We were on holiday in Brazil recently (we're Irish), and we went for a dinner / show. The dinner was a self-service buffet, however when sitting down and during the show, waiters did come around to serve drinks.

The total bill between the meal and drinks was approx R$1,000 (around €200) for 4 of us, not including tip - which is a pretty expensive dinner by our standards (even in Ireland), but OK it was nice buffet and there was a show so I won't complain about that - all things considered it was actually good value, but anyway:

I've read that the standard for tipping in Brazil is about 10% of the bill when the service charge is not stated to be included. So when discussing with my wife I suggested a tip of R$100 (about €20), she thought that very excessive - we're not rich by any means - so we agreed on R$50.

Although I felt pretty stingy handing it over, as I thought about it later, the waiters only served the drinks which amounted to only about R$100 or less of the overall bill, the rest we got up and got ourselves.

My question is, what is the correct tipping etiquette for a situation where the table service covers only a small fraction of the overall bill?

I mention Brazil for context, but I'd be interested in answers from anywhere.

  • I’m voting to close this question because as the help center states, questions asking about whether you are right or wrong are off-topic.
    – Tinkeringbell
    Jul 24, 2023 at 12:02
  • I have updated the question so it does not ask whether I am right or wrong. That was not my intent!
    – komodosp
    Jul 24, 2023 at 12:04
  • 1
    @Tinkeringbell Doesn't this fall under the "etiquette" section of the rules ("Questions about the written and unwritten - but well-established and expected - rules or conventions of behavior in a specific setting")?
    – DaveG
    Jul 24, 2023 at 13:07
  • @DaveG the original post did not, the edited one works I guess.
    – Tinkeringbell
    Jul 25, 2023 at 6:34

1 Answer 1


I've worked on cruise ships and at some touristics locations for quite some time when I was young (pay the bills, the studies, the trip...) so this is based on experience in the US and some other places in Europe. Even if it was decades ago, I think you can still use it nowadays as a good basis.

Some of those places have tipping as a rule, some don't. Most of them I know have tipping as a reward for good service and the extra step you make for the customer.

Some people are (what we called them then) cheap (read: stingy). No matter how much money they have, you would get, either the minimum, or less/nothing. Most of the others were applying the percentage of the country/place (when they knew it).

But, sometimes, people can not afford leaving tips. Because they're tight on money, or for any other reason. As you say, "we're not rich by any means". But you gave something. That's important.

Now, what you could have done would be to watch the others, and/or ask them how they were proceeding. But doing it your way was no mistake or bad action. You gave what you could afford, and that's the way it should be. You weren't cheap, you were who you could be. Give what you can afford, and be nice. That should be the etiquette if, for whatever reason, you can't fully tip the required percentage. This was my rule back then (on one side), and still is (now that I'm on the other side). Sometimes, you make small or no money, sometimes, big money. At the end of the day/week, the average (ROI) is important, and more than the fact of who gave what.

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