Americans traveling to Europe often find it hard not to tip in restaurants, taxis, and other situations in which doing so is common back home. But please do 30 seconds of research before any international trip to determine what the cultural norms are. Tipping when it’s not expected doesn’t just make you look like a stooge to locals. It can be insulting to those serving you as well.
The issue, of course, is that European servers, taxi drivers, and others are well paid, while their American counterparts—who rely on tips to get by—are not. They also enjoy excellent health care, lengthy vacations, retirement pensions, and other perks of European socialism that should humiliate anyone from the United States.
What’s interesting about tipping in Europe is that the reaction you’ll receive to any tipping attempt will vary wildly: Many servers will simply accept the tip with a thank you, making you believe that you’ve done the right thing. But I’ve had some reject tips outright, in one case actually chasing me out of a restaurant to make sure I got it back. Others, of course, will see you as the dupe that you are and claim that tips are required, a scam we’ve experienced in touristy areas, especially.
But there’s no reason to be stressed over this. Just know the rules, do the right thing, and be polite.
The rules will vary by country, of course. But that’s why you need to research tipping before you get to Europe, not after you’ve sat down in a café or cab and are worried about what to do next.
In France, for example, a service charge is included on every café and restaurant bill, and you will typically see the phrase service compris—“service included”—on the check, explicitly indicating that you do not need to tip. If you received exceptional service, you are welcome to leave an additional gratuity. You can round up the bill, leaving the change. (Be careful here, because everything under a 5 euro note is a coin in the Euro zone.) Or you can leave 1 or 2 euros, max. Not the 20 percent you’re probably familiar with from back home.
One other note about restaurant tipping: It’s typical to leave the tip on the table, typically in the tray that the waiter provides with your bill. But don’t leave the table until the waiter takes the tip—or you give it to them—because petty theft is common in these situations.
How you handle taxis and other service experiences will vary. You can always leave the change, as in restaurants, by rounding up. Or you can leave 1 to 5 euros, if it was a long trip or you enjoyed the driver’s company. (Yes, it happens, even in France, a country that is often unfairly maligned for its supposedly surly denizens.) If you take a walking or boat tour, common in bigger European cities, the guide will expect a small tip at the tour’s completion. Again, 1 or 2 euros is usually the right choice.
It’s not hard to do the right thing. You just need to learn what that it is before you leave.