Sitting at the terrace of a sidewalk cafe in Paris and sipping on a Perrier, or drinking a glass of wine while watching passers-by is a pleasure many travelers promise themselves to experience. But then comes the check and the question that can be so fraught with difficulties: to tip or not to tip, and how much?
Yes, tipping etiquette in a foreign country can add stress to a vacation, so learn the simple rules to follow for restaurants, hotels, hotel staff, and more, to relax and enjoy the time abroad.
Unlike in America, cafes and restaurants in Paris and the rest of France directly include a 15 percent service charge in the check. The service charge is required by French law as tips are assessed for taxation purposes.
The 15 percent service charge is clearly itemized on your check, on top of the TVA tax (a French version of the sales tax). The words service compris (tip included) indicate that the tip has already been included in the total to be paid so take a good look at the bill when it arrives.
The good news is that prices rated on the menus are all-inclusive: they include both the tip and the sales tax. There is no last-minute unholy surprise when you are given your check. What you saw on the menu is what you get charged for, no hidden extras.
Beyond the Service Compris
A small extra tip is always appreciated by the staff, of course. It’s the mark that you were satisfied with the way you were served by your waiter (garçon in French, pronounced "Gar-son" with the "on" sounded like in "honking" not like in "son"). It’s a sort of a thank-you note. But remember that you are under no obligation here.
Small extra tips are also appreciated because they go directly into your waiter’s pockets, unlike the tip charge, which is usually tallied up at the end of the day and divided among all the waiters. In some bars, the owner may even keep the totality or part of the tip charge and you will not know if that's the case.
French law does not require that service charges be distributed to waiters. So your waiter might not even see a dime of it. But once again, remember that you paid your dues when paying your check, and you are under no obligation to extra tip.
Extra tips may range from just a few cents for a coffee or a soft drink, to 1 to 5 euros for lunch or dinner. A very generous "thank you" is 5-10 percent of the total check, though that is on the high-end, and again, there is no steadfast rule on how much one should give.
How to Ask for the Bill
Don't be shy about asking for the bill in French. It's 'l'addition, s'il vous plait'.
Hotels, Taxis, and Service Providers
Restaurant workers are not the only service providers you will interact with while in France. For these helpers, a tip is a valuable extra income for their beneficiaries.
- Taxi drivers: The average driver employed by a cab company doesn't earn a large amount. This is for 10 hours of hard work per day. A few years ago, cab drivers used to work 14-15 hours a day, six days a week to pad up their wages. French law now forbids it. So tipping them 5-10 percent of your fare is generous.
- Ushers: It is customary to give a couple of euros to the ushers if attending a night at the Opera. (They also get paid on sales of evening programs). Give a euro to the ushers at the movies. There was a time, not so long ago, when ushers at movie theaters were not paid at all by theater operators—they lived on tips only. This is no more the case and they are on salary, but usually no more than the minimum wage.
- Hotel Porter: Two to three euros per bag is the norm—and a bit more if they are very pleasant and helpful.
- Coat Check: In some expensive restaurants, at classical concerts halls or at discos, ladies or gents in the lobby usually take care of your coats. It is customary to tip one euro for every large item when you come back to pick up your belongings.
- Tour Guide: If you take a guided tour at the museum, you might leave a couple of euros to your guide to thank him for imparting his knowledge to you. For other tours, 10 percent of the total cost is a good gratuity. If you're on a coach tour and the guide has been good, five euros will bring a smile.
These are guidelines based on custom and experience, but they are not strictly followed everywhere in France. In other parts of the country, your tips will be considered a mark of generosity on your part as the standards of living there are not as high as in Paris.
Ultimately, tipping is a demonstration to express satisfaction for the service provided. Note: Americans have a reputation for tipping well, so there is often an expectation that visitors from the USA will leave good tips.