New Zealand has been described as having a "true" merit-based tipping culture. 

It is generally uncommon for locals (resident Kiwis) to tip except for very exceptional service.

It is not customary and not required, however, for exceptional service (particularly with Concierges or in restaurants and cafes) a tip is always appreciated. The amount is at the discretion of the tipper and would generally be in the range of 10% according to the value of the meal/services. Hospitality and service staff in New Zealand are often students or part-time workers and even professionals are not paid well comparative to other countries. Wait staff in cafes/restaurants etc do get paid a higher hourly rate than their North American counterparts.

It may be appropriate to leave an envelope with the manager to be shared amongst the staff if it is too difficult to pick one individual!

This would - if you really want to give a tip, probably be the best way to do things, as the locals do not tip, and most would prefer it was not adopted as a general custom - in New Zealand, you pay for the meal, you should not have to pay the staff as well!

On statutory holidays it is becoming common for restaurants, cafes etc to charge an additional service fee of normally around 10-15%. This is to cover the additional cost of employing staff on these days. This is in addition to the prices on the menu and signs will normally be posted stating that they will be charging this additional fee. However, this is NOT a tip/service charge that gets passed on to staff. It is an additional charge imposed by the owners to cover the increased wage rates they have to pay to staff on public holidays by law.

Hairdressers and food-delivery staff are not customarily tipped. Taxi drivers aren't generally tipped but they do appreciate it if you round the fare up to the nearest dollar so they don't have to look for change.  Occasionally they round it DOWN, for the same reason!


Maori Etiquette

If you are formally or informally visiting a Maori marae (meeting place), it is best to go accompanied by a member of the local iwi, or someone who knows the appropriate etiquette. You may be welcomed onto the marae by the hosts, typically by women of the tribe who sing a karanga (welcome song / invocation to the spirits), and it will be considered impolite if you don't know the requisite responses or what to do when coming onto the marae.  That said, Manaakitanga  - roughly kindness and hospitality is a core value of the Maori people, and they make large allowances for their foreign guests not knowing that they have breached a protocol.

 The 'hongi' is the touching of noses and may be performed as a greeting or welcome - it holds the same intimacy and context as a hug. Generally the hongi will be initiated by a handshake, or perhaps a hand placed on a shoulder. The people will lean towards each other slowly, head held straight, and press their noses together for a few seconds. It can be an unnerving experience for the uninitiated, but is a sign of respect, affection and trust!

Some key points to remember: 

  • Generally, guests on a Marae should remove their shoes  before entering any building on the Marae.
  • Do NOT sit on any surface on which food is prepared or eaten on a Marae - this is considered rude and unhygenic.
  • Younger people - especially in their teens and early twenties - should be polite and deferential to older Maori.
  • Many Maori are devout Christians and will say a blessing before each meal - do not start eating until the blessing has been said!
  • The word 'tapu' means 'sacred' or 'forbidden' or 'treasure' - avoid walking on land or touching items labelled tapu.
  • When you first arrive on the Marae - YOU, yourself, are tapu, as are all those visiting with you, and you remain so, until the greetings and speeches are over.  Once you have done the hongi - as above - you become 'noa' - blessed, and your tapu is removed.  You can then chat, and eat, with your hosts or Tangata Whenua - the people of the land.

Etiquette in general, for New Zealand


Tipping - see above, and be aware it can be a rather touchy subject, as New Zealanders tend not to like the idea of it - it's like being charged twice over for your dinner, which is seen as unfair.

Do your best not to get New Zealanders muddled with Australians, and remember that they are NOT part of the same country. New Zealanders tend to get rather upset if they are called an Australian.  If you have made a genuine blunder however, you will be forgiven quickly.

Old fashioned good manners are valued in New Zealand.  Remember to say please, thank you, excuse me, and so on.  Ill mannered behaviour will not get you good service, or faster responses.

Many people thank the driver when they get off the bus, but that is not obligatory.

Strangers do not tend to greet each other in the streets in urban areas, but in smaller towns and villages it still happens.

Maori land rights are another touchy subject.  For people from overseas, it is probably safest just to listen to a discussion, if one happens to be going on.  If you do want to know about this, ask very gently and very carefully, as many people, regardless of their ethnicity, hold very strong views on the subject.  Some Europeans feel victimised for the sins of their ancestors, others feel guilty for the sins of their ancestors, some Maori find the whole thing very embarrassing for their ethnic group, other Maori appear to feel the compensation should never end... and so on.  Also note that some tribes have done much better than others, with the settlements paid, and/or investing the money afterwards, which is another difficult topic, and causes considerable envy for the ones who have done well, while some have trusted the wrong people and lost almost all their money, and therefore are pitied or ridiculed by others.

Another difficult topic - and this one is often fallen into by tourists - is border control and quarantine.  New Zealanders can understand, that it can be very difficult for foreigners to comprehend why so much fuss is made about people who bring in a single apple.  But the country's economy almost totally depends on what is grown - fruit, vegetables, timber, and so on, and the importation of pests and disease would be devastating.  This is well known in both rural and urban areas of the country.  If you get fined by quarantine, you are unlikely to get any sympathy whatever from the locals. Just put it down to experience.

Violent crime is rare, but does happen in New Zealand.  When it does, it will be headline news from one end of the country to the other.  Like most Western countries however, if you go looking for trouble - such as arguing in the pub on Friday night - then you will find it.  Unfortunately, again as in most Western countries, women do need to take extra care - so go drinking with friends, and take a taxi home.

The Police do not carry guns as a general rule in New Zealand.  When on patrol, they generally walk in pairs, and are armed with a taser, capsaicin spray, and a short baton.  If you are lost, or need help, they will assist you.  Tourists mostly end up on their bad side by buying drugs - a very bad idea in any country, and from driving too fast.  The locals also tend to drive too fast, and terrorise each other, and the tourists. If you are arrested, they must allow you to get in touch with your Embassy or High Commission (for Commonwealth countries), and help you to contact a lawyer.  Most people are released on bail for minor offences, and summonsed to Court at a later date.  Rest assured that the Police do have Glock pistols available when required, and that an Armed Offenders Squad is called in as needed.

New Zealanders tend to be quite reserved people, but are very friendly if given space and time, and treated politely.  Being overly friendly and loud tends to unsettle them.  New Zealand Europeans - likely influenced by the Manaakitanga of their Maori neighbours, tend to boil the jug and make hot drinks for their guests, almost before they have got through the front door.  Food and drink are a very big part of hospitality, even if it is just a cup of tea and a bought chocolate biscuit.  

You do not need to dress smartly, but you do need to dress neatly.

New Zealanders will try to tell you that they have an egalitarian society.  This is not really true - socio-economic class rules here, as it does in many other countries.  However, it is true that not seeing yourself as better than your neighbour, simply because you have more money, is important here.  Social class is not usually discussed - except you might say "they have no class" - when you really mean that someone has no manners at all - this is seen as a major breach of social etiquette in New Zealand. So you might see yourself as better than your neighbour because you behave properly, but it is not a topic to be discussed except between people who know each other very, very, well.

If you are invited to a New Zealanders home - which is quite possible, due to hospitality being important, then bring some chocolates or a bottle of wine.  Use your table manners - fork in the left hand, knife in the right, as in Europe.  If you eat American style, your hosts will do their best not to raise their eyebrows.  Food is often lined up along the bench when guests come, so they can serve themselves the amount they wish.  When you have finished eating, the utensils go diagonally across the plate, handles to the left.  In Maori homes, the food will often be blessed first, and some Europeans do this too, if they attend church regularly, or if it is a special occasion.

When shopping - bargaining is not the culture.  Pay the price marked on the item.  New Zealanders only bargain when they are spending VERY large amounts of money, such as when they a car or a house.  But they don't call it bargaining, they call it an offer - and a counter offer, backwards and forwards, until the house is sold.  However, if you are spending $500 or more in a shop, it is quite acceptable to negotiate a discount, IF one has not already been offered.  Politeness and courtesy are always valued in New Zealand, but it is particularly important when negotiating for a better price - as is graciously accepting the seller's decision.