To Tip Or Not To Tip: Gratuities In Cruise Restaurants

To tip or not to tip, that is the question when it comes to dining in cruise ship restaurants. Gratuities can be a contentious issue for those embarking on a luxury vacation at sea. While some cruise lines automatically add a service charge to your bill, others leave it up to you to decide whether or not to leave an additional tip. This article will explore the pros and cons of tipping in cruise ship restaurants, providing you with the information you need to navigate this etiquette dilemma and ensure a pleasant dining experience on your next cruise adventure.

Understanding Cruise Restaurant Gratuities

What are gratuities?

Gratuities, also known as tips, are additional payments given to the staff members who provide services on a cruise ship. These services typically include dining, housekeeping, and other amenities that enhance the overall cruise experience. Gratuities are a way for passengers to express their appreciation for the hard work and dedication of the staff.

Why are gratuities expected?

Gratuities are expected on cruise ships for several reasons. Firstly, the staff members who work tirelessly to ensure passengers have a memorable experience rely on gratuities as a significant portion of their income. These individuals often work long hours, away from their families, and depend on tips to make a living. Additionally, gratuities encourage outstanding service as staff members strive to provide exceptional service in the hopes of receiving a generous tip. Furthermore, gratuities contribute to a supportive work environment where employees feel valued and motivated to deliver top-notch service.

Cruise Line Policies on Tipping

Automatic gratuities

Many cruise lines have implemented automatic gratuity programs, where a predetermined amount is automatically added to each passenger’s onboard account. This eliminates the need for passengers to carry cash and allows for a convenient and consistent approach to tipping. The automatic gratuity fees are distributed among various staff members who contribute to the overall guest experience, such as waitstaff, cabin stewards, and other shipboard personnel.

Suggested gratuity guidelines

Cruise lines often provide suggested gratuity guidelines to assist passengers in determining an appropriate amount to tip. These guidelines usually suggest a specific dollar amount per passenger, per day, and vary based on the cruise line and cabin category. It is important to note that these guidelines are not mandatory; passengers have the flexibility to adjust the suggested amount based on their personal experience and satisfaction with the service received.

Removing or adjusting gratuities

Passengers who are dissatisfied with the service provided or prefer to handle gratuities independently can typically request to have the automatic gratuities removed or adjusted at the guest services desk. However, it is important to remember that removing gratuities can adversely affect the income of the hardworking staff members who rely on these funds. If a passenger chooses to remove or adjust gratuities, it is courteous to acknowledge exceptional service by providing a direct tip to those deserving individuals.

Factors to Consider

Quality of service

The quality of service received should be a primary consideration when determining the appropriate gratuity amount. If the staff members go above and beyond to ensure your comfort and satisfaction, it may be fitting to express your gratitude with a more generous tip. Conversely, if the service falls short of expectations, it is important to address any concerns with the appropriate personnel before deciding on the tip amount.

Cruise line culture

Each cruise line has its own unique culture and approach to gratuities. Some cruise lines include gratuities in the overall cost of the cruise, while others have a more traditional tipping system. It is essential to research and understand the specific policies and practices of the cruise line you choose to ensure your tipping decisions align with their expectations.

Personal budget

While it is important to recognize and appreciate the hard work of the cruise ship staff, it is equally important to consider your personal budget when determining the appropriate gratuity amount. It is recommended to plan for gratuities as part of the overall cruise expenses, so you are prepared to tip accordingly without causing financial strain.

Alternatives to Traditional Tipping

All-inclusive cruise lines

Some cruise lines offer all-inclusive packages that incorporate gratuities into the overall cost. This approach eliminates the need for individual tipping and allows passengers to enjoy a hassle-free experience. However, it is crucial to verify the inclusions and exclusions of the all-inclusive package to ensure you are not inadvertently neglecting the staff members who provide exceptional service.

Service charges vs. tips

In addition to traditional tips, some cruise lines include a daily service charge in the overall cost, which covers gratuities for the staff. This service charge is distributed among various crew members and eliminates the need for individual tipping. However, it is recommended to review the specific breakdown of the service charge to understand how it is allocated and its impact on the staff members.

Experiences of travelers who didn’t tip

There are varying opinions among travelers who have chosen not to tip or adjust gratuities. Some argue that the quality of service suffered, as staff members may be less motivated to go above and beyond without the incentive of tips. Others have reported that exceptional service can still be received, irrespective of tipping practices. It is important to consider individual experiences and assess how they align with your personal beliefs and values.

The Debate: Pros and Cons of Tipping

Benefits of tipping

Tipping provides passengers with the opportunity to directly acknowledge and reward exceptional service. It encourages staff members to provide outstanding service consistently and creates a positive work environment. Tipping also allows for a personalized and meaningful interaction between passengers and crew members, fostering a sense of community and mutual respect.

Critiques of tipping

Critics of tipping argue that it can create an unequal distribution of income among staff members, as some positions receive more tips than others. Additionally, tipping can lead to uncertainty and awkward situations for passengers who may not be familiar with the appropriate tip amounts or who prefer a more inclusive pricing model. Critics also contend that the reliance on gratuities for income puts the onus on passengers to supplement the wages of the staff, rather than the cruise line providing fair compensation.

Etiquette and Protocol

When to tip

Tipping is typically done at the end of the cruise. Passengers can either provide a cash tip directly to the staff members or opt for the automatic gratuity program, where the predetermined amount is added to the onboard account and settled at the end of the cruise. It is essential to familiarize yourself with the specific tipping protocol of the cruise line to ensure you adhere to their guidelines.

How much to tip

The appropriate tip amount varies depending on multiple factors such as the length of the cruise, the level of service received, and the cruise line’s suggested gratuity guidelines. As a general rule, it is recommended to tip between $10 and $12 per passenger, per day for the combined dining and housekeeping staff. Specialty restaurant staff may receive additional tips based on the individual’s discretion. However, it is crucial to review and consider the cruise line’s specific recommendations and adjust the tip amount accordingly.

Who to tip

When it comes to tipping, it is customary to acknowledge the dining staff and housekeeping staff who directly contribute to your comfort and overall experience. However, it is also thoughtful to consider tipping other staff members who have provided exceptional service outside of these areas, such as bartenders, spa personnel, or tour guides. It is important to remember that tipping is a personal choice, and the decision of who to tip ultimately lies with you.

Navigating Tipping in Specialty Restaurants

Additional charges and tipping policies

specialty restaurants on cruise ships often have additional charges for dining, separate from the main dining areas included in the overall cruise fare. These restaurants typically have their own tipping policies, which may differ from the automatic gratuity programs in place. It is important to familiarize yourself with the specific tipping guidelines for specialty restaurants to ensure you adhere to their expectations.

Service standards in specialty restaurants

Specialty restaurants usually offer a more intimate and upscale dining experience compared to the main dining areas. The service standards in these establishments are often exceptional, with dedicated servers and personalized attention. Given the elevated level of service, it is customary to tip the staff in specialty restaurants accordingly. The recommended tip amount may vary, but it is recommended to allocate a percentage of the total bill as a tip to express your appreciation.

Cultural Differences and Expectations

Tipping customs around the world

Tipping customs vary significantly across different countries and cultures. What may be expected or customary in one country may not hold true in another. It is essential to research the tipping customs of the cruise itinerary destinations to ensure you comply with local practices. Some countries, such as the United States, have a strong tipping culture, while others, like Japan, may view tipping as impolite.

International cruise lines

When traveling on international cruise lines, it is crucial to familiarize yourself with their specific tipping policies and customs. These cruise lines may have different expectations regarding tipping, and it is important to respect and adhere to their guidelines. Some international cruise lines may include gratuities in the overall fare, while others may leave tipping decisions entirely up to the passenger.

Advice from Seasoned Cruisers

Tips for first-time cruisers

For first-time cruisers, navigating the world of gratuities can be daunting. It is recommended to research the tipping policies of the cruise line, read reviews, and seek advice from experienced cruisers or travel agents. Consider reaching out to the cruise line directly to clarify any questions or concerns regarding gratuities to ensure a smooth and informed tipping experience.

Tricks for saving on gratuities

While it is customary to tip the hardworking staff members, some seasoned cruisers have discovered ways to save on gratuities without compromising the service or their experience. These tricks often involve opting for all-inclusive packages, taking advantage of gratuity-inclusive promotions, or exploring cruise lines that have a no-tipping policy. However, it is important to consider the potential impact on the staff members’ income and overall service quality when adopting these practices.


The decision of whether to tip in cruise restaurants ultimately rests with you, taking into account various factors such as the quality of service received, the cruise line’s policies, and your personal budget. Tipping provides an opportunity to express appreciation for the dedicated staff members who work tirelessly to ensure your cruise experience is exceptional. However, it is important to be aware of and respect cultural differences and expectations regarding tipping. As the future of tipping on cruise ships evolves, it will be interesting to see how cruise lines adapt to best meet the needs and preferences of their passengers and staff members alike.