Tipping in Sint Maarten | Tips in Saint Martin | Should I tip the dive crew?

05 Apr

A lot of people ask me what is the etiquette for tipping here. Not only at Octopus Diving, but also all over the island.

What do you tip in restaurants? Do you tip the taxi drivers? Do you tip the gas attendant? Do you tip the Dive crew?

After all, one side of the island is technically part of Europe and the other side of the island used to be European (or did it?) and now is just it’s own country and it who really knows which culture to follow and how to tip anyway? We all know that Europeans aren’t big on the whole tipping thing. I know, I am married to one!

This is what I do…. I tip just like I would if I were in the US. However, I do have some extra little niggles and suggestions that you can follow so that you don’t offend anyone, but also I want you to get ripped off either.

Why do people tip?

I don’t know why you tip, but I believe that people who work hard and offer great service should get a tip. It is an exchange. Great service for money. Sounds obvious, and sometimes it is someone’s job to give you great service, but tipping seriously helps (in my opinion). It also means that perhaps people treat me a little better with the promise of money!

“If you treat me well and nicely and do a great job, I will give you extra money for it.”

Let me give you an example; When I go to a bar and order some drinks I normally tip big on the first round. Then, when the bar staff sees me the next time, they will give me fast and efficient service and I don’t have to wait so long to get served. I am willing to pay extra for this, wouldn’t you? At some places the staff never know how much they are going to get tipped until the end of whatever it is they are offering (like restaurants, or the dive staff), so they just give either good or bad service depending on what they are like and then the customer decides at the end.

First of all, let’s address the dive crew. Should you tip your dive crew, and if yes… how much?

YES!!! It is typically industry standard that you do tip your crew, especially your dive guide or diving instructor. There is so much that goes on behind the scenes here to make sure that your experience with us goes as smoothly as possible and that you enjoy your dives as much as possible. For example, lugging all those tanks to and from the boat is not easy. Making sure that they are full, and really full, (so 3,100 PSI and not just 2,900 PSI) is going above and beyond. If this gives you 2 minutes extra on the dives then it is worth the 2 minutes that the crew takes in the morning to check the air pressure in your tank and top it off if necessary. They carry all your equipment, they set it up, they defog your masks, the list just goes on and on. Although we instill in the dive staff the training that this is their job to offer this excellent service (and this is what distinguished us from other centers), they don’t HAVE TO really go that extra extra mile. But they do, and they do it with pleasure, and to be honest, they would do it even if you didn’t tip them. You should still tip them, though. Most people tip between $10 and $20 for a two tank dive. So, a two tank dive with us is between $110 and $120 so this is about a 9% – 17% spread. Of course, just like with anything, some customers tip well and some don’t tip at all. When people ask me if they should tip the crew, I say “if you had a great experience then yes, it is customary to tip the crew.”

How do our staff split the tips?

Our crew collect all the tips from the week and then split them evenly based on how many days each person worked on a Friday. Then they all go out to dinner together in Grand Case.  At other diving centers that I have worked the tips are split between the particular crew on that day (so mostly between the captain and the dive guide), but here we feel like it is a real team effort. “Even if you aren’t on my boat, I am still helping you make it a great experience.” So they share tips evenly.

Here is a tip about tipping… Please bring cash to tip the staff. If you want to leave a tip on a credit card for the dive staff, it not only really messes up my accounting, but I get charged credit card fees and turnover tax on it, plus profit tax. This really adds up, so we can not accept tips on the credit card.

What about the restaurants?

I tip in most restaurants here on island (on both the French side and the Dutch side), however, I do look at the bill before I leave a tip. Many places include a 15% service charge already (which I really don’t agree with). This is especially true in Sint Maarten, on the Dutch Side.  So, I have found in the past that if I’m not paying attention, I leave a 15% tip on the bill when a 15% tip has already been added in which case it means that I am actually leaving more than a 30% trip. Sneaky! Apparently this isn’t legal (according to a totally unreliable source whom I can’t remember).  However, is common practice on the Dutch Side. At these places, I never leave extra. In fact, I will sometimes wait for my exact change because, for me, a mandatory tip goes against the entire reason for tipping in the first place.

On the French side, I don’t see this very much, but I still look out for it just in case. You also need to be careful about leaving a tip on a credit card. I have had friends working as wait staff in some restaurants on island and they tell me that they do not really get the full tip if it is left on a credit card. The owner will sometimes take out a percentage of that amount, which isn’t what you (as the tipper) are intending for that money. So, if I am paying with a credit card, I often leave the tip in cash. Of course, this isn’t true at most restaurants, but it is some. I will not name them here.

Who else do I tip?

I tip the gas attendants. Usually just a dollar or something. Why? I do it because they remember me next time I am there. On the French side the gas attendants automatically pump the gas for you, however, on the Dutch side you have to choose full service vs self service, just like in the USA. If you aren’t going back to get gas, as you don’t live here, then you may not want to. Maybe I tip for selfish reasons, because it makes me feel good to tip the gas attendant a buck. They always seem a little surprised and happy about it, so I like it.

I tip the bag boys at the supermarket. When I get a big load of groceries (I mostly shop at Le Grand Marche, but where to shop is an entire separate blog), there are always friendly “bag boys” that will pack up all my groceries. I really don’t know what I would do with out them. Chris and I normally shop once every ten to 14 days, so it always a big shop. They pack everything up and then take it to the car for me. When I am alone with Keiran, it is especially helpful. I normally tip them about 1%. So, for a $300 shop, I give them $3, $400 I tip $4 and so on. There is a big sign outside that says that they work solely for tips. I do not know if it is true, but I always tip them as they really do help me out.

Sometimes I tip in beer!

I have found that sometimes beer goes a long way. One example is when we get the boats pulled out of the water because of a storm or a hurricane, we will tip the staff at the boat yard with a crate of beer to say thanks. Why? They are more likely to take better care of our boat and get us back in the water after the storm as soon as possible so we can start diving again. Does it always work? No. Sometimes it does though, and that makes it worth it.

Another example is on Tuesday Nights in Grand Case. Every Tuesday, (for about 3 months in the high season) the entire road in Grand Case is closed to traffic from the Bridge to the very end of the Boulevard and there are street vendors, bands, and the restaurants are packed! They close down traffic into Grand Case at 6 PM and create a one way system which takes FOREVER to get through. At any rate, it is always inevitable that I will forget it is a Tuesday and find that I need to run to the supermarket for something. The problem is, I can get out of Grand Case… but they won’t let me back in. I say “No, I live here. I live on Rue Petite Plage! I just want to go home! I am not going into town, I am taking a right hand turn to where I live.” They always give me such a hard time and won’t let me pass. In the past I have taken utility bills (doesn’t work). I have called Chris, and he comes out and quietly persuades them to let his wife pass. It is literally just a few seconds from my house where they stay. However, I find now that the best way is to ask each security guard on the way out (there are about 4 at two stops) what they want at the supermarket. Then, on the way back, I just hand them a bag of chips and a couple beers (sometimes they want cookies) and then they happily let me pass with out a problem!

You can also tip the guys and girls at Octopus Diving with beer, they appreciate that too!

I hope all this helps! Any questions, please just ask.

(Sally wrote this blog 🙂 )