We are often asked “what should we bring to help people in Mexico?” Our answer; “money”.
Employees at most resorts must go through security entering and exiting the resort. Bags are checked. If an employee has “something” not accompanied by a note from the giver, the item will be confiscated.
Many hotel employees are transient, living on site, sometimes in dorm-room fashion or two to four people to a small room. They have absolutely no room for “things” and often things given to them are re-gifted or sold to somebody else.
If you would like to take “things” to Mexico a good idea is to contact an existing charity and ask them what you could bring to help out their cause. A list of charities operating in the Yucatan Peninsula is located here: Ways You Can Help
Keep in mind Mexico has Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, Cosco and stores like “dollar stores” so all the cheap stuff you have at home is also available to Mexicans. Taking cheap junk from the dollar store [except toys] that will break easily is a waste of time. Things that need batteries are not recommended.
It is published in countless travel brochures for Cancun – Mayan Riviera that tips are included in the “package”, in that a certain percentage of the cost of your package is a “tip”. The idea being that a hotel collects this amount from every guest then gives it to its employees.
Travel agents read the promotional materials they receive then pass this information on to the traveler.
There are hotels out there that do this but our experience asking various hotel employees has been that they receive no “tip-bonus” [unless actual tips collected during the day/week].
Another common fallacy is that Mexicans don’t tip. This is not true but the explanation would require an essay on culture [Mayan, Aztec, Ladino].
There are rules-of-thumb when it comes to tipping. This web site publishes tipping rates as well as does many others, with rates varying.
However a little understanding on how things work can help you make your tipping decisions. Please note all tips quoted here are in USD, unless otherwise stated.
You can start tipping as soon as you enter the country by tipping the guy who helps you with your bags to your transfer bus/van. A one dollar bill or $2 is a good tip for him. You can tip the bus/van driver who takes you to your hotel, $1 is okay. Most people do not tip the bus driver.
Some people tip taxi drivers, most don’t. It seems that many people simply feel they are getting ripped off anyways from a taxi driver so they do not tip. We believe the idea of the dishonest Mexican taxi driver comes from stories from bad experiences in Mexico City and the odd rip-off in Cancun. Taxi rates are posted in hotels and numerous publications around the Mayan Riviera. If your driver provides additional service like carrying your bags, opening doors for you or polite informative chat then you may want to consider a tip.
Usually a porter will carry your bags to your room for you. You tip according to the number of bags, distance he has to carry them, $1 – $5 per bag.
TIPPING IN RESTAURANTS
Before you offer a tip in any restaurant look at the bill first and see if a tip has already been applied. This is common in Mexico and very common in Guatemala. In many situations, people end up tipping twice because they don’t realize a tip has already been applied to the bill. Nobody tells you this at the restaurant.
Tip like you would back home. If the service was good, tip what you would regularly tip a waiter in a restaurant 10 – 15%.
TIPPING AT AN ALL-INCLUSIVE RESORT
Waiters at the buffets at all-inclusive will make small-talk with you. At least the inexperienced waiter will be making small-talk, the experienced waiters are not. Asking you when you arrived, how long you are staying and what is your last day is small-talk to the inexperienced waiters and tip-info for the experienced waiters.
People tip differently at the buffets. Some tip every meal, some tip the last day they are at the hotel.
Some hotels have a “shared-tips” policy where all tips collected are shared equally among the restaurant staff. Employees come from all over Mexico and there are different view points among Mexican’s against one-another. In this respect an older experienced waiter from Chiapas of Mayan origin is not going to turn over his hard earned tips to share with some young lazy Azteca from Mexico City, at least not all of his tips.
In some hotels waiters work in teams and only share tips with their team. At some hotels a waiter keeps 100% of the tips they collect.
A veteran waiter will bend over backwards for you if you sit in his section. He will get your drinks, carry your plate for you, get you butter, etc., etc., and always be friendly.
Our experience with resort buffets and specialty restaurants is that if you want the best service, tip something at every meal. Not a big tip but something adequate depending on how much service was provided. The reasoning for this [beyond tipping for good service] is that you may enjoy a certain table at the buffet and you will probably have the same waiters [they work 6 day weeks] for your entire stay at the hotel. If you plan to tip “big” on your last day and do not tip during the week you may miss the waiter(s) you like as it may be their day off. That is why they want to know your last day, they remember if you tip, or if you didn’t tip. Your last day “may” be the big tip day. In fact do not be surprised if somehow your waiter works it into the conversation that “tomorrow is his day off”.
You definitely will get better service at a specialty restaurant on a return visit if you tip generously on your first visit. The waiters at specialty restaurants are usually very professional and friendly, speak Spanish and English [some will surprise you with a smattering of French and German] so you will more than likely “want” to tip them.
Staff at the Beach Restaurants rarely gets tips. This is because people usually do not bring money to the beach. For staff, it is the worst table-waiting job at a resort.
If you eat at the Beach Restaurants a lot, or your children do, please take some money to tip the staff there, at least once.
TIPPING THE MAID
Hotel maids range from old women to young guys. If you bring a suitcase full of children’s toys and school materials for your maid’s children you may be surprised when your housekeeper is a 19 year old guy from Oaxaca with no kids or family in the Yucatan.
There is also the fridge person. This person keeps your room’s fridge [if you have a room with a fridge] stocked.
Some hotels also have a towel person whose job it is to replace room towels for you. At most hotels the housekeeper does this but sometimes the housekeeper will have an assistant whose job it is to replace towels and soaps. Sometimes the fridge stocker also does towels.
You can actually stay an entire week at a hotel and never bump into your housekeeper. Most often you will, so you will know who your housekeeper is. There is usually a card in your room identifying your housekeeper.
You can tip the housekeeper(s) when you see them or leave them a big tip on your last day. Hotels sometimes provide an envelope for you to put money in to leave for the housekeeper.
We feel if your housekeeper does good towel sculptures, keeps the room nice and clean, respects your property and is friendly, then tip them personally, $20 a week or $2 – $5 a day. Keep in mind that your last day may be the housekeeper’s day off. You can ask them before you leave if they will be there on your last day.
OTHER TIPPING SITUATIONS
GAS STATION ATTENDANTS
Since the advent of self-serve gas stations, long gone is personalized service. PEMEX gas stations in Mexico are full-service.
If your attendant goes beyond filling your tank [cleans your windows, offers directions] you may want to tip a few pesos.
GROCERY BAGGERS & CARRYOUT
Most grocery baggers and carryout personnel are teens/tweens and the first thing you will probably think is; “shouldn’t these kids be in school?” Well, they do go to school but work part-time at the grocery store. We tip them because they often try so hard and look professional in their uniforms. Tip a few pesos. Many of these locals work only for tips.
PIZZA DELIVERY GUY
The pizza delivery guy is always a guy, on a moped or small motorcycle. He is risking his life to deliver you a pizza [try driving around Playa del Carmen on a moped]. Tip him a couple of bucks like you would the guy back home. Consider it danger-pay.
To be honest we cannot think of a job more yuck than being a Bathroom Attendant in a Mexican gas station bathroom. No disrespect to the profession. Tip them a couple pesos if you have them but don’t sweat it if you don’t. You pay/tip when you exit, sometimes as you enter. If you have to go to the bathroom and do not have any loose change then just walk by them, do your thing, then leave. The attendant will grumble but that is about all.
The larger all-inclusive hotels usually have a piano player or a flutist, or a harp player or a couple guys on guitars. Some of these musicians are very talented and in fact earn a full-time living playing hotels. Enjoying an after dinner beverage sitting in the hotel lobby after stuffing yourself silly at the dinner buffet can be quite pleasant if you have an entertaining piano player jamming.
These guys don’t earn much more than the bus-boys so if one does something nice for you consider a tip.
If you enjoy the person’s company and they do a good job, tip them as you would back home. If you have never gone for a massage before tip $5.00.
You won’t see any shoe-shiners at an all-inclusive but they are quite common in all towns and cities in Mexico. The age of shoe-shiners ranges from young kids to old men. Tourists are usually in sandals or running shoes so they don’t get much business from them, but if you have a pair of leather shoes you may want to consider a shoe-shine. Tip a few pesos extra.
CAR WINDOW WASHERS
If you rent a car and drive to any of the Yucatan’s attractions you may encounter a car window washer/parker. These guys help you park your car by guiding you into a parking spot, even if you are going into an empty parking lot. They will then wash your windows after you have left the car. They leave your windshield wipers up as a sign they have washed your windows. When you return to leave they will walk over to show you what a good job they did. Give them a few pesos.
Surprisingly “pan-handling” or begging is not a common thing in Mexico. Beggars are generally old blind people [sometimes accompanied by a young child], very disabled people and the odd totally wiped out alcoholic. You generally do not see these people in tourist zones. They don’t get any help from the Mexican government so please consider making a donation.
If you travel away from the tourist zones into the pueblos you get an idea of how people really live and the economic conditions. Look inside some of their houses. Often windows and doors are left open, peek inside. You will see first hand.
Don’t tip or bring gifts out of pity. Consider your contribution a positive investment. The person you tip may be an honest hard-working individual sincerely trying to better their life against hardships that only your grandparents could relate to.
There is no such thing as a “Women’s Shelter” in most of Mexico. Maybe in Mexico City, but out in the southern countryside, nothing. Freedom for many women can only come economically so please, tip generously.