Waitressing in California in the early 90s, I’d immediately write off my tip the moment I heard a foreign accent. In France, however, an American accent evokes the opposite response according to my French waiter friends. As many of you know, tipping in France is different than in the States. In France, it’s (pretty much) included in the check and in the U.S. it’s not.
There is a slight distinction regarding terminology that can be confusing. A surcharge of about 15% is included in the check for table service in France which the French refer to as “le service” but what Americans commonly think of as the tip. But, in French, “the tip” or “the gratuity” is called “le pourboire”.
When dining in France, you should consider that a 15% tip is already included in the grand total of the check (“l’addition”), as is the value-added tax (“TVA” = “taxe sur la valeur ajoutée”). There is usually a separate line item before the total indicating the tax, but not one indicating le service. At the bottom of the check you might find written “service compris” or “service inclus” – highlighting that the service is included, but even if this phrase does not appear it’s in there.
For example, if the total on the check is 37€ (and this is an estimate), it means the food price is 30€, the service charge is 5€ and the tax is 2€. You do not have to leave anything more. That being said, it is customary to leave un pourboire if you enjoyed the service. Some like to round up to the next “elegant number” – if the total bill is 86€, leave 90€; some like to add an additional 5% to get the server to 20%. I think it all depends on the type of place you’re in, how long you were there, and the service you received.
Here are some random examples:
- In a café if I ordered a coffee that cost 2.80€, I’d leave 3€. If the coffee cost 2.50€ and I didn’t feel like waiting for change I’d leave 3€. If the coffee cost 3€ and I had exact change and no small coins, I might leave nothing. (But I’d probably feel guilty. Having been a waitress I can’t fight the compulsion to leave a little something. Although many French people are completely fine with leaving nothing.)It seems there's an art to everything in France, even tipping!
- If I ordered lunch and my total bill was 18.50€, I might leave 20€. If I lunched with a friend and it was 38.50€, we might leave 40€, i.e., 1.50€ extra in both cases.
- We recently dined with another couple and the bill was a bit over 300€. We paid by credit card (and in France you can’t leave a tip on a credit card unless you ask the server to add it into the total, and I’m not sure that’s always possible) and then left a 10€ bill – not 5%, but the server seemed pleased with the amount.