Top Ten Tips On Tipping In Iquitos

by Captain Bill

Bill’s Top Ten Tips On Tipping In Iquitos

I never told anyone this before, I’m not a good tipper. Most of the  servers around Iquitos already know this from personal experience, but I never told anyone else, until now.  I’m going to change though…someday soon.

I expected to change into a good tipper last night. Marmelita and I went out to eat. The restaurant we went to had a new waitress, who needed more training. Our bill was S/90 soles. I was going to leave a S/10 sole tip.

Marmelita told me the waitress did not deserve that much.

I knew she was right, so I left a S/6 sole tip instead. Oh well, I’m trying to change for the better…

What is the custom for tipping in Iquitos?

I have been in business in Iquitos for over 10 years and during that time one of the most frequently asked questions has been some version of, “What is the custom for tipping in Iquitos?”

Hundreds of times I have answered, “I stay out of tipping. That is between you and the crew or you and your servers.”

“Yes but how much…?”

So for the first time ever, I am going to give my tips on tipping in Iquitos.

  1. Tipping is not a cultural requirement. It is discretionary. Gratuities are not included in your bill.
  2. Tipping is a way of expressing satisfaction, gratitude for a job well done, (gratuity). Exceptional service deserves a larger tip. Terrible service deserves none.
  3. We expect exceptional service from our Dawn on the Amazon crew. If you don’t receive exceptional service, our crew will not deserve your tip.
  4. Everyone within the Dawn on the Amazon family are paid fairly, at least minimum wage, and those that have been with us for long are paid above the Iquitos area average for their position. However, all of our personnel have family, with hopes and aspirations for their children, and care about their parents well being, as we all do. Many of our crew are the providers for their extended family. One young man that worked for us for years, was the only one of 24 family members living under one roof that was employed.
  5. Consider your own economic situation. If you are on a tight budget, don’t let your tip break the bank, but if a dollar does not mean so much to you, it will mean a lot to your server or guide.
  6. Special favors above and beyond the call of duty may deserve an extra tip. It’s up to you.
  7. If you want I will distribute your tips among our crew according to your directions. As president of the company, I do not personally accept or keep tips.
  8. We do not include tips with your credit card payment. Please plan ahead and have some dollars or soles.
  9. I always leave at least a small tip, unless there has been a bad mistake, or I am dealing with total incompetence.
  10. Ok, now, for the first time, I suggest that 10% is an adequate tip for good service in Iquitos, exceptional service may be 12%. Extraordinary service when they remember your name and are happy to see you might be 14%. This is low by United States standards, and maybe high by European standards where gratuity is usually included in the bill, but I think it is about right for the wages and state of the economy of Iquitos Peru in 2013.

From now on I am going to try to follow my own suggestions and be a better tipper. I look forward to going back to that restaurant again next week to see how much the new waitress has learned and maybe rewarding her with at least a 10% tip.

I don’t expect these ten tips are the last word on tipping. Let me know your opinion. Leave a comment. Thank you.

Bill’s Top Ten Tips On Tipping In Iquitos

Bill Grimes is president of Dawn on the Amazon Tours and Cruises, and host of Dawn on the Amazon Cafe.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 David Volkmann July 22, 2013 at 4:23 pm

I have been thinking for two days if I should comment or not. Your restaurant is not my favorite restaurant in Iquitos but my favorite in South America and I don’t want to be banned from eating there. So I am going to write cautiously. There are occupations that tips are part of there pay. Here in Wisconsin USA tipped employees can be paid as little as $2.35 an hour as long as there tips make up the difference to minimum wages a long with a few other rules. I am sure there are such occupations there in Iquitos. For example I have been told the porters work for tips only at the airport. So in regards to your 5th tip for tipping. If your on a tight budget and can’t tip the porter at the airport, don’t have him carry your luggage out to the taxi. If you get poor service in a restaurant its not the servers fault. Its the owner of the restaurant fault. The servers are not independent agents. In some part of South American restaurants put a service charge of 10% on the bill and that is the only pay the server gets. Everyone that I know that works for wages in Iquitos in the hospitality services, is struggling to make ends meet. I look at tipping these hard working people as another way of helping poor and depressed people. If I have enough money for a beer than I have enough money to tip. I will leave it at that.

2 Captain Bill July 22, 2013 at 10:16 pm

Hi Dave, nice to hear from you. Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Let me respond to you cautiously:) I agree with you. If the service is bad it is the owners fault for not providing more training, but when the time comes to make a decision, isn’t the amount or percentage of the tip partially determined by the quality of the service? Does not the tip for a good haircut in Iquitos exceed the tip for a lopsided haircut? There is no doubt that the hard working porters and hospitality workers of Iquitos deserve tips, the question is, how much? When a passenger goes on a cruise, what is the proper tip for the guide and crew? Will a backpacker recently graduated from college, traveling around the world leave the same percentage of tip as a wealthy businessman on vacation? Clearly there is not one easy answer to this question, only suggestions.

My best to Wilma and your family.


3 Jimbo July 22, 2013 at 11:38 pm

Hey Bill,
Great article.
This is always the question around the world.
I can tell anyone in the world I NEVER was scolded for leaving a tip that was to much, except in Switzerland.
What the hell do,the Swiss,know, dammit.


4 gringalinda July 23, 2013 at 12:09 am

I got a good tip – follow Bill’s tipping tips! I tip my hat to you, as always, amigo. I was gonna say the same; it was on the tip of my tongue! Just try not to be tipsy when calculating!

5 Jack July 23, 2013 at 9:26 am

Kind of a sensitive subject with me, with my wife being a server at many places in Peru for more than 10 years, and me as a lifetime bar fly. In the US, I have been known to tip more than 50% on occasions. First time with Blanca, and she saw my tip, she not only was surprised, but pick the tip up, gave me back half and said the server will be very happy with that. She told me tipping “too” much can actually be a problem, especially if servers don’t split tips. And some restaurant owners keep some % of tips (YROT for example). If you are with an Iquiteño, let them suggest the tip. If not, try to see what others are leaving, or follow Bill’s general tips from above. Grigolandia servers do expect a little more, because they have to put up with all of the ex-pats that do have a little more. When I am with Blanca, I always let her do that stuff, to the point of she even gets our mototaxis for us. In short, giving too much is not always a good thing. It can alienate/polarize yourself and your server(or mototaxi driver), AND it might even be going to the owner.(Thanks Bill for being a nice guy). Looking, acting, and tipping like a (nice) local with the means, will allow you to fit in better. That’s my two cents.

6 Captain Bill July 23, 2013 at 10:14 am

Hi Jack, Thanks for chiming in and for your nice compliment. I agree with you and Blanca, who we dearly miss here in Iquitos, that tipping too much can also be a problem depending on circumstances at the establishment, and how it can change expectations and thus the culture. Jack, your “two cents” are worth a million dollars to me.

My best,

Bill Grimes

7 Captain Bill July 23, 2013 at 10:19 am

Dear Gringa Linda, Your good tip – to follow Bill’s tipping tips, is just the tip of the iceberg of tipping tips. How much tip would you tip if you could tip. I would tip as much as I could tip, if I could tip you.

Thanks Linda,

Bill Grimes

8 Captain Bill July 23, 2013 at 10:40 am

Hey Jimbo, great to hear from you. As you can tell, I “like” your facebook content, dammit. No one makes me smile more than you.

9 Loren Whisenhunt July 23, 2013 at 11:05 am

Ok, Bill that is a good ten tips for South America and Iquitos in general but your last tip #10 says it all about DOTA. I have always been greeted like family, (good family) 🙂 when I arrive at the cafe. My waiter/waitress seems to always have a smile and cheerful disposition. I get attentive service, after my order is delivered I am asked if everything is to my satisfaction. The food is always good. The way I calculate DOTA staff have always deserved the 14% and generall deserve the more traditional 20% USA tip. Fortunately I am not living on a backpacker budget and can be a little more grateful for great service than others, but I feel that a gratutity should always be in your budget when you choose a restaurant.

I am looking forward to my next visit.

10 David Volkmann July 23, 2013 at 5:13 pm

YES a backpacker recently graduated from college, traveling around the world leave the same percentage of tip as a wealthy businessman on vacation in regards to the service he received. Luggage carried, drinks and food served ect. For the wealthy to be more generous is great but should not be expected and left up to him or her. Do you charge less for your services to these poor college graduates? I can see a hard working cocktail waiter or porter going home and telling his family ” my income is only half this week as my average in the past, not because I did not work as much or as hard as before, but because someone told these graduated college kids who are traveling all over the world they don’t have to leave a fair tip.” “The airlines and hotels are not giving them a discount so I have the burden of financing there vacation because half of my pay (or more ) is voluntary”. Should I or should I not press the submit button? Oh what the hell.

11 Captain Bill July 23, 2013 at 8:43 pm

Dear Dave, I knew this article would cause a little controversy since there are no hard and fast rules to go by, so that’s ok, thanks for sharing your opinion. I know you ran a restaurant for a few years also, but that was in the paradise of rural Wisconsin, not the mean streets of Iquitos.

I did not write this article living in a vacuum. After running Dawn on the Amazon Tours and Cruises for over a decade, and Dawn on the Amazon Cafe is in it’s forth year, I have personal experience to relate and the testimony of my boat crew and my waiters, most of which I am close too. I have a few stories for you.

A few years ago we took a small group of Polish millionaire businessmen on a cruise to the triple frontier. When we got there they gave everyone of our crew, including the kitchen helper, a $100 tip. We had an 8 member crew that trip.

A few months later we took two young families on a cruise, and I’m sure we did just as good a job and no one got a tip, not any.

Just today the afternoon shift at the restaurant were telling me that at approximately the same time we had a group of 7 young travelers, a group of 6 young travelers and a well dressed middle aged couple from Russia. One of our ambitious waiters took over the group of 7, another the group of 6, and the last waiter was “stuck” with just the middle aged couple. The Russian couple’s bill was only S/23 soles but they left twice as much tip as the 13 young people combined.

And we see that over and over.

So Dave, they already know. I am not going to ruin the economy with tip# 5. They already know. I don’t have to tell them. How did that happen? Natural selection!

My best,

12 Captain Bill July 23, 2013 at 8:49 pm

Hello Loren, Nice to hear from you. Thanks for joining the conversation. Your comment is much appreciated. We are also looking forward to your next visit.

My best,

13 adrian walker July 27, 2013 at 6:03 pm

Captain Bill,
I find myself in broad agreement but will point out that tipping is by and large a cultural practice. In Australia, where I hail from, wait staff are well paid, in excess of the minimum wage and so don’t generally expect tips. Tipping is frowned on in China and if you leave one it’s not unusual for the staff member to chase you and try to return the money! Hong Kong is exactly the opposite. Americans have grown up with tipping whereas Aussies and others haven’t. Of course we adapt to local custom and I always leave a small gratuuity for good or helpful service. Any restaurant on the boulevard that throws Marco out deserves a tip at the moment and I know DOTA has a good policy regarding him and other troublemakers.

14 Captain Bill July 27, 2013 at 7:39 pm

Thanks for commenting, and sharing your experience Adrian. We are in such broad agreement that my tip #1 is as you mention, (1) Tipping is not a cultural requirement. It is discretionary.

On one of my trips to the South Pacific, I was chased down outside of an establishment by a bartender on one of the islands because I left a tip. He insisted on returning it to me. Tipping is against their custom.

My best,

15 Starr Brite September 14, 2013 at 12:06 pm

I googled the question about fair tipping in Iquitos and wasn’t surprised to be directed to one of the most useful, helpful and informative blogs I have ever read. I’d just like to point out here (it’s as good as anywhere), that the advice and info on this site has been priceless in helping me begin to understand this wonderful city of Iquitos, my home for the forseeable future. So thank you to everyone who contributes to this site.
About tipping. I have worked in the service industry for many years both in the UK and Spain. For me, customer service and the way a waiter or waitress serves the clientele is of utmost importance, it really can make the difference between eating at one good restaurant compared to the other good restaurant next door.

I agree to never tip more than you can afford. A sign of good service is if the same waitress treats you with just as much friendliness wether you leave 2 soles or 5 .
This morning, my third day of eating at the Dawn on on the Amazon, I was greeted with a warm hug from the waitress who served me yesterday and just as warm a welcome from the other staff, who by now are getting to know my face. Being 7000 miles away from home and on my own, it’s the little gestures like that which can make my day, and are well worth a few soles.
So my motto when it comes to tipping is ‘ give enough to leave you both smiling, however if you find yourself frowning, it’s time to find a new place to dine’.

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