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YIKES-Another thread on tipping in france

l had thought this discussion was way overdone in the past, but maybe not.
This past weekend l was with a bunch of people in the Southwest portion of France. There were three couples all born and raised in France in different areas and now all living near Toulouse.
l noted at our first restaurant meal that as we had a competent and good waiter a decent tip (10 % ) was added to the meal. It was a good restaurant, not touristy, but by now means a starred place. l said l had been told that all that was done was to round up, unless the waiter did your laundry and then you might add 5%. They looked at me with amazement saying the salary for a waiter was about 1500 euros a month and the tips made the difference in living to them.
l retorted that l had been told if a meal was 40 euros the waiter would get 15%, give or take a bit, and if 400 euros again 15% or so. Again they looked at me shocked.
Then at this place and the two following we asked the server whether the tips really did matter or not and whether he received a portion of our bill in his paycheck. All said tips were very important and whether we spent 12 euros or 1200 euros, they received no difference in their pay.
l am now seriously thinking of reconsidering my tipping stance in this country.
Parigi and her husband might have been right all along.

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  1. We have found that all of our French friends in the country tip as you have suggested above.

    1. Let me get this right. Are you saying that the bill indicated that service aka tip was included but, in fact, the server wasn't getting any of that money?

      5 Replies
      1. re: c oliver

        May I ask again please? Is it written on the check that service is included but it never makes it to the server?

        1. re: c oliver

          If service is included, it is written on the check.

          There is question and discussion about whether that or any percentage of the service charge goes directly to the server.

          There is a distinct difference in thinking about what constitutes normal service and what is exceptional service. And whether exceptional service warrants a supplemental gift.

          1. re: mangeur

            That's what I'm asking. So if it shows service included, then one cannot assume that that money goes to the server? I haven't been to France in a few years but I'm wondering if this is a question I need to be asking in other countries.

            1. re: c oliver

              No. One should not asume that it goes to the server. It may fund his salary but it does not go to him as a gratuity.

              1. re: mangeur

                Thanks. Do you get the sense that if you ask the server you'll get the truth? I want to tip certainly but don't want to double it. TIA

      2. When I try a resto for the first time, I leave a euro or two. When it's a repeat visit and I plan on returning, I do leave as much as 10% (always in cash). Self-serving generosity as well as an acknowledgment of a more familiar bond with the waiter.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Parnassien

          I'm afraid that we sign on to Parn's "self-serving generosity" philosophy. If a first visit is blah, we round up. If it has been extraordinary, both food and interaction with FOH, we leave a comfortable 5%. Whether this has been the reason for our warm returns in unlikely places, I can't say. But we are remembered and treated awfully well. Maybe it's just because we are adorable. Maybe not.

        2. Yikes indeed. We've been told by French friends and others whom we respect not to tip -- in the countryside or otherwise -- or at least not more than a few coins. Here and there, in the countryside and in Paris, we've noticed some tipping, but not much. Similar threads on the TripAdvisor France forum generally result in resounding "don't tip" advice from those who purport to be French posters, and many other experienced France tourists. Like DCM, I thought we had this figured out long ago, and will follow this thread with interest and maybe some chagrin.-- Jake

          1 Reply
          1. re: Jake Dear

            Me too! I'm always confused. When we go out with our French friends they never tip...we used to tip generously til we saw that they never do...we settled on a system where we round up and give what amounts to a 10% tip for good service...but still feel out of our element! We always tip 20% in the states because we know the pay structure here. So DCM no need for yikes!, it is an ongoing question!

          2. At 9.40 Euro per hour, the minimum wage in France is considerably more than in the US (5.30 Euro). I believe, in comparison to the US, it is well regulated, so there are far fewer companies getting away with paying people less than this.

            While no-one will get rich on £1,500 Euros a month, it is above minimum wage, and is on the lowest tax band (at 14%), so it is (arguably) a liveable wage. In the US this is not the case, where waiting staff are often on or below a minimum wage of 40-45% less.

            In response to the point below about whether the service charge included in a restaurant bill goes to the server, it is a completely different concept in Europe. When we pay for a meal in a restaurant or cafe, the price includes the cost of the serving staff - so, traditionally, this means that the service is always included. The money we pay is used to pay for the food and the wages of the staff along with all the other overheads. So no - the service charge is not "given" to the staff in the same way as money in the tips jar will be, but it does pay for their service.

            (There is a rider here that It has recently got a bit more complicated in Britain, where some of the higher end restaurants have started adding an "optional" 10-12 % on top of a bill for service. This is out of order in my mind, but, it is still usually optional. Sometimes, though, other restaurants (at all levels) will add a service charge for large bookings).

            A tip is different though - it is an acknowledgement of good service, and aims to give the staff a little extra - best described in French as a "pourboire" (literally "for a drink"). The US is different in that "wages" are so low for waiters that it is not a liveable amount and there is an expectation that customers should pay more to reflect this.

            I eat often in both rural and city areas of the Languedoc, and I don't see people tipping more than the usual round-up or few coins - in fact, when rounding up has meant that we have paid more than people normally would (eg when rounding 46 Euro up to 50 because we have no coins), we have been met with a range of responses from surprised to telling us we have made a mistake.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Theresa

              My experience pretty much mirrors Theresa's. I visit France most years (usually Pas de Calais, Somme or Nord departments).

              I don't see people tipping, other than the rounding up or a few coins which is how I've always tipped myself.

              When I travel, I try to identify local tipping customs and stick to them. So, pretty much no tipping in Belgium, France, Cyprus and Spain. Smallish tips in Italy & Ireland. 20% in America (which doesnt half contribute to making a holiday there expensive).

            2. I tip 10% in Paris, I haven't had much experience eating elsewhere in France.

              1. Haha Chowhound running gag ! ;)

                I'm with you in that even though I am a parisian born and raised (parigot tête de veau), I am still confused about the amount I should tip... and Chowhound hasn't made matters better.
                So usually I do what Theresa does, rounding up to a few euros max (but usually 1 or 2). And sometimes, in expensive places where service was phenomenal (i.e. Le Cinq) I would leave up to 10 bucks... never more, but then again, I'm a poor artist, so if I could, I would probably be more generous...

                4 Replies
                1. re: Rio Yeti

                  "So usually I do what Theresa does, rounding up to a few euros max (but usually 1 or 2)."
                  I've been holding back rather than adding nothing more than i've said in the past, but as a really old guy, I gotta say that it was a lot easier before credit cards, remember those days of yesteryore?, when one paid in cash and left yellow pieces, which we now contribute to Madame Chirac's noble cause?

                  1. re: John Talbott

                    As I have stated on other threads about tipping in Europe, I don't understand this idea of "rounding up". Who uses cash anymore? You can't add the tip to the credit card bill, so you need to have the right amount of cash. My French friends typically leave around 3% if all was well with the meal. We tend to leave up to 5%, (we may be insecure Americans, but not ignorant ones). If we don't have the right amount of cash, we may leave nothing, as it's not our fault we can't add it to the credit card charge. We try not to agonize over the whole thing and just leave whatever we can or feel like, as obviously even Europeans can't agree on a standard.

                    1. re: rrems

                      You are right, "rounding up" is mostly metaphorical. I usually pay by card, and live 1 or 2 euros.

                      Which to my surprise equates to approximately 5% (depending on the meal of course)... so I may not be so cheap after all...

                      1. re: rrems

                        I think that sums it up very well. I especially like the comment about insecurity - when you have been used to a 20% tipping model it must feel odd to follow different customs.

                        I come from a non-tipping culture and it feels odd to tip 20% (we are not tight we do) in the US.

                  2. Thanks, DCM, for starting one of the more thoughtful discussions on tipping.

                    It occurs to me that I am of the generation where a tip was a gift. A little something that you wanted to give to a simpatico server. It was not a levy to round out the server's insufficient income. I realize that I still basically subscribe to that philosophy.

                    In the US, we leave the usual 20% WHEN the service has been right. But I have no compunction in leaving less or nothing for a server who has actually detracted from the occasion. If the tip is, indeed, part of a server's wage, it needs to be earned just like the hourly portion.

                    As I've written before, in France we leave 5% for servers who have measurably added to our enjoyment. It surprises me to read many posts where people who state they are against tipping but who "just round up" actually and consistently leave around 5% without being aware of it.

                    Regardless of the culture, we tip as a gift, never because of guilt or because it is expected.

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: mangeur

                      As I've said elsewhere, I'm astonished when I tip a cab driver (to CdG) or delivery wallah from Monoprix - 1-2 Euros and it is treated as manna from heaven. One doesn't get such a reaction in restos.

                      1. re: John Talbott

                        As I've stated before but long ago, since the euro was adopted, cab drivers don't expect tips anymore. They even act surprised when I "round up" to the next euro and they thank warmly. When I leave no tip, they just thank. As a rule, it is better not to tip higher than the next euro up.

                        As for restaurants, I see how difficult it is to accept the idea that tipping is not customary in France. It is not, period.
                        When one thought the matter was settled, boom! here it is again and we've got everybody running around anxiously as if the information never got home.
                        I think it never did, really. And that visitors from the US feel more comfortable tipping than not tipping, even when they've been told a hundred times that you don't tip in France, except for one or two euros when you're satisfied with the service.
                        I think we'll have the same topic coming up again and again.

                        1. re: Ptipois

                          I hear you loud and clear, Pti. But what about when you are wildly satisfied with the service. When your server has literally knocked himself out to make sure you were pleased. (We have a half dozen or so of these waiters.)

                          For this, at an average place, we leave 5€. It usually is a natural round-up.

                          1. re: mangeur

                            It is his job to knock himself out for the customers, and he gets a salary. Showing appreciation is fine but it should not give him the impression that doing things right is not part of his job. Therefore, 5 euros extra is fine but it should not be considered tipping in the US sense of the term.

                            I admit that once some French waiters have been used to getting large tips from American customers, they may feel something is wrong when they haven't tipped. They never would have that feeling with French customers. That is why I don't encourage tipping, it makes the whole situation pretty messed up.

                            A natural round-up of 5€ at most for a meal of, say, more than 60€ for 2 seems perfectly OK but I do not call that "tipping" in the US sense of the word.
                            Part from the problem is that one same appellation is given to two very different kinds of "tipping": just rounding up modestly to show appreciation (done in France), and adding an insane 15-20% charge calculated from the amount of the check (not done in France). These two gestures should be named differently as they belong to two different cultural conceptions and have different social implications.

                            It should also be remembered that excessive tipping brings additional imbalance between kitchen team (which never gets tipped) and front-of-house team; the relationship between the two is already bad enough as it is, there is no reason to make it worse by tipping the waitstaff.

                            If I am not mistaken, I think that is one of the main reasons for the current debate about doing away with tipping in the US.

                            1. re: Ptipois

                              I actually think that we are in agreement, Pti. I tried to get across the different meanings or nuances of "tipping" in an upthread post.

                              The 15 to 20% tip in the US is not a gift, it is a tax or surcharge. It has nothing to do with guest pleasure but with guilt and social pressure to address a wage shortfall.

                              The 5% that we leave in France is a gift graciously received and we feel that we have said a more personal thank you in addition to our "Merci, au revoir".

                              1. re: mangeur

                                Tipping is- or should be- very situational with no hard and fast rules. But, in general, over-tipping by tourists does muddy the waters for everyone. Already the failed models cast as serveuses at most Costes restaurants will stab you in the back with their stilettos if you don't leave a large tip over and above the service charge.

                                Except for an extra tip for an extra-helpful sommelier, I rarely leave more than a couple euros at high-end restos... With such a huge chunk of change for the service charge on a 400€ tab, I figure the waiters are already paid enough. And, since I'm unlikely to become an habitué at such places, there's no need to endear myself.

                                At a more real-life price point, a 1 or 2€ extra tip in cash is the norm, ok? Occasionally, we locals ignore our own norms when 1) the waiter is a total delight, or 2) we become regulars, or 3) when we want a little preferential treatment on a return visit to a very popular or hot resto. In the last two cases, it's a bribe, not a tip.

                                1. re: mangeur

                                  I never doubted we were in agreement. The US-type tip is a tax and surcharge, and it always makes my restaurant-eating in America somewhat uncomfortable, however good the meal was. If I dared to push things a bit far, I'd say that the small French tip really has meaning as a tip. Actually that's not going so far, it's the truth.

                      2. The only time I do more than "rounding up" in France is when I've had way too much good wine.

                        1. Frankly, it's amazing (and wonderful) that 1500 euros a month is considered a very low wage. I am sure they would be even more shocked if they knew that here in America, our servers make what equates to *1.56 euro* per hour, and are *forced* to make up the rest of their salaries through tipping.

                          7 Replies
                          1. re: incinerate

                            Incinerate - plus on top of the €1,500 monthly salary there are paid holidays, limited hours work weeks (is it 35 still the limit?), overtime rates, shift penalty rates, pension and social security contributions (which pays for free high quality public health care).

                            This is part of the reason French restaurants have relatively few front of house staff - their statutory employment costs are high - it's a very different model to the US and tipping should be thought of in this context. Hence service charges may not go directly to the staff, but probably end up in their pockets indirectly. Maybe not such a bad place to be a waiter?

                            1. re: PhilD

                              That is why being a waiter is a profession/career in France instead of a rent-check for students, actors, models, artists, etc elsewhere.

                              1. re: mangeur

                                Add ski and snowboard instructors to the list. In 4 months, doing both instructing and serving, they can get enough to make it through the whole year thought its a lot of work in a short time. Having the remaining 8 months to travel, kayak, climb, thru-hike, bike or whatever, isn't a bad life. But to make it work out in the US, it has to be at a higher end place.

                                If you are having a meal at a "nice" restaurant in Aspen, Vail, Park City or where ever, ask the server what they do in the off season, it usually is very cool. I'm always surprised how many years they can hang on with this "so called life".

                                In Europe, commonly the instructors are from a local farming family.

                            2. re: incinerate

                              Really ? So you with a spouse and a few kids would be living decently on the equivalent of $ 22000 a year ?
                              Not implying gross poverty but that figure is under the poverty threshold for a family of four.
                              Not implying it is my responsibility to give the server a living wage, but these are the numbers from our government. l do not know the numbers from the french government.

                              1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                Here are the French numbers (for 2011):

                                The threshold for a family of four is between 1709 € and 2443 € a month (approx. $28000/year to $40000/year).

                                1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                  I think your maths is off €1,500 a month is $24,500 at today's rate. I agree it's a low basic wage, but I wonder what the average take home wage is with overtime and shift work. It's going to be higher.

                                  I also wonder if your €1,500 data point is for the south west of France rather than the significantly more expensive Paris. Waiting isn't a highly paid job, but waiters in a France are not badly paid compared to their peers.

                                  Is this relevant to the tipping culture in France. Probably not as tipping had more to do with habit than logic. If it was rational and logical you would only tip at places you planned to return to. Being a good tipper only returns some benefit if you go back, so why tip at all if it's a once off?

                                  1. re: PhilD

                                    "If it was rational and logical you would only tip at places you planned to return to."