Americans export gratuity and other cultures adopt it. Here's how it works in Cuba.
Tipping While Traveling in Cuba
Why do we tip?
Tipping while traveling in Cuba is expected in certain situations but it does not work like it does in the US. Instead of just laying out how it works and what to do let's dig a little deeper into the cross-cultural phenomenon and try to understand it. So, what does gratuity mean to us?
- because service industry workers are poorly paid
- to reward and encourage good service
- to get better treatment if we frequent an establishment
While it may be tempting to us as a business to completely absorb tipping as a fixed cost and insulate our clients from that experience it would not be true to the idea of gratuity in the first place. If other cultures are going to take something from our culture then let's make sure it doesn't lose its meaning.
Cuba is the best example of this but it is a rule that applies throughout Central America and the Caribbean. In Cuba the average converts to $20 - 30 a month. The Cuban government does provide healthcare, education, housing and a small food subsidy at no cost but with no disposable income there is nothing left to fill in the gaps and most of a Cuban's money goes to additional food.
Tour industry workers and their families rely on tips and, as long as Cubans have adopted our tipping culture let's help keep it meaningful. Just like in the US where it's important to tip something to supplement the low wages of your server, tipping should also reflect the quality of service provided. In Cuba the government owns and runs many establishments and employees have to declare then pool and redistribute any tips earned leaving little incentive to provide quality service. One thing we as tippers can do is tip more when we are moved to and less when we are unimpressed as a way of rewarding and encouraging good service.
Finally, we hope you all will be coming back to Cuba to revisit the connections you make there and keep an eye on the changes that will occur and, of course, we will be visiting regularly. So, we want to make sure that we are known for our respect and good treatment towards our servers and will tip accordingly.
Enough philosophy, how much should you tip?
Good question, the answers vary...
- Cuban tour guides
For a every week of services you should tip your bilingual guide $30-50 per person. Adjust your tip amount to reflect the numbers of days you are receiving guiding services.
- Your bus driver
Your bus driver works almost as hard as your tour guide and expects $15-20 per person per week.
- Restroom attendants
Many visitors to Cuba are taken aback by the presence of attendants in restrooms and their assertiveness. At times it can feel like you aren't allowed to use the restroom without first paying an attendant a small fee. It's not. You can go in, especially in an emergency without tipping but it could get a little ugly in a couple of ways. The smallest of the bills or coins you carry will do here to smooth the interaction.
Often musicians, dancers and other Cuban performers will pass the hat after they do their thing for the group. You can choose to tip or not. If you travel with us we will make sure they are taken care of but you may not like the feeling of passing back an empty hat. Again, coins and small bills are best.