One of the most difficult financial actions for foreigners is the question of tipping. Expressing your pleasure for good service by giving a little money bonus is not usual in Asian countries, so also in Vietnam. In the west, however, you usually give a bonus as a part of salary (US) or as a means of recognising someone’s work. Vietnamese society is poor, so tips or bonuses are not given. In the last years, many Vietnamese came also to a short wealth, and now you can see them also giving money. These „new rich“ often do not only pay the bill, but also give a generous tip. Money for free is a sign for a new wealthy middle-class establishing in Vietnam. And also foreigners are considered to be very rich and wealthy, so it is often expected to receive a tip from them after doing some work.
Tips in tourist areas only
Generally spoken, in all tourist places like the Old Quarter in Ha Noi, the town of Hoi An or the Pham Ngu Lao in Ho Chi Minh City, tips are now common. Ten years of tourism development have made the Vietnamese accustomed to tipping. And besides, who would not get money for free? Usually, tourist restaurants calculate a service fee already in their bills, so there is no need for a tip. But in some places there exists now also the trend of not paying the waiters well, since they can do good service and get tips. But in a country not used to tipping this is quite deadly. It is always up to the guest, if you pay or not. If you’re outside the tourist places, a tip is not expected and you should also rethink carefully of giving one. Eating a bún for 10 000 Vietnamese Dong and giving a tip of the same amount will destroy the natural order. Not every tourist can spend a generous tip and is also used to this. One time I heard two Vietnamese waiters answer to a tourist at Tan Son Nhat Airport, after she complained something, that she would get better service if she tipped a little better. This behaviour for sure is inexcusable, but will grow. If a seller of a street bún gets tips hither and thither from tourists, she will expect it also in the future. I must admit, I am doing now the Vietnamese way: I do not tip any more.
How much you should give?
I cannot and will not suggest the same for you. Giving a tip is for western people more than only the exchange of some money, so I remind to you: It is up to you, if you give or not. You should always keep in mind, that most of the Vietnamese are still poor. You show more your satisfaction on the done work. To give advice on the amount is also quite difficult. Vietnamese always expect much, but they are in most cases absolutely wrong. Western tourists are not a travelling Bill Gates. Giving everyone 100 000 Dong would be okay, but will also be a threat to your own purse. I usually advise to give 10% of the amount if it is higher than 200 000 Dong. In a restaurant you should give around 10 000-50 000 Dong depending on your bill. If you have a car with driver all day you also can give 20 000- 50 000 Dong. If you spend some millions, you can consider what to give. You should keep in mind, that many sellers and waiters have only a small salary. Usually a waitress gets around 1-1,5 million in a month. If she is student maybe only 700 000 Dong. So giving her 500 000 Dong would be really happy for her, but generally spoken also inadequate. You should always consider about how much you give. Too much is generous but also not really conducing. Too less is the same, but will destroy the view on tourists also. Behaving like a rich king consuming things and then give only 500 Dong is not good manners either. Foreigners doing like this lose their face. Summing up with a citation of a friend: Better to be viewed as a scrooge not giving tips than as a fool giving some.