Shelling out - How to tip in Mexico

I’ve slung hash. I started as a busboy at Miss Colleen’s Chinese Restaurant. There was no future in it, as to graduate to a waiter you had to write in Chinese. But I got to take home all the leftovers. I then worked at a Jewish Deli (low pay and tips, no comment), a jazz club (no customers, no tips, but I could get drunk every night for free). By the time I was ready to retire – at 25 - from the ‘food services industry’ (i.e. toiling in Mafia owned kitchens) I was wearing what they used to call a monkey suit and was chosen to serve champagne to then President Mitterrand at a French Embassy event (I hid under the table but they found me). So I know what it’s like to work for tips. As I considered myself a very good waiter, who worked efficiently and gave a minimum of attitude, I’m both sympathetic and highly critical of bad service. But I know a girl’s gotta eat.

Mexico is a service-oriented country. There are a lot of people here whose work is doing something for someone else. Most middle class people have maids. People are available to carry your bags, pump your gas, shine your shoes, bone your chicken. Few of these people are well paid. Some aren’t paid at all.

Many foreigners, recent émigrés or visitors to The Big Taco are confused about tipping. One wants to do it ‘right’, do as the natives do. My father, who spent his last years in Japan, where they’ve never even heard of tipping, always told the story of having left a few yen on a restaurant table. His worried waitress came running out after him to give it back – not to offend. Likewise, my friends in Madrid wouldn’t let me leave a euro in the dish of a bar, claiming that wait-people are well paid in Spain. Not so sure about that. I think now, given Spain’s economic situation, these same friends would pocket my tip themselves.

Here is my advice on what gratuity to leave. Of course it’s subjective. I tend to err on the side of generous. Let’s face it, most of the people who serve you a 400 peso meal can’t afford one themselves and never will. I feel guilty when I buy a bottle of wine that costs what the bagger earns in 3 days. So I do what I can.

Street stalls - nothing is expected, and most people don’t leave tips

Market stalls/owner run fondas – I usually leave a few pesos. If the lunch is $35, I’ll leave 5. It’s optional – some people do, many don’t.

Restaurants (from Vips to Pujol) – Here, 10-15% is the norm (not 15-20 as in the US), although I tend to err towards 15. This is where you may leave more or less depending on the quality of the service. But remember that what you and I may think of as over-zealous service is here considered attentive. People are taught that it’s not nice to leave dirty plates in front of someone, so they are whisked away even when others are still eating. We may think that’s rude, here it’s good service. So don’t penalize your server for this. Wait service in Mexico is generally friendly – have you ever had surly waiter snap at you here? I haven’t.
A few high-end places add a ‘servicio’ charge of 15% onto their bill, as restaurants in France do. Although this is uncommon, it happens. I don’t like this phenomenon at all, because most people don’t expect it here, and leave a tip on top of the service. So, take the advice of my mother and always check your bill. You’ll be surprised how often you’ll find an error, and it never seems to be in your favor.

Bars – if you only drink, a small gratuity is the norm, in a dive, perhaps a couple of pesos, in a ‘nice’ place more.

Other, non-dining tipping situations:

Taxis – a tip is not expected. This will surprise New Yorkers where a full tip is not only expected but extorted. But I usually round off and give them a little extra. Come on, taxis are very cheap here…

Gas stations – Those Pemex guys expect a little something: 2-5 pesos, depending on whether they do extra things like wash your windows or check the oil. Let’s face it, it’s nice not to do it yourself, and it’s not sexy for a lady wearing high heels and a Little Black Dress to pump gas.

Gas delivery – tip those guys who carry the heavy cylinders to the roof - $5 (pesos) each. And give the truck 10 or 15 or they’ll never come back.

Water bottles – I give 2 or 3 pesos extra per ‘garrafon’.

Car parkers/'cuidadores' - we give these guys 5-10 pesos; sometimes more: the lady at the Lagunilla market (on Reforma) wants $20 to look after our car. It's worth it.

Baggers at the super – I’m generous with these people. There’s a sign in my local Superama (which is owned by Walmart, a company known for its miserliness) that clearly states that baggers aren’t paid at all. You just spent $70 on Haagen Daaz. Shell out.

Bogart to Ann Sheriden: "What do you reccomend?"; Ann to Bogart "Nothing, I never eat here, myself"

A note to my readers: Good Food in Mexico City has been included, amidst stellar company, in the New York Times' Diner's Journal

Text © 2011 Nicholas Gilman - all rights reserved


  1. I think that pretty much nails it. Only one I don't agree on is the baggers, a peso or two is fine, heck a bag filled every two minutes works out not bad. Taxis I'll tip almost 25%, I've no idea how those guys make a living.

    Few others I think worth noting:

    Valet parking, we've no idea if they're getting paid… what to give them… we normally tip 10, a friend once handed over 50 for his SUV. If there's some scale to consider for the type and condition of your vehicle I'd not be surprised if they started offering us a few pesos in sympathy of our beat up old Chevy.

    Viene-vienes / Viene-biens - we've still to decipher what that's all about - (the guys who stand behind your car and whistle as you're trying to reverse out of a parking spot and not run over their feet) tend to get nothing unless they've been of actual help and not a nuisance. At most a peso.

    Screen washers - we normally have three traffic light stops on the way to work with successive attempts to extort money through the application of soapy water to the drivers side of the window. Five pesos if they ask first and do the back as well.

  2. Well done and to the point, Nick. You've taken out the mystery of tipping in Mexico. I know you said this was subjective but I would add the following: If I go to a cantina and I only drink, I tip the waiter the same rate (10 per cent to 15 per cent) as if I had eaten. He works as hard serving drinks as he would if he were serving food. I also tip the water guys more extravagantly than you (I just think of them lugging those heavy garrafones up the stairs). Another thing: Mexicans are not accustomed to tipping chambermaids in hotels, but I always do. I am sure they appreciate it. Also, many Pemex station employees work for no salary at all -- they live on your tips. Same as the bag boys and girls in the supermarkets -- no salary.

    Finally, I am not so sure I agree with you about the woman in the black dress and high heels pumping gas. Sounds pretty sexy to me.

  3. I usually tip the freelance garbage man who works my street 15 pesos. Maybe half that if I've only got one bag, and more if I've got a lot of trash, or am throwing out something particularly bulky or heavy. And I gave him a 50 a few days before Christmas last year -- no idea if anybody else does that, but trash collection is generally hopeless, and the freelance guy at least makes it bearable.

    I don't tip the guys working the trucks, though.

  4. This was interesting... things are a little different in very rural Mexico (generally less people tip at all)... I saw one commentor wrote that many Pemex employees aren't paid. I certainly hope this isn't the case here since I've never seen them get tipped. I'll do some investigating on the local norms and get back to you, if I can, if you're interested in rural tipping.

  5. Well, you mentioned that "Most middle class people have maids." But did not list the amount. I tip my maid and my Mexican friends think I am being TOO nice.


  6. Tipping in Mexico is very subjective indeed! Many times, it has to do with each family's / individual's understanding of Economics and social issues, aside from the quality of the service itself, in my opinion.

    Congratulations for having your book included in the New York Times Diner's Journal, Nick! (or Andrew?)


  7. I would add underpaid hotel maids to this tip list. ($1 to $5 a day depending on how generous you feel) Little for us; big for them.

  8. I agree with all your food-industry tip percentages, but tip more at gas stations (about 10 pesos), since I understand their wages are quite low (if they exist at all).

    Jesús, you tip your maid at home? That's pretty extravagant indeed, what about paying her a decent salary and signing her up the Social Security System? What she does is actual work, you're not being generous by giving her a few extra pesos on a whim -or perhaps I didn't get what you mean.


  9. Thanks for all the helpful comments. Pemex workers are npt, to my knowledge, paid a salary. They are generally tipped, always have been, and by just about everybody. It is odd, however, to tip your own cleaning person. I try to spring for a better than average salary, and help in other ways, such as paying for unforeseen medical costs. And, of course, the aguinaldo at Christmas time.

  10. I always tip the bag-boys. I think it is a huge scam that walmart can get away with not paying those kids. It's disgusting. I am from NYC, so we usually tip the doorman at Xmas. I give my two guys a $500 a piece for all the things they do for me throughout the year. I didn't know I wasn't supposed to tip the taxi drivers. Once I had a taxi guy tell me to pay whatever I felt like. It wasn't his cab and he hadn't used the meter.

  11. Yes, tip your doorman. I wish I had a doorman to tip.

  12. Generally good guide, except for: "a couple of pesos" really? Start at 5 and go from there, Two pesos is what you would leave if you wanted to send the following signal: "no, I did not forget your tip, but you certainly did not earn it!"
    Rounding up your cab fare is the 'elegant' way of tipping your driver.
    I tip the water folks at least 5 pesos per bottle. Can't imagine having to lug those myself!
    And to Jesus... tipping your maid goes against the basic premise that you are paying them a salary. Make it a decent salary and give them good living and working conditions and then keep your tip, it makes no sense.
    Also, make sure you tip your hair-cut attendants. Most of these service-industry staffers earn minimum wage, if at all. So they rely on tips to actually live.

  13. 2 peso tip only if you don't have much money yourself, otherwise, 5 pesos and upwards, that applies for any tip. Though we don't tip taxi drivers, it's common to leave the change, so if you're charged $45, just give them $50.