Tipping etiquette in Uruguay is fairly straightforward. Tipping tends to be voluntary, and therefore much appreciated.
Restaurants & cafes
I would recommend tipping 10% of your bill. If you order just a drink, rounding up your change to the nearest 10 pesos is fine. Don’t tip if service was poor.
Only the most touristy restaurants include a service charge. I think I have only ever seen it included on a bill in the Port Market.
What you’re dying to ask: What is the cubierto which appears on the bill? It’s a cover charge –supposedly to cover bread and other incidentals—typically charged at many establishments. Don’t expect that if you refuse the bread it will necessarily come off your bill—but you can try!
Uruguayans do not tip taxi drivers. Even on longer drives, for example from the centre of Montevideo to the airport, a tip is optional. Really, it is perfectly acceptable to sit there and wait for your 5 pesos change if you wish.
As a consequence, don’t expect your driver to do ANYTHING to help you unless specifically asked. If you particularly liked the driver, tip up to 10%. Rounding up is also appreciated as they are usually strapped for change.
Baggage handlers & hotel porters
At the airport, tip the handler 20 pesos. Same goes for a hotel porter. Single dollar bills are handy tip material, acceptable anywhere in Latin America.
If you want to avoid handlers at the airport look steelily ahead as they approach you and do not engage in conversation.
Using the long-distance bus system, if your bag goes into the hold, it is customary to tip the baggage handler a few coins (though fewer people do this in Uruguay than I notice they do in Argentina).
Street parking attendants
For those of you driving, you will inevitably run into informal parking attendants or cuidacoches who have been a feature of Montevideo since the 1930s.
They guide you in and out of your parking space on the street. They are supposed to watch over your car while you are away, though how they are going to alert you if there’s a problem escapes me.
According to studies, cuidacoches are typically in their late 40s, have completed primary school and fallen on hard times. Most consider themselves part of the local scenery and carry out their role with good humour.
When you return to your car, tip ten pesos. If you have just parked for just a few minutes a couple of coins is fine. At night, tip more generously, such as a 20 peso note.
If you don’t have change, this apology (“Disculpe, te voy a tener que deber” – sorry, I’ll have to owe you) will elicit a good-natured thumbs-up and “No problem, neighbour!” response. And if it doesn’t – well, we all have bad days.
Petrol station attendants
No petrol stations in Uruguay are self-service. As well as pump petrol, attendants will wash your windscreen, fill your windscreen wiper bottle and put air in your tyres on request.
A 5 to 10 peso tip is appreciated for any service beyond pumping gas.
These guys jump out at traffic lights and offer to clean your front or back windows. If you accept, give them a coin or two.
If you don’t want or need your screen cleaned, just shake your head, say no, and look straight ahead.
Don’t catch their eye! If you do, before you know it, they’ll be squirting soapy water all over your wind-shield.