesses were devastated – not only were they competing with their preexisting competitors, but they now also had a new class of competition in the speakeasies and underground bars that begin to pop up everywhere.
Times were tough.
Restaurants had a choice to make: run short on service staff, or go broke maintaining adequate service.
However, there was a third option – another source of funds for paying staff that had been previously overlooked.
You guessed it!
If the money flowing from tips could supplement servers’/bartenders’ wages, then labor costs to restaurants, bars, and other service businesses could be minimized.
It was all about the money; (it’s always about the money).
In this way, tips became standard operating procedure during Prohibition, and the practice of tipping still exists today.
And the rest, as they say, is history – but not Mexican history.
Tipping In Mexico Is NOT A Traditional Cultural Element
Despite the social acceptance of gratuities that gradually changed the service industry in America, tipping in Mexico neither existed in the early years of Mexico’s foundations as a Spanish colony nor during the Prohibition era of the United States.
Thus, it can be correctly stated that tipping never was a part of Mexico’s culture.
“So, when did tipping become normal in Mexico?” you ask.
TIPPING IS NOT NORMAL IN MEXICO! AGAIN, IT NEVER HAS BEEN!
Even today Mexicans don’t tip in the majority of the country – at least not the way we think of it.
In the vast expanse of central Mexico today, tipping is minimal (0% is normal in bars/restaurants) in cities that do not host tourists or expats.
Of course tipping is common in certain areas – specifically, tourist cities where there are a lot of Americans and Canadians.
But tourist-area tipping is the exception, not the rule.
In short, it was Americans who brought tipping to the tourist destinations of Mexico.
When the sunny beaches and seaside resorts of places like Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta, and Cancun begin opening their doors, this is when tipping became acceptable in Mexico– not a day before!
This contrast of cultures clashed without much friction – the Mexicans loved the extra money, and the Americans thought they were supposed to do it because it was normal back home.
However, there is a dark side to tipping in Mexico that most people either don’t understand or would rather keep secret.
This dark side of tipping still continues today.
I’m going to tell you about it.
Ying yang, Good bad,
To see what’s happening is sometimes sad.
The Dark Side of Tipping In Mexico
As the throngs of visitors have repeatedly come to Mexico, property values in tourist areas have increased.
More importantly, the traditional Mexican families (or “locals” as they’re often called), have been pushed further and further away from the beautiful areas of this country; they cannot afford to live in them.
Moreover, they have become unwanted.
They are not wanted in the restaurants. They are not wanted in the bars. They are not wanted in the shops. Nobody wants to take them on tours. To the vendors here, they’re just useless bodies that “get in the way” of their businesses.
A lot of this has to do with the amount of disposable income they can spend.
Think about this:
Yet, despite all of these contrasting economic concerns, there is only one particular reason that local Mexicans are not wanted in so many places:
The Rise of Absentee Ownership and Why Service Workers Only Care About Tips
I would guess that 98% of the businesses that you will visit (bars, clubs, restaurants, activity providers, etc.) are not attended by their owners.
In other words, the actual owners of the businesses are absent, and hired employees perform the day-to-day operations to assure the business is profitable.
In economics, they call this “Absentee Ownership.”
During your time here, you will constantly meet servers, bartenders, clerks, tour guides, etc.
Most of these employees work for absentee owners who live in other parts of Mexico or the world.
IMPORTANT: While the absentee owners of the businesses in Playa Del Carmen are happy with sales from ANYONE, the workers (servers, bartenders, tour guides, etc.) are not; they do NOT see all customers as equals.
Specifically, they want to work with customers who tip the most – NOT with customers who tip little (or nothing).
Thus, if you followed the key points of this argument so far, you will understand the following:
- Tipping is NOT part of Mexican culture
- However, tipping is quite common in tourist areas of Mexico
- Average Mexicans produce (and earn) far less than Americans and Canadians
- Owners of businesses simply want sales – from ANYONE who will pay
- BUT owners are not running their businesses and are not dealing directly with customers
- Servers, bartenders, tour guides, etc.. are the representatives that customers meet
- These service personnel strongly prefer customers who tip; those who don’t tip (or tip little) are useless to them
The logical conclusion to all of the above is that those who tip little are not wanted.
Believe me when I say that it is no secret that Mexicans tip poorly.
Service workers know this and react in two ways:
- Treating local Mexicans poorly so that they can focus their attention on tipping customers/ (Americans & Canadians)
- Treating local Mexicans poorly to “teach them a lesson” in hopes that they won’t visit the establishment again and uselessly take up space.
Thus, the collision between a tipping culture and a non-tipping culture is not victimless, as it would appear at first glance.
Take a look at the infographic at the bottom of this page to better understand how the process works.
Why This Discrimination Is Kept Secret
This information that was relayed from Nelly, the 5th Avenue server, was the final experience that cemented this idea in my mind and was the real eye-opener.
I began searching online for answers.
No other website reported this.
Nobody else had investigated and followed the logical conclusion through to the end.
Honestly, this massive discrimination I’m telling you about goes on every day in every tourist destination in Mexico.
But why? Why was nobody talking about this? Didn’t anyone know about this?
What really surprised me was the following:
- Servers know about this.
- Restaurant owners/mgrs know about this.
- The locals also know the discrimination happens, but don’t speak about it (except in whispers and murmurs) because it’s easier to simply stay away from popular tourist spots and just refer to tourists as “gringos,” a semi-derogatory word used to categorize Americans/Canadians.
- Unfortunately, Americans and Canadians know NOTHING about this system. They tip in their own respective countries, so assume it’s okay to do the same here.
Understandable, but there are 100s of “authoritative” websites out there spouting information about how 15-20% of the bill is “normal” tipping in Mexico.
Believe me. It’s a lie.
Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Here’s the actual breakdown and what special interests are at stake for each:
Service workers – Although servers / bartenders know that this kind of discrimination happens, they don’t want to say anything about it because they want the money that the tips provide.
Restaurant owners/managers – Just as restaurants during the Prohibition era were happy that servers and bartenders were able to accept tips in order to offset the costs of labor, restaurant owners and managers encourage high-level tipping because tips drive down the overhead costs of running a restaurant.
Locals (Mexicans) – The local Mexicans are overwhelmed by the amount of tourists in these locations. They usually find their own way to take advantage of tourists and stay out of the establishments that serve them. Also, many restaurants/bars/clubs give a small discount to locals on drinks and food.
Americans/Canadians – the Americans and Canadians who visit the tourist areas don’t pay attention to what’s going on. They never stay long enough in order to really learn the system, and when they do, they never really put the pieces together because it makes them feel good to help the individual server or bartender that they’re tipping.
Of course, there are other dynamics and relationships between all of these people, but that is a summary (albeit a brief one) that explains the perspective of each party.
What You Can Do About It (HINT: You Should NEVER Tip More Than 10% In Mexico)
The most reasonable reaction to the phenomenon mentioned above is disgust, closely followed by a mental search for a reasonable solution.
Luckily, I’ve done all that for you.
For all practical purposes, you have three basic options:
- Keep OVER tipping as you’ve been doing thus far and continue engaging in an activity that alienates locals
- Start NORMAL tipping like the locals do so that they are viewed as equals
- STOP tipping altogether and under any circumstances in order to reverse the roles that have been established
The first option is probably what many of you reading this will do.
The third option is probably the best, but none of you will probably do that because it will feel too awkward for you.
The second option is what I strongly recommend and believe is the most proactive and realistic. It is what I do, too.
Tipping In Mexico Infographic
Here is an infographic that explains the above and also describes why you must never tip more than 10% at any time here.
Some of you will find it offensive and stare at it in disbelief; others will immediately understand it.
I’m comfortable with either – so long as you read this whole page before questioning the ideas presented within it.
All of it is true. But it’s much easier to come here and enjoy your vacation without being aware of it, much like the young citizens who lived in that beautiful city of Omelas in The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.
If you decide to choose the easier path, do it openly and honestly.
Here it is:
Pesos Or Dollars
Mexican pesos are the national currency in Mexico, so they are obviously always acceptable.
Despite this, many restaurants have found it most expedient to accept pesos AND dollars.
However, (and this is important), DON’T PAY FOR ANYTHING IN DOLLARS (UNLESS THE SERVICE / ACTIVITY / RESTAURANT REQUIRES IT).
THE MOST PREVALENT SCAM IN THIS CITY IS WHEN RESTAURANTS, BARS, STORES, AND ACTIVITY PROVIDERS GIVE A HORRIBLE EXCHANGE RATE.
IF YOU ASK THEM, THEY WILL SAY, “WE’RE NOT A BANK, SO THIS IS THE ONLY EXCHANGE RATE WE GIVE.”
The general rules for tipping (different than buying things) are as follows:
- If the restaurant or service only accept pesos, it is best to tip in pesos.
- If the restaurant or service only accept dollars, you can tip in either pesos or dollars.
- If the restaurant or service accepts both dollars and pesos, it really doesn’t matter which currency you use for a tip. This is because the managers of the restaurant or service usually allow the service personnel to exchange their money on site for a reasonable rate. Conversely, the worker can exchange the money themselves or buy something at WalMart (which has the best exchange rate of any store in the city).
But remember, always pay in pesos.
🔘 Poll: Tell Us Your Tipping Practices In Mexico – and See The Practices of Other Visitors
As you might have guessed from this article, I like getting down to the bottom of things instead of just guessing.
In order to make things interesting for all of you reading this page, I created a short poll.
Choose what you believe this to be the correct tipping percentage in Mexico and then click the “VOTE” button.
You will be able to see the results after you vote
NOTE: YOU WILL BE ABLE TO SEE THE RESULTS OF OTHER VOTERS AFTER YOU VOTE
Do What The Hell You Want – or What You Think Is Best
Although tipping in Mexico is not what you’re used to, it won’t take you long to adapt.
Follow the guidelines suggested above and you shouldn’t have any problems.
Most of all, focus on enjoying your trip, but also be aware of the unintended consequences of tipping more than 10% (considered over-tipping in this culture)!
Lots of love,
It’s your turn. Do you have any tips or suggestions about tipping here? Leave them in the comments section below!