Ask a Trini : Restaurant Service Charges in Trinidad? What gives?!?!

Tipping in Trinidad is really non existent. It’s not part of the local culture – it never was. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. It’s come along with the “Americanization” of Trinidad. In all the franchise type restaurants, you’re encouraged to tip, even though the tip almost never goes to the waiter or waitress … if you put the tip on the bill. The franchise type restaurants aren’t even run by Americans but local franchisees who just see another cash grab. Even the idea of a restaurant “service charge” in Trinidad just makes me want to scream and punch people in the face … since it’s rare to get good service in a Trini restaurant.

Here’s the scam in those restaurants (Ruby Tuesdays, TGIF, Trotters … at least in KFC, as long as you don’t get spit … you’re successful):

Let’s say you buy a meal in Ruby Tuesdays … grab a portion of wings – it’s a ridiculous 158$ TT (23.40$ USD) for 20 wings

Here’s what’s you’re actually going to pay

  • Base price = 158$
  • Service Charge 10% = 15.80$
  • VAT 15% =  26.07$
  • Total = 199.87$ TTD or 29.50$ USD
  • If you chose to tip … then you’re tipping on this amount – which is patently ridiculous!!!

Would you pay 30$ USD for 20 chicken wings????

Here is the messed up part – the service charge goes to the owner and does not replace  tips, which are the main source of income for servers, and there is ZERO SERVICE CULTURE anyway. There is no T&T law that requires this service charge. In Guatemala, there is a service charge that is added to the bills, but this service charge goes directly to the servers. In Trinidad, the vast majority of customers, believe the service charge came from greedy restaurant owners, and since it is a good profit center – more restaurants started doing it.

The vast majority of Trinis don’t know any better, so they just accept it as part of doing things – even though 10 years ago i.e. 2004 – this was completely unheard of.

You might have heard that customer service and ethical behavior within Trinidadian restaurants is almost unheard of. So for me, this rampant sort of bill padding is ridiculous – I’ve written notes every single time on my bills and I’ve chosen not to give my business to those restaurants that charge this service charge. I’ve always believed that if restaurant owners want to charge more, then they should just revise the prices to suit. This would remove all doubts and people could just go on. At some point, there will be a change in the local economy and those same restaurant owners won’t be able to get away with this stuff. It’s another blow to our dreams of being a tourist market. People can vote for business with their money and their business …

Here’s how to piss off a Trinidadian …

Anyway, on my regular travel note – for those Trinis who hate tipping, there are many countries in the world, where tipping is actually discouraged. Here’s a couple facts for you Trini travellers :

  • Only in the US, is it expected to tip 15-20%. Even in Canada, this is not expected, unless you have phenomenal service.
  • Tipping is not expected in all countries. In fact, not in most countries.
  • In many Asian countries, tipping can be insulting. Here is something to think about … a servant assists you in a country based on hierarchy and ” one’s place” in society. A tip is an acknowledgment against their defined role to serve you. Perhaps better to express appreciation by a smile and a nod of gratitude. In short, a tip just insulted them and put an awkward spin on your ‘relationship.’ Here is an excellent blog post about the irrationality of tipping.

Here are some countries where a Trini can be a Trini and not have to worry about some godforsaken tip and what to do:

  1. Japan:
    I love the Japanese for their service culture and deferential treatment of customers who offer their patronage. Tipping is generally discouraged because it could be construed as an insult. Here’s an idea … if you like the restaurant, then you’ll come back and you’ll probably bring more people with you next time, and maybe you might recommend the place. Sounds like a novel idea eh? Well that’s the idea … the staff works for the restaurant as a team and if a customer enjoys their visit that they will return to the restaurant. Note : I have been to some restaurants that cater to foreigners, and tipping isn’t insulting there.
  2. China :
    Generally you don’t need to leave a tip. Just like Japan, it can be considered rude in some places.
  3. South Korea :
    See #1 and #2 : Even in high end hotels like the Westin Chosun or the little restaurant where I had my first taste of dog meat …. no tipping was required. In fact … the grandmother who was helping me eat the pooch meat, was just happy that I came to eat there.
  4. Italy :
    For places around major tourist attractions in Rome, then leaving a tip is OK, but just the change from your bill. Nothing more. Outside of Rome, tipping is not suggested because you are implying that the owner of the restaurant does not pay his employees enough.
  5. Central Europe :
    Countries like Switzerland, Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic – where tipping is not a calculated 10%. Instead you just “round up.” If the bill is 9.41 Euros, then you leave the 10 Euro note.
  6. South East Asia : Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam
    See #1, #2, #3 … yet another reason to travel to this part of the world.
  7. New Zealand :
    Tipping at restaurants in New Zealand is not widespread however if you get exceptional service an feel like it, you can leave around a 10% tip.
  8. Australia:
    No need to tip but if you do decide to leave a tip, just round up, it will be much appreciated

BTW  … on the note of KFC, completely unrelated to service charges … there was this ad for Fish at KFC … Enjoy the irony!

About Rishiray

Rishi Sankar is a Cloud HRMS Project Manager/ Solution Architect. Over the past 15+ years, he has managed to combine his overwhelming wanderlust with a desire to stay employed, resulting in continuing stints with 3 major consulting firms (IBM, Deloitte, Accenture). He documents his adventures around the world on "Ah Trini Travelogue" with pictures and stories from the road/tuk-tuk/camel/rickshaw. You can follow him on Twitter at @rishiray and on Facebook at "Ah Trini Travelogue . He doesn't like Chicken Curry but loves Curry Chicken and is always trying to find the perfect Trinidadian roti on the road. He also doesn't like cheese and kittens ... and definitely not together. E-mail from his blog is appreciated like a 35 yr old Balvenie at

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