Short version: yes, you’re supposed to tip on Roatan. 10%-20%. There ya go!
Tipping is expected on Roatan for various services. If you’re visiting or moving to the island, you should have a quick read through these guidelines to make sure you’re tipping appropriately! We don’t like people who play the “we don’t have to tip in our home country so we’re not going to here” game. Labor laws are very different from many other countries and you need to remember that the legal minimum wage still hasn’t cracked $400/month here, and we’re on an island and so the cost of living is not cheap, even for locals – they might have the benefit of not paying inflated rent, but their electricity bills, water bills, grocery costs, etc. are disproportionately high to wages. Should many employers step up and pay people a decent wage? OBVIOUSLY. Are they going to? NO. Not necessarily because they don’t want to – the cost of doing business is really high here. But many are paying service employees based on a certain assumed level of tips from customers.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I absolutely do not advocate for tipping when you receive bad service. I never do and you shouldn’t either. I believe you need to give the style of service your customers want, and if your customers are foreign tourists who are used to having smiling, attentive service people, then if you want a tip you better be a smiling, attentive service person. Not sitting on your Blackberry playing Candy Crush or saying you’re out of something just because you don’t feel like making it. In situations where you get bad service, please don’t tip, and please ask to speak to a manager and explain why you didn’t tip. Just leaving nothing and not telling anyone in charge about the problems doesn’t help anyone.
Regular disclaimers: it’s your job to ask someone if you’re confused about the currency exchange, that’s not an excuse to leave a shitty tip. Tip only in USD bills – NO COINS, they are not accepted at banks here – or local currency (lempira). Canadian dollars or Euros cannot be exchanged on the island, so seriously, please don’t tip in other currencies than USD or lempira. USD needs to be in good condition with no rips, tears, or writing on it, or the local bank won’t take it. So that taped-up $20 you gave to your divemaster is pretty much worthless unless he can trade it with an American tourist for a different one.
Okay – rant over, on to the numbers.
Restaurants: be very careful in restaurants here, and read the fine print. Some places it’s stated on the menu that service is included, or will be automatically added to your bill. Sometimes when you receive a bill you’ll see that service is added (usually 10% or 15%), but don’t be afraid to ask for clarification – tax is also sometimes added onto bills (15% for food and 18% for alcohol). A normal tip for regular service in a restaurant is 10%, with 15% for good service and 20% for outstanding service.
Diving: I wrote a whole post on this, but the short version is a minimum of $5 per tank for fun diving, or 10% of course cost for courses. If you can afford to dive, you should budget to tip accordingly.
Taxis: regular taxis that you hail on the street don’t need to be tipped unless they carry your luggage or something. However, 99% of the time, the price you agree upon when you get in is the price you pay and that’s it.
Bartenders: here’s a tidbit you might not know about a lot of bartenders on Roatan: they are either working solely for tips, or being paid about $10-15 for an 8 hour shift…plus tips. So tips are very important for the staff in the bar and restaurant industry here. Bartenders should be tipped at least 10lps (about $0.50) per basic well drink up to $1-2 per drink if you’re ordering those ridiculous blended drinks with 45 things in them. Tip early and high to get great service for the rest of the evening! Tips should be double for bartenders doing beach service (ie. serving you to your chair out on the beach rather than the bar).
Housekeepers: I was completely ignorant of the fact that housekeepers were supposed to get tips until I first traveled to Roatan. $2-5/day in the room (again, depending on what level of service you’re getting) is standard. If the hotel does not provide a tip envelope in the room, make sure you leave a little note with the money that clearly states it’s for the housekeeper so she doesn’t get accused of stealing.
Tour Operators: there is so much gray area in here that I’m hesitant to even tackle this one. There are a huge variety of tour operators on Roatan – fishing charters, snorkeling tours, island tours by car or boat, ziplining, cultural activities, etc. Sometimes it’s hard to know when to tip, especially when it’s an owner-operated business. This one you need to use some more discretion for, and take into account the level of service and ‘extras’ you were given during the tour, as well as how many crew were involved. Remember your tip may have to be split as a policy, so if you give a $10 tip to someone on a crew of 5, they might have to share that with everyone. Don’t be afraid to ask what their policy is, especially if you want to make sure a certain amount goes to a certain employee. I always say that 10% of the activity price is a good bet for a minimum/standard tip.
Grocery Stores: on Roatan they have bag boys/girls at the bigger grocery stores who bag your groceries and then take them to the car for you. They work only for tips. For a few bags I give them 10-20lps (about $0.50-$1). For big shopping trips I give 100lps (about $5). I’ve heard really varying amounts from everyone here on this – some give more than I do, some less. All I can say, is I’m pretty sure these kids are making more with the cashiers when the gringos come shopping.
Spa/Beauty Services: this is the same as North America – 10% to 20% is standard.
Airport: if one of those guys takes your luggage at the airport to carry to the taxi or your resort’s bus, you need to give him $3-5 depending on how many bags you have. The only money those guys make are tips. If you don’t want to tip, be firm with your ‘no thank you’ when they ask, and then carry your own shit.
Other random ones: you should tip security guards if they watch your crap for you on the beach while you swim ($5). You should tip employees who find your iPhone that your drunk ass left by the pool and gave it back to you rather than selling it ($….A LOT. Like $50-100.) You should tip the yard guy who dragged a beach chair 50ft from the property for you because you wanted a certain ‘view’ of the ocean ($5). I’m sure you get the picture on this! If you’re asking people to do stuff for you outside of their basic job duties, you should tip them.
I absolutely hate it when people in the service industry ask for tips because I think it’s ridiculously uncouth, but you should never feel uncomfortable asking what a standard tip is if you’re unsure and you’d like to make sure you leave an appropriate tip. Best bet is to ask a manager who doesn’t get tipped – ask them what a standard tip for their server or guide is – many employees (especially locals) are shy when put on the spot like that. To be honest, it’s pretty easy to figure out the tipping here if you’re from North America, as it’s basically the same as there!
Did I miss anything? Were you surprised at the amounts for tips here?
Rika - Cubicle Throwdown says
They seemed high to me too at first, but when you consider the cost of things here they make sense – for example, a restaurant lunch is around $8-10, and dinner is $15-25 …. this is nearly the same price as most of North America, so the tips are sort of expected to be similar as well. As for why the menu items cost the same as North America but the employees are paid a quarter of their northern counterparts, well, you'd have to ask the restaurant owners 🙂
Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) says
This is such a helpful guide as I'm definitely one of those people who stresses out about tip etiquette. One of the nice things traveling in Asia is that tips aren't really expected anywhere (well, India is a different story…) except for a few specific instances so we didn't have to worry about it there. But I made sure to read up on what the protocol was here in Mexico and learned that yes, you should tip at sit-down restaurants (though you generally only need to do 10%) and also give a little something to the bag boys at supermarkets (though here it's only about $2MX/bag, which is $0.12US) and the gas station employees when they fill up your car (they generally wash your windshield too, which we appreciate).
I was surprised by some of the amounts that you suggest tipping simply because they seem much higher than what we would pay in Mexico. But you are on an island and a well-touristed one at that, so I suppose that must factor into it!