Welcome to Tipping Week at Cruise Critic. After reaching out to our readers, we received dozens of questions in the past few days regarding gratuities, and we’ll be answering a number of them in this space through Friday. Not surprisingly, one of the most common queries regarded alternative restaurants. Lileesa asked the question first on the Lido Deck blog: “How much is appropriate to tip at the pay specialty restaurant?” We’re glad you asked. So if you’re spending $30 for a porterhouse and some buttery asparagus at the alternative steakhouse, should you tip the customary 15 to 20 percent on top?
The answer is almost always no … unless you really want to.
According to spokespeople from Holland America and Norwegian Cruise Line, tips for the alternative restaurant wait staff are drawn from the auto-gratuity pool (HAL charges $11 per person, per day; Norwegian charges $12.).
The surcharges for Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean specialty restaurants already include gratuities; a slight variation, but the same result: There’s no need to pay on top.
Of course, no one’s going to stop you from filling the outstretched hand, if, as Royal Caribbean spokesman Harrison Liu says, you “feel that the staff delivered exemplary service.”
There are some exceptions. For instance, with Italy-based MSC Cruises, gratuity is not included in the specialty restaurant fees, so 15 percent is automatically added.
1. If you remove the auto-gratuities so you can tip manually, on, say, an NCL cruise, you might want to consider tipping specialty restaurant wait staff, since you’re tipping on a per-service basis.
2. On mainstream big-ship lines, including those mentioned above, there is almost always a 15 percent auto-gratuity included with drink orders. So that glass of wine you get at the steakhouse will come pre-tipped.
3. Royal Caribbean is experimenting with a new option at a couple restaurants on its Oasis-class ships. Rita’s Cantina (Allure of the Seas), Seafood Shack (Oasis of the Seas) and Izumi (both) now have up-front cover charges of $3 – $5 and a la carte menus. At these restaurants, no additional tip is necessary — that’s what the up-front fee is for.
4. On most luxury lines, alternative dining will be included in the cost of the fare — and so will all tips. Silversea, however, has a few added-fee restaurants, but again, the cover charge includes the gratuities.
Know before you go: Check out our feature on cruise line tipping policies.
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