Thursday, March 03, 2011

A Tip on Tipping in France

(I recently posted a piece on the San Francisco food blog The Dish and The Dirt on tipping in France. I've reposted it below in case some of you might find it helpful. Nobody wants to short change the server, but inadvertently over-tipping is annoying too. Thanks for reading!)

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.)


- 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.
It seems there's an art to everything in France, even tipping!

11 comments:

Kalee said...

Yes, most of the world think we're odd in the way that we do things with our servers, and I've actually come to resent it. I would rather have to pay slightly more for my food because the restaurant was paying the servers more than know there are so many struggling because during a dip in the economy some people are asses and don't tip as well.

For instance, my eldest brother was a waiter at a restaurant back home, the guy ordered over $20 in food, but tipped less than 50 cents and said something about the economy to my brother. Had he been okay with losing his job he said he really wanted to hand it back to him and say, "You clearly need this more than I do."

It was refreshing in England because we had a couple places we were regulars at and finally I asked them about tipping and they said that they were paid normal wages, that tips were nice but really unnecessary. We still tipped, although less than we would here, and one time we even shut down their credit machine because it said there must be an error, the amount was too high. But it had been a birthday dinner, the restaurant had given us a free bottle of champagne and I felt the service was impeccable that night.

Still, the best way to look like an idiot tourist while traveling, I've found, is to tip too high.

Kalee said...

Sorry for the long, long comment! Something about your posts always makes me wordy!

Amy75 said...

Hi Kalee! Are you kidding?! I love your comments. You always add something interesting, plus I like hearing about your experiences when you were in the UK. I remember getting stiffed (dine and ditch/dash) when I was a waitress. It was the worst bc not only did I have to cover it out of my pocket (usually my manager was cool about it and void it), but I also had to pay taxes on the tip I didn't receive. I earned minimum wage, plus was automatically taxed on 10%of my sales (I think that's how it worked). Most of the time I had regular/good tippers to balance it out, but it was really frustrating when not only did I get a bad tip, but had actually lost money on it. I feel for your brother. Funny re the big bday tip, I tipped big recently at a resto here bc it was my husband's bday and we dined there fairly often. Re what you said about the downside to overtipping, totally agree too! My first time getting my hair done here I left a US style tip bc I didn't know. The stylist looked shocked, I realized something wasn't right. When I got home I called my French SIL and a girlfriend.

Amy75 said...

Kalee, I forgot to mention that my friends in SF told me that now restaurants w/a certain number of e'ees have to pay for health insurance and some have little stands on each table explaining why the increase in price, others put a note on the check. I can't remember. But I agree, rather pay more and know the people working there are covered. My friends said its weird seeing the explanation on the table stands (feels awkward for the servers). Like you said, in France the tips are less important bc the healthcare system here. Of course, it's still very expensive to live in a big city, but not having to worry about buying healthcare helps. Thanks again for your interesting comments :)

Aditha said...

I am so french about tipping... I never count when I leave a tip on the table, as a lot of french I think. It's what we use to call "un peu au pif"... But certainly because I'm a looser about mathematics and percentage ! :-)

Amy, your blog and posts are so interseting and smart ! More posts please, more posts ! ;-)

Amy75 said...

Hi Aditha, I'm with you re math and percentages. My husband had to explain to me "the rule of three". He was telling a story about how the Minister of Education didn't know it when asked by journalists. I looked at him with bug eyes and said, "ummm, what's the rule of three?". Something about multiplying and dividing. Whatever, I have a calculator on my phone :) Thank you for the compliment. My head is going to get big, becareful ;)

Kitty said...

OK, I'll bite... Ummmm... what's the Rule of Three?
I always tip, regardless, too many years of working in restaurants and as a server in the States, I guess. I just think it's rude NOT to, even if it's 20-50 centimes, it's something!
And as for the dip in the econ0my, well, if you can afford to eat out, you can ALSO afford to tip. I work the tip into the cost of the meal, if I can't afford to give a tip, then I'll not order dessert, or an extra glass of wine. I'm a Militant Tipper.

On the other hand, I get GREAT service, always, because I'm known for my 'Odd' tipping habits. :)
Kind regards, Kitty

Amy75 said...

Hi Kitty, Completely agree with you about always having to leave a little something. It's so hard not to. Good point about not ordering the dessert or extra glass of wine. I read your bio on your blog. Good luck with opening a tea salon. Sounds great. Also looks like you've lived in some great places. And we're both originally from Southern California :) Re the Rule of Three, I'm probably going to get it wrong. We learned it when we were young, but I'd forgotten. It's when you have 3 numbers and you need to find out the 4th. For example, you have 10 bags of flour that cost a total of 8.50; how much would 7 bags of flour cost? You divide 8.50 by 10 then multiply that by 7 for the answer 5.95. I just use a calculator :)
Thanks for stopping by!

Bluegreen Kirk said...

Yeah I really dislike people who dont tip. Especially when there are large parties of people and everyone is trying to figure what should we give. Geez just tip already! I the service was good give the waiter/waitress a tip for their service.

Amy75 said...

Totally agree, Kirk! Thanks for stopping by. Checked out your blog. Great travel info!

Tiffany said...

This is fantastic!