Tips on Tipping in Europe

Rule of thumb: Visitors often ask me how much they should tip in the UK and Europe. In the receipt pictured here, the restaurant suggested an optional tip of 10%, which is fairly standard. Most restaurants don’t include tip in the bill, though some do, so pay attention for that. Occasionally they’ll suggest an amount between 10%-12.5%, but 10% is fine. For good service, round up. Pretty straightforward.

Where there’s a rule, there’s an exception: I couldn’t quite figure out what I was supposed to do in a pub. You order your food and drinks at the bar; they pour your drinks there but bring the food out to your table later. The first time I ordered at the bar, I had some money out and was ready to tip. It’s hard to explain the particulars, but something about the situation made me think, maybe I’m not supposed to. At a New York bar, you can read the body language: it practically screams, Where’s my tip? By contrast, here I’d order a pint and some fish and chips, leave no tip and hope and pray there wouldn’t be spit in my food later.

Thankfully, I got some clarity recently: I read an article that said you’re supposed to tip at restaurants where you receive table service—in other words, when a waiter comes to your table to take your order. At pubs where you order at the bar, you’re not expected to tip. The article also recommended that if you’d like, you could offer a tip by saying, “And one for you.” This means that you’re tipping the bartender by buying him or her a drink, the cost of which will be included in your bill. It seems like a roundabout way of doing it, but I suppose it’s as though you’re treating the bartender like a peer, rather than as a server. But you’re also paying a hefty tip for it, up to 100% if you’re just getting a pint for yourself! I’m guessing this is more a thing for regulars who drink quite a lot and often. I haven’t ever actually seen someone do this, and I probably won’t be giving it a try anytime soon.

Preying on tourists:
A) The time I was overly suspicious. Regarding Prague, the guidebooks, several friends and the tour guide ALL warned of the ways in which Prague’s culinary establishments try to cheat you of a few crowns (the Czech currency) here and there. There will be peanuts on the table, they warned, but you will be charged! Don’t eat the bread or touch the butter, you will be charged an arm and a leg! So S and I were wary when we sat down at a local pub and saw a plate of peanuts. We asked the waiter to take them back. He later brought out a basket of bread with our meal, and again we asked him to take it back. His English was not the best, so he said something along the lines of “It comes with it,” but I wasn’t clear on what that meant. So we called over yet another waiter, who in a slightly piqued tone told us to just eat it because it’s free. Haha. So much for that.

B) The time I was not suspicious enough. In Vienna, J and I stopped by a small restaurant, the name of which I no longer remember, near the Hofburg Palace. The waitress was not kind to us at all—pretty surly in fact, maybe because we only ordered one main and a soup to share. Hey you know, Austrian food sits heavy with all that pork and potato! She brought us some bread and told us we would be charged extra, so we asked her to take it back, which she did. But when we went to pay the bill, there was a surcharge of €2.80. I asked what that was for, and she said, “We have a tax.” That seemed strange, but we only had five minutes to make it to our next location, so I shrugged off my doubts for the sake of expediency. But when I stopped to think about it later, I slapped my forehead. The VAT (value added tax) is included EVERYWHERE in Europe. How did I not think of that? Or pay more attention to the tell-tale fact that some German word (probably meaning “bread”) next to the €2.80 had been crossed out, but the charge remained? I should have known. But on the other hand, who flat-out lies to a customer?? I wish I remembered the name of the restaurant, cuz I’d write up some scathing reviews. Good thing we undertipped!

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8 thoughts on “Tips on Tipping in Europe

  1. In Spain we never tip for drinks and leaving some change is sufficient for meals. I’ve gotten so accustomed to not tipping, that I nearly forgot the last time I was in New York!

    1. Definitely! Since writing this post, I’ve learned that it’s fairly common in more countries than I expected to simply round up to the nearest Euro. But I still can’t help tipping between 5-10%. It’s the reverse for me—years of living in New York made tipping such a habit, I feel wrong not doing it!

      1. hehehe – yes I can see that. Luckily the social services and especially healthcare is so much better in European countries, that people don’t need to live off their tips! One point for Europe!

  2. I checked several restaurant receipts: All of the receipts I have in front of me spell out the percentage of tax you pay and how much, in Euros. You probably did not get “scammed”. In seven years of living here, not once have I encountered a problem with a restaurant bill.
    It would have been easy to check, by adding up the numbers yourself.

    1. It’s in the long-gone past by now, and three euros wasn’t really worth quibbling over anyway. But I’m pretty sure we got slammed with extra surcharges, and the same thing happened to a friend when I was back in Vienna a month later. So I admit to being a bit of a skeptic, much as I loved the city generally!

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