Image courtesy Eric Bungay
If the debate over Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's failure to leave an extra restaurant gratuity during a recent Roman holiday is any indication, the question of how much - or whether - to tip for meals in foreign countries continues to generate indigestion among well-intentioned American travelers.
"The truth is, tipping rules vary by country, by region, and by scenario. A modest rounding up of the check may be fine in some places and insufficient in others," notes CNTraveler.com in its excellent Etiquette 101: Tipping Guide.
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In China, for example, "the law of the land, and the rule at many hotels, is no tipping whatsoever. Fine hotels add in a compulsory service fee of 10-20 percent, so nothing is expected or even technically allowed beyond that," CNTraveler says. "Tip quietly and out of sight if you do-and not in front of employers."
And, it adds, "as Eastern and Central European countries become tourist enticers alongside Western European favorites, you're left to wonder what to tip where, and when to put down dollars, euros, or local currency. One rule applies across the board: Tip in cash, not on a credit card."
In general, writes European travel guru Rick Steves, "restaurant tips are more modest in Europe than in America. 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 insensitive."
More advice from Steves:
- 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 varies 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 most countries, 5 percent is adequate, 10 verges on excessive, and 15 or 20 percent is unheard-of.
- Virtually anywhere in Europe, you can do as the Europeans do and (if you're pleased with the service) round up a euro or two. This can vary a bit. For example, a 10 percent tip is expected in Hungary. And 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.
Unless, of course, you're one of the richest and most-recognized men on the planet...
Laura Bly, USA TODAY