Tipping Points: I’ve Already Paid $30 — Do I Have to Tip at the For-Fee Alternative Restaurant?

July 25, 2011 | By | 33 Comments

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.
Four caveats:
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.
Get tipping advice from our cruise insider. He’s a generous man.
Get your very own Lido Deck subscription.
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    33 Responses to “Tipping Points: I’ve Already Paid $30 — Do I Have to Tip at the For-Fee Alternative Restaurant?”

    1. JB
      July 25th, 2011 @ 6:26 pm

      We’ve always received exemplary service at the specialty restaurants, so we’ve always tipped generously. And the one time where there was live entertainment, we left a nice tip for them as well. It’s actually a pleasure to tip when you truly want to reward special service, as opposed to 95% of the time in life, when I tip because it’s expected for merely adequate performance.

    2. Alice Neuwirth
      July 25th, 2011 @ 8:02 pm

      We too have found excellent service at the specialty restaurants. My DH normally leaves a 15-20 percent tip based on the cost of the specialty restaurant. But we have gotten mixed messages about how to do it because once we were told to do it in cash to the waiter and another time told to just add it to the \bill.\

    3. Suzanne
      July 25th, 2011 @ 11:34 pm

      Very interesting to know. Hubby and I have made a point of not doing the auto gratuities in the past because we go to the fee based dining options fairly regularly so we usually tip according to service in the fee based locations and according to service and number of nights visited in the main dining room. Good to know that the gratuity is already in the specialty restaurant… but we’ll still probably tip on top of it – because the service is so amazing!

    4. Edith Smith
      July 27th, 2011 @ 9:47 am

      When you are automatically charged dollars per day per person for gratuity, this is NOT TIPPING> You pay regardless of your service.
      Cruise lines jsut need to add this fee to the price of the room or pay their employees better.

      Tipping is for the extra services you receive.

    5. Erica
      July 27th, 2011 @ 9:58 am

      My husband and I don’t tip in the specialty dining. We have received good service many times, but really nothing that stood out from the normal waitstaff in the main dining room.

      I feel that the $30 fee we’re paying per person more than covers any tip.

    6. Mitch
      July 27th, 2011 @ 1:04 pm

      Wife and I use the speciality restaurant all the time ,sometime twice a cruise.. We just totally enjoy it, and we tip very generously. Its all part of the cruise experience for us.. We have never had have bad service, just sloooowww service sometimes..carnival Dream 10/1/11

    7. Elizabeth
      July 27th, 2011 @ 4:18 pm

      This discussion brings up a question for me. On a Princess sailing we sat at the’chefs’ table dinner. I didn’t tip because I thought it was included in the auto gratuities or the cost of the dinner. Now I’m not so sure? What about these special meals. We have always paid the amount suggested by the cruise line. We will add an extra tip for our cabin steward or an especially helpful head waiter. We usually choose ‘anytime’ dining and rarely get the same waiter. Though on long voyages we have tipped wait staff beyond the recommended amounts. What about these special meals? They choose really good staff to serve this dinner and wine was included in the meal. Was the tip included too?

    8. Hansen
      July 28th, 2011 @ 4:00 pm

      I’ve always tipped at these restaurants. Why, because the quality of food I get at these restaurant usually far exceed my expectations. For two people, if i paid $60.00 TOTAL for my dinner for two, that’s means that my dinner itself was about $50.00 for two. That’s an average dinner for me at a casual restaurant. The quality of the dinners I get at the specialty restaurant (not all of them unfortunately), I equate closer to a $100/person meal by itself. If i’m only paying $30.00 for it, then I feel that I’m seriously underpaying for the service I received for such a fine dining experience, so tipping to me, is a no brainer. When I was on the Carnival Liberty several years ago, I went to Harry’s Supper Club. The experience with the food and service there, I did not find a landbased rival until I went to Morton’s. You can easily spend $200/person at Mortons and here on this cruise ship, I spent $35.00 for this same experience. Of course, I’m going to tip.

      HOWEVER. I have been to two restaurants on Royal Caribbean (Sabatinis and Chops on Jewel of the Seas) where I was disappointed with the food and the service. The food was no better than the dining rooms. They made it look prettier, but it tasted pretty much the same. here, I felt I wasted my fee for an experience that was subpar. Here, I was justified at not tipping, even though the then fiance insisted that we still tip.

      Bottom line, if you truly enjoyed your dining experience, forget what people say. Show these people who bend over backwards to give you an awesome vacation.

    9. iluvit!
      July 29th, 2011 @ 8:02 am

      Should you tip as a percentage of your cruise fare? These people who talk about eating at $200 per person restaurants are probably not staying in an inside cabin on the riviera deck. If you can afford a balcony or suite, you should be able to tip more. Also, i believe that the higher up the deck, the better the service–the new guys start at the bottom. In a restaurant, your tip is based on the amount of your check, so why not base cruise tips on the amount of your fare?

    10. Jonathon
      July 29th, 2011 @ 4:20 pm

      While cruising Oasis Of The Seas I asked the waiter at Giovanni’s Table (specialty venue) “How much tip do you receive from the $15 per person fee, not to be rude?” He replied 85 cents per person! SO LEAVE A TIP! These people are there to make money, not for their health. We left $50 extra at 150 Central Park, $10 at Giovanni’s and $20 at Chops Grille. Now you all know good and well that if we can all afford the cruise fare then a tip isn’t a problem. So, I say, tip or stay in the MDR!

    11. Jim
      July 29th, 2011 @ 5:04 pm

      I’ve already paid for the cruise, and I paid more for the alternative dining, so I feel that the tip from my pre-paid gratuities and drinks is enough. If you want me to tip more, lower the cruise price.

    12. Dan Murphy
      August 4th, 2011 @ 6:28 am

      Pay the people for the job and include it in the price. This idea of tipping or gratuity is crazy and you don’t see it in Europe.

      In France, the price of the meal is the price.
      Nothing extra expected.

    13. Teresa
      August 10th, 2011 @ 10:45 am

      I agree in this day and age the idea of tipping is crazy.It is insulting that a person’s wage should be reliant on the largess of others.Shame that the C.O”s aren’t paid in the same manner!

    14. Teresa
      August 10th, 2011 @ 10:51 am

      I agree that in this day & age tipping is crazy. It is insulting to both the giver and the receiver that a person’s wage is reliant on the largess of others. Shame that the governing body don’t have a similar system then this outdated method of remuneration would be confined to history.

    15. Lillian
      August 15th, 2011 @ 6:41 pm

      Hansen, I too was on Liberty and ate in Harrys Steak House and I must tell you if was the worst I ever had on any ship specialty Restaurant and they even charged me $14.00 cork fee to open my wine which was the best part of the meal!

    16. Michael Cohen
      September 8th, 2011 @ 10:29 am

      I agree with Jonathon(#10)! Forget the cost of the specialty dinner. If your service was impeccable, the food to YOUR expectations,(or better) AND you can afford the extra $10 of $20
      GIVE it! The wait staff will remember you and appreciate it MORE than we could imagine!!!

    17. Betsy
      September 14th, 2011 @ 10:13 am

      Hansen, Tipping should have NOTHING to do with the quality of the food served. Tipping should be based upon the quality of the service. Nothing irks me more than going out with people who reduce a tip because the food was not up to snuff. As long as the server does everything in their power, to remedy the situation, the server should NOT be penalized. Chances are, the dish that was unacceptable, will be taken off of your bill. I know a cruiseship meal includes grautity in any of the restaurants. Then tipping above this is entirely up to you. But in everyday life, this isn’t the case. Suck it up and tip based upon the SERVICE, not the food.

      I was a server for many years, quite good at what I did as well. But food quality was mostly out of my control. Food for thought!!

    18. Shine Bright
      October 27th, 2011 @ 6:31 pm

      Is $5 really an issue to even talk about?
      It’s $5!!!!!!
      Make someone happy!

    19. Greg
      January 28th, 2012 @ 8:11 pm

      Celebrity specialty restaurant fees include gratuities so no need to add in more unless something was extraordinary and went beyond the level of service you normally receive. 15% is also automatically added to anything you choose from the wine menu as well. For Murano and Tuscan Grill, the $30 fee increased to $40 late last year. I noticed these servers appear a lot more experienced and knowledgeable on food than your average MDR server. This as well as the higher quality food is what I am paying the $40 upcharge for. Its already covered folks.

    20. Marne Jameson
      January 29th, 2012 @ 10:29 am

      We cruise 2-4 times per year since 1967 and have seen many changes in cruise during thee years. Initially we removed the auto-tip feature and tipped as we had in the old days-handing the envelope directly to the service person as we shook the hand of the server. The envelope always contained more than the recommended amount as we received superior service, along with a personal note of thanks. Since then we settled on using the auto-tipping to ensure all the behind the scenes personnel were take care of and we trusted the cruise line was doing that.

      As a veteran cruiser I know many of the ship’s personnel simply because we sail many of the same ships repeatedly. Knowing crew and officers, we asked about tipping and here is what we heard over and over:

      IF you get the service expected from your cabin steward, wait staff (assuming assigned dining room table) – tip the recommended amount or more if you asked and receiver the higher service.

      IF you requested something special in the main dining room, tip the maître d according to how much you requested and received. Correcting the assigned DR is NOT above their duties, it is one of their regular tasks. However, requesting and receiving table side food preparation, special food (I requested champagne sorbet) tip a small amount. I gave him $20 for the sorbet, it would have been more, but he acted like it could not be done. I had sailed on the same ship before and this sorbet was offered between courses without a charge. I provided the champagne for the sorbet, which I requested. Had he not acted up the tip would have been higher.

      REGARDING the “specialty” restaurants which charge a fee, OVERWHELMINGLY I was told by the crew and officers, the TIP IS INCLUDED IN THE FEE. I continued to check this out and received the same information over and over from the staff. However, if there is no fee for the meal, the tip is included in the auto-tips that are automatically added to your on-board charges.

      Hope this helps,
      Marne the Cruisin’ Fool
      I was addicted to cruising in 1967.
      There is no treatment, only treatment-another cruise!

    21. Di
      February 23rd, 2012 @ 6:45 pm

      We always tip generously in the specialty restaurants because we receive excellent service. We also pay the auto amount of $12 per person, per day on NCL and tip our cabin steward a good bit extra.

    22. Mary
      March 7th, 2012 @ 6:10 pm

      We were just on a 28 day cruise on the Grand Princess and we tipped additional. I think that Princess should offer the paper that goes in the envelope so that waiters, room stewards, etc. know that you are tipping over. They usually do not get their tips until days later, so when you tip extra, they do not know and assume you took your tips off. We found this off quickly. The second week the dining room waiter and assistant came to us and said, you already tipped us. We said, we know, this was extra for the wonderful service we had. After that, they said they had 2 eyeballs on our table at all times. Same with our room steward. However, others were complaining because we were getting more service than them, in the dining room and the room. We even had someone come in our room when our room steward was there and wanted to know why his room wasn’t cleaned first. That was the day I was sick and asked him to clean our room because I got a cold, because soooooooooo many people do not cover their mouths in the elevator when coughing, or at the buffet. Any other time, we didn’t care. SOME PEOPLE…maybe if they would tip and appreciate the service and realize IT IS A PRIVILEGE TO BE SERVED. For me, I do all the cooking, serving, cleaning, etc. all the holidays, etc. this is vacation and we both appreciate the EXTRA they do. And, you will find, if you tip, they will do more for you.

    23. Mary
      March 7th, 2012 @ 6:11 pm

      Another comment, when you take your tips off, the dining room staff, room steward, etc. haveto give that money to the pool and then it is divided up. Keep that in mind.

    24. Robert
      May 13th, 2012 @ 8:03 am

      It would be great to get some clarification about tipping for Disney’s upcharge restaurants! Palo’s is now $20 per person & Remy’s is $75 per person, no where does Disney say that this cover’s the tip for your server’s!

    25. Gary
      April 18th, 2013 @ 2:49 pm

      Wow…amazing that people still are stuck with the mindset of trying to get out of something (finding any excuse not to toss a couple more bucks someone’s way) to make another’s life a little more tolerable. I was a waiter in college, years ago and busted by butt often to make others pleased with my service – and sometimes people tipped generously, sometimes not. What goes around comes around though. Like another poster mentioned, is it really going to kill you to tip 15% on a $30 dinner? Come on…don’t be a tight wad.

    26. JoRaye
      January 23rd, 2014 @ 8:48 pm

      So many cruises and we have never been let down. Every one is always very helpful and very good at their jobs. We always tip extra just because the wonderful experience.

    27. CruisinGrams
      February 8th, 2014 @ 5:48 pm

      We have always tipped but we found out on our Med. cruise that if you put the tip onto the bill it will go into the tip pool. So if you want to make sure your waiter is recognized for his/her service then pay them cash.

    28. PegasusGM
      May 20th, 2015 @ 11:45 pm

      When I stay in the suite and I have a butler, eat mostly in specialty restaurants, half of my $12.95 a day/pp to the tip pool should go to the butler. He is the one who did something. We don’t eat in the main dining rooms because the service and food has gone down hill. Our last room steward was horrible. He left a rag on the lamp. Whined about how he’d rather be home and how poor he was, the room was dirty. I even found someone’s foam ear plug under my bed.

    29. bandit's wife
      May 23rd, 2015 @ 8:38 am

      We’ve never dined at the specialty restaurants, we always felt the MDR food was fine for us. But on our next cruise, 3 specialty restaurant experiences were included in the base cruise price- do we tip since we won’t be billed? I also might add that we didn’t book the cruise because of these upgrades, it was just a pkg being offered. We don’t necessarily want these upgrades.

    30. Lance Sterling
      August 3rd, 2015 @ 6:06 am

      I can’t understand this tipping business as in Australia everyone gets a fair wage so we don’t have a culture of tipping. We are new to this cruising phenomenon where we pay the obligatory $12.00 per person a day plus 15% on drinks. Yet crew expect further tips for just doing their job. It is demeaning and perpetuates the Master/Servant model that we never had in this more egalitarian society. I feel like ‘Lady Bountiful’ as I distribute my largesse to the great unwashed peasantry. What utter rubbish.

    31. Workedon Cruise
      October 14th, 2015 @ 4:03 pm

      Worked on a cruise years ago. Nobody cares about tipping on a cruise ship unless you take off automatic tipping or tip a 4 figure amount (or larger) in the bar/casino during the beginning of the cruise. Every staff member knows the name and people that opt out of automatic tipping on every cruise line. I don’t remember any pressure to tip above automatic gratuity on the cruise since it is less than a penny on every dollar tipped since it is split about a 1,000 ways. Every employee on the cruise receives the pooled tip include speciality restaurants and the guy who serves water.

      If you tip a close to 4 figures or higher at the beginning of the cruise expect great service. (Almost always is at the casino if it happens)

      Every person on board gets a pooled tip with the exceptions of highly paid staff (captain, maintenence employee making a 100k…). Nobody receives bad service unless they take off automatic tipping. Only way to receive exceptional service if you tip a huge amount. If you received bad service and didn’t take off automatic tipping then it is a garbage employee and you should get a Manager plus write a bad review. Enough bad reviews they fire you.

    32. MT
      October 20th, 2015 @ 3:36 pm

      I have taken over 25 cruises, and always tip my room steward in cash, generally $20.00, for a 5-6 night cruise, right when I get on the boat. I don’t do it to expect superior service, but just because it’s the right thing to do. Don’t want to sound pompous, but a twenty dollar bill means a hell of a lot more to the room steward than to me. Regarding MDR service, I do the same thing to our table’s waiter, after the first night’s meal. Also, I generally tip my waiter a ten dollar bill, if I eat in any specialty restaurant. This is all above the standard $12/person/day pre-paid gratuities. Hey, if I’m lucky enough and blessed enough to afford a $2,000.00 cruise, dropping an extra $100.00 cash on tips over a week seems pretty fair & reasonable.

    33. Marie
      November 22nd, 2015 @ 7:43 pm

      MT — Thank you for your wonderful comment above! I have always had a problem with paying extra tips to the room stewards and waiters. I totally agree with you, and plan to do the same, although I’m not sure about tipping them in advance(?). I have previously tipped them daily or when we disembark. So, now your comment has me considering tipping in advance. That way I don’t have to worry about it for the rest of the trip!

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