February 9, 2023

Olympia Travel Tips

Maniac Travel Update

The ultimate guide to tipping in Europe

Tipping in Europe isn’t what it used to be. Though rounding up a restaurant bill by a few pounds or euros might have been the accepted practice in the past, in many destinations, it’s now much more important to understand the percentages of your tip.

Should you be tipping housekeepers daily? And what about taxi drivers? You may have heard that French waiters are paid a solid professional wage and don’t work for tips. But how true is that in 2022? Are you undertipping or overtipping during ski season in the Alps?

It’s a veritable gratuity minefield out there. Simply knowing how much to tip can often be as awkward as knowing exactly how to tip (more on that later).

So come with us as we guide you through the choppy waters of tipping in Europe. And as we go, keep in mind that at the moment, euros and U.S. dollars are just about equal in value, so the amount of each tip listed in euros is about the same in U.S. currency.

How much should I tip in European restaurants?

A good rule of thumb when dining out in Europe — depending, of course, on the quality of the setting or the level of service provided — is to tip between 10% and 15% of the bill before tax.

However, in countries where hospitality workers typically enjoy higher wages than the norm, you may reasonably consider dialing your generosity down. Jannie Jørgensen, a professional secretary at The United Federation of Workers in Denmark (3F), the country’s largest trade union with approximately 272,000 members, told TPG, “In Scandinavia, staff do not expect tips in the way they do in other countries. Because of the Danish [labor market] model, staff here get a salary they can live off and aren’t dependent on tips.”

There is “no culture of tipping” among the Danish, she adds. Instead, it is largely up to the individual. A former waitress herself, Jørgensen says that a regular diner in Copenhagen would generally tip 10% of the bill if they receive good service.

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Of course, if the service is exemplary or somebody went out of their way to assist you — perhaps the chatty sommelier found the finest bottle of red for your perfectly cooked steak — then feel free to drop a 15% or even 20% tip in Nordic regions.

In mainland Europe, you can’t really go wrong with anywhere between 10% and 15% as a standard tip, with anything more considered a bonus.

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Should I still tip if a service charge has been added to the bill?

Depending on your point of view, adding a service charge to your bill is either a blight on the continent’s best restaurants or a handy way of eliminating awkwardness around tipping.

The good news is, if you’ve scanned the bill and spotted a service charge — typically between 12.5% and 15% — then there’s usually no need for an additional tip, though leaving some change is still appreciated.

In France, a 15% service charge (“service compris”) is automatically added to bills in restaurants by law, but it’s also still common for customers to leave a small token of a couple of euros for solid service. Being a waiter in France is widely seen as a more professional occupation than it is in many other countries, and, as such, staff are paid a higher base wage. As a result, you’ll rarely find servers hovering over your table refilling drinks with the same frenzied verve as in the U.S., but tips can still make a real difference.

In 2017, France’s Union des Métiers et des Industries de l’Hôtellerie (UMIH) even called for mandatory cash tips after the number of customers paying in cold hard currency dropped off. When considering your tip it’s worth bearing in mind the current cost of living crisis and skyrocketing inflation biting into workers’ paychecks across Europe — particularly in eye-wateringly expensive cities such as Paris.

Related: 4 European routes where you should take a train instead of a plane

While tipping may not be an expectation when service charges are included in your bill it’s worth noting that not all restaurants are up front about where their “service charge” goes. In Denmark for example, Jørgensen says the service charges on bills “usually goes to the restaurant and not the staff.” Additionally, if you choose to add a gratuity by credit or debit card, ask your server if they receive all the tips directly; they may well prefer being tipped in cash instead.

In August, Unite The Union took aim at the plush Cameron House Hotel in Loch Lomond, Scotland, after it was revealed 60 workers had been blindsided by a blanket 10% service charge that didn’t go to the staff and left them between £200 and £300 pounds ($225 and $340) a month worse off. Which raises the question…

Is it better to tip in cash rather than by card?

Liz Wyse — etiquette advisor at Debrett’s, a British company that has been coaching private clients and luxury brands as on authority on behavior since 1769 — says when it comes to tipping, cash is still king.

“It is always preferable to tip in cash. It ensures that the recipient is actually in receipt of the gratuity, and avoids making the whole tipping process cumbersome.

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“If you are paying for a service by card and there is a facility to add a tip, then you should certainly do so in preference to leaving no tip at all. Better still, ensure that you have plenty of cash available for tipping purposes at the end of your stay.”

Should I tip taxi drivers in Europe?

While tipping a cabbie is not always done up in Denmark, it is nonetheless “good karma to tip drivers,” according to Jørgensen. In fact, this is true in most European nations, where a gratuity isn’t a necessity when catching a taxi but is often gratefully appreciated.

If you encounter exceptional service (off-the-beaten-path tips for sightseeing, help hoisting large bags or suitcases into the trunk) then by all means go the extra mile in return. Just remember that taxi services in particularly touristic areas will often have steady work and slightly higher fares than elsewhere, so a huge tip won’t be expected.

Tipping in cash? The best way is to round up to the nearest euro or equivalent, which also removes the need for mental arithmetic when trying to convert currency and percentages. Again, you should consider the local cost of living standards as you may find a big disparity in average tips between wealthier nations and poorer ones.

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Should I tip housekeepers in European hotels?

According to Debrett’s Wyse: you should always tip housekeepers.

These unsung heroes are also some of the most underpaid hotel staff around, says the etiquette expert. They’re also often at the bottom of the tipping pyramid, so they tend not to get the same cash rewards from guests that are enjoyed by their front-of-house colleagues.

“In most countries €10 a week is perfectly acceptable — or €15 to €20 if you think the service was exceptional,” says Wyse. “Generally, in good hotels, you will receive excellent service whether you leave a gratuity daily or not. It is therefore easier to leave a lump sum at the end of your stay. It is a nice gesture to add a note saying thanks for the service — and this will eliminate any uncertainty about the tip. Some hotels provide envelopes for gratuities; if not, just leave it on the nightstand.”

If you’re unsure on the day you check-out that the housekeeper looking after you is working, you can also hand an envelope with money and a thank you note at reception when you check out.

Related: Mobile tipping comes to hotels: Will housekeepers really benefit?

How much should I tip European hotel porters?

Listen, we’ve all seen Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. Nobody wants to tip hotel porters (or bellmen) with chewing gum if they can avoid it.

Should you find yourself standing next to a hotel employee who’s just hauled your bags and suitcases up two flights of stairs, a tip of €1 to €2 per bag will suffice. However, if you’ve got more baggage than Jay Gatsby then maybe round it up to a crisp €5 note.

How much should I tip door staff and hotel concierge?

The fixers. The taxi flaggers. The behatted wonders who keep those revolving doors revolving. If there was a beating heart of a hotel, the door staff and concierge would be it.

With no bills in sight and much of the tipping with these heavyweights “off the books,” so to speak, we asked Wyse to break down how much you should be looking to slide them:

  • If they flag or book you a taxi: “Not essential to tip — but at most €1 to €2.”
  • If they help you plan a surprise for a loved one: “Tip is necessary — depending on the complexity of the surprise and amount of effort expended, €5-10.”
  • If they sort out tickets for the hottest show in town: “Tip is necessary — probably around €10, though tip should be commensurate with difficulty of getting tickets. If they’ve helped you secure rarely available seats, which cost €100 to €150 or more each, then you should increase your tip accordingly — to at least €20.”

Should I tip European bar staff?

Unlike in the U.S., where it’s common to tip a bartender a dollar or the equivalent of a drink, it’s practically unheard of in Europe. By all means, tip a few extra euros to a bartender who’s gone the extra mile, or drop a few euros in the tip jar before you stagger out into the night, but tipping is always the exception when you order a drink at the bar, not the rule.

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There are some exceptions, however. Germans, for example, will normally round a bill up to the nearest euro if expectations were met, and it’s a good rule to follow if you’ve just enjoyed a few frosty steins. Likewise, there may be more of an expectancy for tips among bar staff working in buzzier nightlife destinations, such as Ibiza or Amsterdam, but they won’t begrudge you for not leaving any change.

Table service, on the other hand, is a different story. In this instance, you should tip as you would in a restaurant, between 10% and 15%.

Always ensure you know how the “local” price of a pint converts to your own currency. After all, if you do want to tip on a round, there’s no point gifting the equivalent of a dollar per drink in a city like Budapest, where the average pint of local beer works out to $1.65.

“While it may seem penny-pinching to factor in the average cost of living when calculating a gratuity, it is sensible to do so, otherwise you might find that your tips are absurdly extravagant,” says Wyse. “It is not an exact science, and you should certainly err on the side of generosity in countries where the wages are lower.”

If in doubt, tip like a local

When sizing up other tables on your travels, you may find that the natives aren’t all that big into tipping. So, when in Rome, should you do as the locals do?

Emanuele Barrasso, ambassador for Italian wine brand Antinori with a long background in hospitality, believes so. “There’s not really a strict rule on tipping in Italy; it’s more of a courtesy gesture,” he says. “Leaving a tip is entirely up to the guest; it’s not a given, although it will be appreciated.”

Related: Which first-class high-speed rail service between Milan and Paris is best?

Much like in France, one of the reasons that tipping culture isn’t all that prevalent in Italy is that restaurants and cafes are likely to include a service charge (“servizie”) or even cover charge (“coperto”) from the start. Often, Barrasso adds, it depends on the sort of establishment you frequent.

“If it’s a high-end restaurant, tips are very common, although, again, they are not expected,” he explains. “If you don’t tip in places like this — up to 10% of the bill — it might be perceived as rude. Again, it all boils down to courtesy. I was in the hospitality service for many years; therefore, I am the first to recognize all the effort and length servers go to provide guests with an enjoyable experience.”

In short, just because you might look and sound like a foreigner doesn’t mean hospitality staff will be expecting you to line their palm with silver. Take it on a case-by-case basis, depending on the level of service and where you find yourself.

How can I hand someone a tip without looking awkward?

Want to avoid any clunky moments when handing a cash tip to a member of staff? Remember these four pointers, says Wyse, and you can’t go wrong:

  • “Have the money ready, no fiddling in pockets, bags or wallets.”
  • “There is no need to conceal the money and press it into the recipient’s palm.”
  • “Simply hold out the folded note or coins with your right hand and accompany the gesture with a smile and a thank you.”
  • “If you intend to shake hands with the person you are tipping, do so after you have handed over the money as a valedictory gesture.”

And whatever you do, don’t pile a bunch of random coins into someone’s grasp, or make a show of not having any change. It’s a straight-up no-no:

“Always make sure you have small-denomination notes, or large-denomination coins, ready when you are going to tip,” Wyse says. “Emptying out your pockets and filling someone’s hands with a random assortment of loose change is rude. It’s also rude to look in your wallet, fish out a 50-euro note, and then say ‘I’m so sorry, I don’t seem to have any small change.’ This will come across as patronizing.”

Bottom line

Tip well for excellent service. Tip fairly for good-to-average service. Don’t tip at all for terrible service.

Look to see if a service charge has already been added to a bill, and if not, base your tip on the amount before tax is added. If you’re looking to tip on a credit card, then be sure to ask if the staff will actually receive it. Try to leave cash whenever possible.

Above all, be courteous and patient. This is a two-way street; you may find being a nice human being scores you better service than any wad of cash might do.