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Mar 13, 2012 03:17 PM

Tipping at Restaurants in Spain

A few of my friends and I are hitting a number of the nicer restaurants in Spain (Tickets, Arzak, Mugaritz, Etxebarri, a couple others). I am from America, but have been to Europe, several different countries, and I know that tipping there is not what it is here. Given the seemingly exquisite service of these restaurants, what tipping procedures have you used? As high as in America? Do many of these restaurants include tip? I am not against the tipping, I'm just going with some friends who don't realize the overall bill they just signed up for, so I'm trying to soften the blow.

Thanks for all your help. And I looked for another thread on this in the Spain board and couldn't find one, so sorry if I missed it.

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  1. Service charge (15%-ish) is usually included in the meal prices.

    For tapas bar places, I usually round-up the amount and add a couple of euros.
    For "restaurants", I might (rarely) add up to 5% additional to the service charge.


    1. The restuarant you mention probably are tip inclusive. Some places openly add a "service" charge to the ticket. Since we were American and did not speak English we required a bit more attention from the staff than a Spanish resident would, therefore, felt a little extra was warranted for the added effort on behalf of the wait staff.

      I wll caution you, if this is your first trip to Spain, service , except perhaps in the high end places, in Spain is lousy to non-existent. It reminded me of service in the Eastern European countries in that they don't seem to have caught on yet. I tipped a few bartenders who were less surly or negligent than usual (around .30) and their eyes would light up and they became very grateful and, at times almost effussive. (The sam with the shuttle drive who took us to the airport)). It was like a friend of mine told me that when you order a canyo(is tht correct) of beer, order two because you may never see the waiter again. What is amazing is if these guys were halfway decent to tourists, they could increase their take home substantially.

      11 Replies
      1. re: singlemalt

        I have reread the second paragraph of your post a few times and I have to take issue with what you have said. You seem to regard Europe as undeveloped in some way - we are not a backward outpost of the States that has not "caught on yet". We have our own, very varied, cultures which are different to North America.

        I would say that the fact that we do not have a culture of tipping 20% as you do in the States shows that we are more progressive, and we don't want that to change. The fact that "acceptable" levels of tipping in the UK seems to be increasing from a token gratuity to 10% and now 12.5% is not a sign of progress, but a backward step in my mind. I don't want restaurant staff who are unable to live on their wage, nor service which is dictated by the anticipation of a tip, and I don't want "very grateful" and "effussive" waiting staff. In most of Europe, working in a restaurant or bar is seen as a proper profession, and thus tips are not expected and waiters are professional, but neither effussive nor grateful.

        You have expectations of service in the US which will not be met here. We are a different continent, where the people - particularly in Mediterranean countries - are not desperate to be sold another beer as soon as they have finished their first, and where waiting staff do not go for the hard sell and don't feel the need to be grateful for our custom.

        1. re: Theresa

          I totally agreed with your post. Thank you for putting it so eloquently.

          1. re: Theresa

            Nice one, Theresa. I think that sets out the cultural differences quite precisely.

            1. re: Theresa

              Well put.

              And even though sometimes - accent on the sometimes - I do tip more than what most Europeans do, it is only because I am exceptionally happy, not because I am rewarding a grateful gushing staff, shudder.

              1. re: Theresa

                I think you're reading into the post more than is actually there. I took it as a warning that service is more relaxed in Europe. When I moved from San Francisco to San Diego I experienced the same thing. San Diego is not less developed than San Francisco but the service is noticeably worse--bordering on bad. After a few months I hardly noticed the difference, but I am reminded when I travel.

                1. re: Theresa

                  Very well said, Theresa. I couldn't agree more.

                    1. re: Theresa

                      Theresa, I totally agree with your post and would take it a step farther. Unlike in the US, in Spain, meal time is an important ritual. Notice how other diners passing by your table will wish you a "buen provecho."

                      In Spain, the servers take your orders and serve the food. They don't want to be in the way of the intimacy that you are sharing with your fellow diners. In the US, we want the servers to be continually asking us "how is everything?" "are you all set?" and pouring us water after each sip is taken from the glass--or clearing plates before everyone has finished eating. That definitely wouldn't fly in Spain.

                      1. re: ChrisB

                        Chris - you identify the point that Theresa and I were making about the differences in the general style of service in Europe and the general style of service in America. I could almost say that one of the marks of a "good restaurant" in the UK is that you are never asked "how is everything". Whereas the opposite seems to be a requirement for many Americans.

                      2. re: singlemalt

                        I disagree completely with your comments about service in Spain. I have found with few exceptions service to be professional and efficient.

                      3. As Maximilien indicates, tips are not usually required in Spain, except for perhaps a minimal amount if there's been exceptionally good service.

                        As you have travelled to Europe before, you will know that our style of service is different from the American style. You'll find service in Spain to be generally efficient and professional - for most servers, it's a fulltime job and many will be long serving employees

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Harters

                          Thank yall very much. As usual, it has been most helpful and I greatly appreciate it.

                        2. I'm going to go out on a limb and "break a lance" in support of what singlemalt says. It might not be nice to hear it but he hit the nail on the head.

                          Service in Spain, and not just in restaurants, is generally subpar. The culture of service that exists in the US and Canada is absent here, and when you've experienced that, with few exceptions the treatment you'll get in Spanish restaurants/shops/bars/public institutions etc is not up to snuff. The situation of waiting staff being even more motivated by relying on the tips they get only exacerbates the problem.

                          Theresa I also completely disagree with your comparison about the attitudes towards jobs in Europe vs the US. Outside of fast food, I would argue that being a waitress/waiter/bartender is seen as much more of a profession in the US than in Europe, especially than in Spain, where the turnover is much higher and the general perception is that it's sh*t work. Why is this? Because (again, outside of fastfood) you can make a very decent living as a waitress/bartender etc as opposed to the vast majority of establishments in Spain which hire people on lousy temporary contracts for minimum pay, virtually no tips, working far more hours than they're hired to but being "compensated" under the table. This is the rule here, not the exception, though exceptions to this rule exist.

                          10 Replies
                          1. re: avrv1

                            "......service that exists in the US and Canada is absent here,"

                            Thankfully true.

                            I have experienced the style of service in North America, over many years - at most levels of rsstaurants. And I'm absolutely sure that I prefer the style we generally have here in Europe and, in particular in Spain (which I visit once or twice a year and have done for 30 years)

                            1. re: Harters

                              In so many of these situations I'm left wondering whether the person complaining about service is making enough of an effort to respect and understand the culture and etiquette of the country in question.
                              I've found that when entering any business a nice greeting to the "staff" (in the right language) and simple friendly courtesy beget the same. With that and a healthy dose of patience, I never seem to run into problems with service in Europe.
                              I guess it's hard for some to comprehend the gap between the standard European expectation of courtesy and respect between people and the American expectation of servile service.

                              1. re: caganer

                                Let me relieve you of the arduous task of wondering if the person in question (in this case, me) is "making enough of an effort to respect and understand the culture and etiquette of the country in question"

                                Suffice it to say that when it comes to Spain, I'm not exactly a tourist.

                                1. re: avrv1

                                  No need to be nasty. This is a discussion board where many people express opinions. I said nothing about you directly - you'll note I said "in these situations" ("these" not "this," which would apply to yours specifically).
                                  And I'm not sure, from your comments, that you are approaching the service issue from a truly culturally sensitive position. If you know that in Spain it's not the norm for service to be quick and fawning, as in the states, why on earth would you go to Spain expecting such service? And to complain about not getting what you know not to expect...
                                  As to the question of which style of service is better, I think any reasonable person would agree that we all have different expectations. Not everyone wants his/her interactions with shopkeepers, waiters or anyone else to be tainted with the sort of disingenuous kindness and servility we Americans think of as good service. (I know that the kindness of servers isn't always disingenuous but often is)
                                  We don't all have to agree on this. It's purely subjective. Some of us dislike the sort of service others demand. That's fine. Our opinions of which is better will depend a great deal on or personal outlook on life and our place in the world.

                                  1. re: caganer

                                    caganer - agreed on your final sentence. May I also add in (as I'm not sure if this is what you also intended) that I think attitudes are very conditioned to preferring what we know best. So, in general, Americans will prefer American style service; Europeans will prefer European. On the wider issue, I often find travels in America to be more "foreign", than travels within Europe (even though those travels are often to countries where I do not have much command of the language)

                                    1. re: Harters

                                      I think some of us do prefer what we know best but I also think the opposite can be just as true.
                                      I've always been drawn to travel precisely because so much is new and unusual for me. I like the pace of life in Spain. I think being forced to slow down and be patient has been good for me. I get plenty of hurrying and salesmanship in my everyday life.
                                      I'm fairly used to "good" American service, I grew up with it. I just hate it. It aggravates the lefty-yuppie conflict that is my internal struggle. The service issue is an especially complicated one, really.

                                    2. re: caganer

                                      I'm sorry caganer if you thought I was being nasty - I responded the way I did because that's the impression I got from your previous post.

                                      When I made the original comment I made I should mention that I was not thinking of high-end restaurants. I've been to high-end restaurants in multiple countries in Europe, Asia and the US, and I find the style and quality of service to be fairly uniform (high)

                                      What I was referring to were the more normal level restaurants (and maybe known as bars in Spain), where I do find a derth of quality. But I stress this isn't something I see exclusively in restaurants - the customer service from shops, telecom companies, public organisms, utilities and a long etc is much worse than what I experienced in the US.

                                      I also grew up with American service - after a decade's absence (except short periods) I find I miss it dearly.

                                      1. re: avrv1

                                        "the customer service from shops, telecom companies, public organisms, utilities and a long etc is much worse than what I experienced in the US."

                                        Never move to Philadelphia.

                                        Understood about the rest, and "nasty" was too strong a word.

                                        I'd also add that in some cases, shops in Europe do a much better job. Think of the wrapping jobs done by many of the best bakeries and food shops (and boutiques of other types) There just aren't many places in the US that go to the trouble of ribbons and wrapping paper for a few bars of chocolate or soap. That's service as well. Maybe I'm not slumming it as much as I think I am, but I don't think the places I'm thinking of are particularly high-end, just good traditional places.

                                        Other than that, I'd settle on concluding that with we all bring along our own unique sets of qualities and characteristics, opinions will differ and definitive statements one way or another will never suit everyone.

                              2. re: avrv1

                                avrv1 - The working conditions you describe sounds like what happens in the most touristy areas of the country - areas which have suffered through too many visitors ignoring local customs, which kind of proves the point I was making. When I have travelled through other parts of the country it is completely different and is much like other parts of Europe.

                                1. re: Theresa

                                  I don't think this is limited to or mostly found in the most touristy areas. It's more like the general tonic. I don't really frequent touristy areas but most bars/restaurants I've come to know fit this description. The family owned/run places tend to be the exception to the rule.

                              3. In response to the original question, my policy is the following:

                                For a menu of the day, 20-25€ for 2 people, I generally round up to the nearest euro, leaving a minimum of €0.50

                                For cañas, I also round up or leave small change.

                                For a "normal" dinner or weekend lunch in the range of 30-50€ for 2, I would leave a tip of €2-3. If there are 4 of us and the bill is say, €100, I would leave around €5

                                For a nicer meal (€80-120 for 2) I'd leave between €5 and €10 depending on the quality of service.

                                For a very nice meal (€100pp and up) I leave €10 per person.

                                To give an idea, a year ago we had dinner for 5 at Mugaritz. The total bill was upwards of €1100, and we left a €50 as a tip.

                                I sometimes feel like I'm being cheap with tips. My wife (who is Spanish) thinks I give insanely high tips.

                                Hope this helps

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: avrv1

                                  Very helpful, exactly what I was looking for. A bit more concrete than the study in sociocultural norms that this thread inadvertently embarked upon, which has been, if not helpful, very amusing in the least.