Tipping etiquette in the UAE: here's everything you need to know

Whether you’re new to the UAE, a citizen or a long-term resident, there is often confusion over tipping

Two european friends collecting money to paying in a restaurant in Dubai Marina, after their lunch break in summertime. Getty Images
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As a country that manages to successfully ­amalgamate people from all walks of life, living in the UAE means we're constantly introduced to different values and traditions. But in the midst of so many cultures united, there's one thing we don't seem to have settled on yet: what's the deal with tipping?

With residents and visitors from all over the world come different global attitudes towards gratuity. For example, ­Americans generally leave 20 per cent, while the British and Indians offer roughly 10 per cent when dining out. In China, on the other hand, tipping can be seen as insulting and is not ­customary at all. So what's the Emirates' approach?

A spokesperson for the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, a non-profit organisation that aims to educate people on Emirati culture, traditions, faith and customs, says: "In the Emirates, we mainly tip for three reasons: good service and to gain extra good service in the future, for assistance beyond the basics of a job, and finally if it isn't actually a tip, but charity. If it is charity, though, nothing else is expected of the person."

Gratuity customs are often influenced by wage laws in the region (the tip-generous United States has a reduced "tipped wage" for service workers, for example) and as there is currently no minimum wage in the UAE for residents, this comes into consideration.

The culural centre also explains that while the tipping culture is present here, dropping a few extra dirhams is not mandatory: "It is also based on what the person can truly afford – sometimes it isn't an option or we forget when using cards or other new phone payment systems." But if you do feel the desire to show a little appreciation, here's a guide to help you get by.

Beauty services

Many of us get regular beauty services, whether that's keeping our nails neat, brows in shape or tresses / beards groomed. But should we be forking out every time we pop to the salon? While it's not expected, a small gesture is always welcome when a job is done well, and a 2017 survey conducted by ServiceMarket.com showed that 63 per cent of UAE residents tipped salon workers every time or most of the time. With manicures and pedicures, a gesture of Dh5 is appropriate, while for lengthier, less frequent services – such as a haircut or massage – between Dh10 and Dh15 should suffice. 


Here's where it can get tricky: by the time you've made it through the hotel doors to your room, you've probably already encountered a dozen staff members ready to help you with a smile on their face. So whom to tip? While there's no need to overdo it, small gestures towards bellboys, valet parking assistants and room service and housekeeping staff (ensure to leave coins or a note each morning for individual in-room cleaners) of Dh5 go a long way – and something for the concierge when he or she goes out of their way.

Shaikha Al Nowais, vice president of owner relationship management at Rotana Hotels, offers insight into the local approach: “Being a member of the Emirati community, giving is an essential aspect of our ­lifestyle. At Rotana, and I believe in most properties within the region, tipping isn’t a second thought. We give where credit is due and if employees are given tips by customers, this is deserved.”

Dining out

Tipping when dining out can be divisive: some patrons insist on ensuring gratuity is given when food and drink is served, while others don't think twice before leaving a restaurant having covered only the costs of what they've consumed. While the Service Market survey revealed waiters and waitresses are the most frequently tipped group, a March 2019 study conducted by BigDomain.com concluded only 8 per cent of British people thought it was compulsory to tip at a restaurant in Dubai, and the average sum of 13 per cent (or Dh17.84 for a Dh135 meal) was deemed appropriate – meaning it often really does come down to the service provided. A tip on tipping? The cultural centre spokesperson advises: "If the cafe is a place I will ­frequently go to, I will tip them especially well every few times. You want to be well-liked and welcomed."

Cab rides and deliveries 

With more people turning to card payments, tips for cab drivers in the region have decreased over the years – the previous go-to being to round the bill to the nearest Dh5. But companies behind apps such as Careem, Zomato and Deliveroo are now working on reminding customers that little tips can help – and even prompt the appropriate amount of between Dh1 and Dh5. While this means that you no longer have to overthink it when paying by card (or worry about carrying cash), it also helps set expectations for users. 

A spokesperson at Deliveroo says: "We provide customers with the option to tip, but there are no obligations. We are sure our customers realise that riders work very hard … Customers choose to be generous when they are at the receiving end of memorable and efficient customer experience."

General rule?

While tipping isn't uncommon, it isn't expected, either – and there's no set percentage in the UAE. But if you can spare a note for a job well done, it shows appreciation and may also ensure quality service the next time.