By Rick Steves
Here's a tip: Don't stress over tipping.
While tips are appreciated no matter where you travel, tipping in Europe isn't as automatic nor as generous as it is in the US, and in many countries, tips aren't expected at all. The proper amount depends not only on the country you're in, but, just as in the US, on your resources, tipping philosophy, and the circumstances.
Restaurant tips are more modest in Europe than in America. At restaurants, check the menu to see if service is included; if it isn't, a tip of 5–10 percent is normal. In most places, 10 percent is a big tip. If your bucks talk at home, muzzle them on your travels. As a matter of principle, if not economy, the local price should prevail. Please believe me — tipping 15 or 20 percent in Europe is unnecessary, if not culturally ignorant.
Tipping is an issue only at restaurants that have waiters and waitresses. If you order your food at a counter (in a pub, for example), don't tip.
At table-service restaurants, the tipping etiquette and procedure vary slightly from country to country. But in general, European servers are well paid, and tips are considered a small "bonus" — to reward great service or for simplicity in rounding the total bill to a convenient number.
In Mediterranean countries, the "service charge" (servizio in Italian, service in French, servicio in Spanish) can be handled in different ways. Sometimes the menu will note that the service is included ("servizio incluso"), meaning that the prices listed on the menu already have this charge built in. When the service is not included ("servizio non incluso"), the service charge might show up as a separate line item at the end of your bill. Fixed-price tourist deals include service.
In northern and eastern Europe, the menu or bill is less likely to address the "service charge," but you can usually assume that it's included in the prices. Lately, some restaurants — especially those in well-touristed areas in Germany and Austria — have added a "Tip is not included" line, in English, to the bottom of the bill. This is misleading, as the prices on any menu in these countries do include service. I wouldn't tip one cent more at a restaurant that includes this note on the bill.
Typically, it's better to hand the tip to the waiter when you're paying your bill than to leave it on the table, particularly in busy places where the wrong party might pocket the change. Servers prefer to be tipped in cash even if you pay with your credit card (otherwise the tip may never reach your server); in many cases, there isn't even a line on the credit-card receipt for a tip. (If you can't tip in cash, you can stipulate what you'd like to be charged before they run your card. When the waiter says or writes down your grand total, just say or write the total you want them to charge you, with the tip included, as you hand over your card.)
In Germanic countries, rather than leaving coins behind on the table (considered slightly rude), locals usually pay directly: When the server comes by with the bill, simply hand over paper money, stating the total you'd like to pay. For example, if paying for a €10 meal with a €20 bill, while handing your money to the server, say "Eleven, please" (or "Elf, bitte" if you've got your German numbers down). The server will keep a €1 tip and give you €9 in change.
Extra Restaurant-Tipping Tips
- All restaurant prices in France include a 12–15 percent service charge, so locals tip very little, if at all.
- Across Mediterranean Europe, a 10 percent service charge is ususally built into your bill. If you wish, you can add an extra €1–2 for each person in your party, or about 5 percent. (If service is not included, or it's a particularly upscale restaurant, tip up to 10 percent.)
- If you order at a counter in Spain — for example, when sampling tapas at a bar — there’s no need to tip, though you can round up with a few small coins.
- London restaurants commonly include a 12.5 percent service charge in the bill; if so, it's not necessary to tip at all. (But if the bill in a British restaurant shows no service charge, tip 10–12 percent for good service — a little more than you would on the continent.)
- In Scandinavian countries, the service charge typically included in your bill may go to the restaurant owner rather than your server, so for good service, add 5–10 percent. This also holds for upscale restaurants in Turkey.
- Speaking just a few Czech words will likely get you better service in the Czech Republic, and you won't be expected to tip more than a local (if you greet your waiter in English, he'll expect a 15 percent tip).
- In Greece it's considered bad form to leave a single euro, even for a small total — if service isn't already included in the bill and it's for, say, €10, leave a €2 tip.
- Iceland is an emphatically no-tipping country. A side effect of the tipless culture is that waiters in Icelandic restaurants are usually happy to split the bill for groups.
Virtually anywhere in Europe, you can do as the Europeans do and (if you're pleased with the service) add a euro or two for each person in your party. In very touristy areas, some servers have noticed the American obsession with overtipping — and might hope for a Yankee-size tip. But the good news is that European servers and diners are far more laid-back about all this than we are. Any tip is appreciated, the stakes are low, and it's no big deal if you choose the "wrong" amount. Don't lose sleep over walking out of a restaurant in Europe without tipping.
For taxis, just round up to the next euro on the fare (to pay a €13 fare, give €14); for a long ride, to the nearest 10 (for a €76 fare, give €80). If the cabbie hauls your bags and zips you to the airport to help you catch your flight, you might want to toss in a little more. But if you feel like you're being driven in circles or otherwise ripped off, skip the tip.
At hotels with porters, pay the porter a euro for each bag they carry. It's nice (but optional) to leave a small tip in your room for the housekeeping staff when you depart.
Guides who give talks at public sights or on bus or boat tours often hold out their hands for tips after they give their spiel. If I've already paid for the tour or admission to the sight, I don't tip extra (but if you want to tip, a euro or two is enough for a job well done).
If taking a group tour — for instance, a two-hour city walking tour — a tip of €2–5 per person is appropriate, depending on the size of the group (the higher tip is for small groups). For a couple of hours with a private guide, a tip of €10–20 for the group is fine (more if the guide goes above and beyond, such as booking advance tickets or arranging for a driver for you).
In general, if someone in the service industry does a super job for you, a tip of a couple of euros is appropriate...but not required.
When in doubt, ask. The French and British generally tip hairdressers, the Dutch and Swedish usually don't. If you're not sure whether (or how much) to tip for a service, ask your hotelier or the tourist information office (but not a waiter); they'll fill you in on how it's done on their turf.