Toh-Plue Restaurant, a nice oasis in the middle of Chatuchak Market
A while back we covered tipping hotel housekeeping and other staff who make your stay pleasant. Here's the follow up I promised for occasions where you may consider leaving a tip while away from your hotel. All of the suggestions today deal with more mainstream tourist encounters; taxis, restaurants and what I'm going to call "legitimate" massage venues, for lack of a better word. I know people in the play-for-pay business, but that's an entirely different kettle of fish for a different day.
Figuring that you're likely going to find yourself in a taxi to go out to eat, let's start there: Thai will rarely tip a taxi driver as a Westerner might, but rounding up the amount on the meter from something like 35 to 40 baht is acceptable and I'm rarely taken to task by Thai friends if I offer that sort of amount to a driver. However, if a driver has taken me to or through an area where I feel he's going to be penalized - say, through a congested area to somewhere he's not likely to find another fare for his return - then I may tip them an extra 10 to 20 baht.
[As a side note, drivers will usually decline to take you someplace where they're liable to be "stranded", and if they do they're liable to give you an inflated set price, so don't be surprised. Take these only if you don't care about cost.] However, when you're carrying shopping bags and the skies open up with a downpour akin to those seen by Noah that extra cost doesn't always seem quite as extravagant. My suggestion would be not to let it upset you and spoil an evening while on vacation.
Speaking of evenings, by the end of the day (or evening) it's my guess that taxi drivers can spot the weaker of us in the herd when we're shuffling slowly along and wishing we were already back at our room, but so it goes. Frankly, when I'm on holiday my comfort isn't usually worth being stubborn about when it comes to dealing with some licensed bandit in a taxi there - I sometimes just pay it, write it off as an expense of travel and get where I'm going - but that's up to yoooouuu, as you'll get used to hearing if you spend any time in the Kingdom at all!
There was one occasion where I deliberately (and grossly) over-tipped a taxi driver, and if you would like to you can read last April's post about Te the taxi driver here. There's also a little more to learn there about Thai taxis in general that we won't re-hash today. I got a lot more pleasure out of wondering about how his evening date went than I would have spending the same amount some other way, and it's made a nice story to tell every so often.
Restaurants are another area where a tip isn't usually expected, but if you're dining at a place frequented by Westerners who do tip - such as a more upscale restaurant - it can be a little frustrating if you don't have Thai friends along who feel comfortable telling you you're being either stingy or foolishly generous, and the Thai as a rule don't go for even gentle confrontations so you may be on your own. A rule of thumb that's worked for me (more often than not) is tipping 20 baht on your dinner tab. I've had it suggested that 10% of a tab that's come to $75USD isn't ostentatious, but again, you're probably in a nicer place, too.
Tips in many restaurants are put into a kitty that's divided at the end of the shift, but there's a way around that, if you wish. For example: if your bill is brought to you in a folder, what you put inside would go into the pool. What you put on top is meant for the person who has helped you, in most cases. If there's a question, discreetly hand the tip directly to the person you want to have it.
There was one occasion where the chef had cooked an excellent meal that the inattentive server didn't bring to my table until it was nearly cold, because he was chatting with friends and not doing his job. Without making a scene (although the cook was pretty surprised to see me) I walked into the kitchen after dinner, thanked them for a delicious meal and tipped the cook. I didn't stiff the waiter, but I left a meager amount. There was a lot of Thai chatter going on among the front house staff as we were leaving - and yes, I'm aware it's possible that not all of it was complimentary about yours truly.
For those of you who are likely to have a number of massages while in Thailand - actual massages, not what's euphemistically known as "a rub and a tug" - there are again no hard and fast rules about tipping. We're certainly not talking about something as uncomfortable sounding as Main Course Number 1 to the left.
In a storefront shop where you're probably going to pay anywhere between 150 and 250 baht for a 60- or 90-minute foot/leg/shoulder massage combination (depending on where you are) I personally don't feel that a tip of 100 baht is too much, nor is 200 baht too much for a 60- to 90-minute Thai or body massage.
I'm sure some who read this will disagree with me, and any comments are welcome as to what you've tipped. Again, we're talking about a non-sexual experience.
Although the baht has become stronger Thailand is still an inexpensive place to visit, compared to a lot of other places - so again my advice would be to shop around for the bigger ticket items (air fare, hotels and tours if you must) and give yourself some leeway with the day-to-day expenses. Personally I include treating the service providers I come in contact with with some respect - and to me that includes a fair and reasonable tip, where appropriate.