Is tipping the secret to better service?

Calling out discrimination by waiters against fellow Kenyans stirred a storm

In Summary

• Servers expect a bigger tip from foreigners since that is the cultural front presented

Customers at Mama Colo hotel, Kisumu, after partial reopening of restaurants under strict Covid-19 measures.
Customers at Mama Colo hotel, Kisumu, after partial reopening of restaurants under strict Covid-19 measures.

Last week, I wrote about my recent experience with bad hospitality from the tourism sector as I travelled around Kenya. I asked the simple question that has been asked for years in Kenya, “Do tourists get treated better than we the locals?”

For many years, this question has been subject to controversy and heated debates, without a sound answer. I decided to take matters into my hands and conduct a survey on social media.

I asked my followers on Twitter and Instagram this question. After 24 hours, both surveys came back with 100 per cent YES responses.


Here is the thing, though; we have a falsified perception that foreigners get treated better because the hospitality staff expect a generous tip from them. This point was brought about in the comment section of my article last week, when readers argued about the tipping culture in Kenya. Some argued that foreigners are treated better simply because they tip better.

One reader, Samburu, commented, “Nabila, stop being stingy and give tips. All the that the poor Kenyans serving you want is tips and mostly they serve foreigners better because of their culture of tipping between 10 per cent and 20 per cent.”

Nothing in my article had mentioned that I do not tip waiting staff. I simply voiced my curiosity in the matter as per my experiences. However, as readers brought the comment section to life by arguing about the tipping culture, I decided to dive deeper.

Woman gestures for a tip
Woman gestures for a tip

By its very definition, tipping is a voluntary act of gratitude, whose discretion lies with the customer. In fact, the etymology of the word tipping cannot be traced. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word was initially used in the early 1600s to mean, "Give a small present of money".

In present day, while tipping has become an increasingly popular practice in the service industry, it is usually neither expected nor required. In other countries, especially in the Far East, tipping is considered an insult.

Therefore, the belief that foreigners are treated better because they give bigger tips is unsubstantiated. We might, however, argue that the servers expect a bigger tip from foreigners since that is the cultural front we have presented to tourists visiting Kenya.

My stance on tipping has always been determined by two factors: the service I receive and the money I have to spare. When I was a student in South Africa, I felt coerced into the 10 per cent tipping culture, because whether you like it or not, South Africans expect a 10 per cent tip at the end of the meal. Some even go as far as factoring it into the bill!


My experience from travelling in Europe was that, although tipping is not enforced, foreigners would be more willing to tip more than native Europeans.


Ideally, tipping results from excellent service received. However, others argue that to get good service, we must always tip. Another reader, Patriot, wrote, “A waiter earns minimum wage. Just tip him/her.” In a comment, Scanfish rebutted that local discrimination is a result of poor training.


Although the argument changed from how foreigners are treated better than locals to tipping, I could not help but see that even within the arguments regarding tipping, race played a major factor. Do hospitality personnel treat foreigners better because they expect better tips from them?

Our history and ancestry have influenced our preconceived notions of race and supremacy. That being said, I believe that our experiences, coupled by our ideologies, shape our stances on such topics.

Edited by T Jalio