Many places in Spain only expect tourists, American tourists, in particular, to leave a tip. They are aware that it is customary in the United States to leave a tip for every drink or meal and they certainly won't turn down your extra money, but you are very unlikely to find anyone other than those from the States leaving a tip in Spain. And you certainly won't see the Spanish doing it!
Tipping is not common in Spain—you won't see anyone leave a tip just for a drink in Spain.
Nor will you see people tip at the cheapest 'menu del dia' restaurants.
Luis Ferrer, a Spanish citizen and representative of the Spanish Tourist Office in the U.S., had this to say on the subject:
"The fact is that in Spain, it is not usual to leave a tip. Many Spaniards are puzzled when they first come to the US and need to leave a 20 percent tip—this cultural difference leads to many funny situations in restaurants. Some argue that it is the owner of the business who should give a proper salary to their staff just like any other job.
"You usually leave the coins of the change, which is usually less than 10 or 5 EUR. If you are going with friends and pay separately, you usually leave the money that can't be divided, so it is not much.
"In Spain, waiters have traditionally been provided with a good salary and health coverage like any other professional. There are even waiting schools, where you learn about dressing a table, serving wines, clean the fish, etc. In this sense, waiters have been paid accordingly, so you don't tip them as well as you don't tip, say, an architect for his work."
When it comes to a mid-price or expensive restaurant, things are slightly different, but the Spanish will only ever leave a bit of the change after they have paid their bill; they will never dig into their pockets to get money out just to leave it as a tip.
But what if you really want to tip? Well, remember that you are likely to be the only person that day leaving them a tip.
Is your 50c going to make any difference to their day? It is not like back home where your 50c adds up to everyone else's 50c, money which the bartender might save up to buy a new car. Your 50c is just 50c and it might seem so trivial to him (or her) in isolation that he'll just put it in the till.
That's assuming the bartender is even allowed tips. In many bars, it is kept by the bar owner.
If you need more convincing, notice how often in Spain you will be served by two or three waiters or waitresses, perhaps one to take your order, one to serve you and one to bring you the bill. Countries where tipping is expected will have only one person serve you, so you know who you're tipping.
Our advice: Save all the money you would normally leave in tips and give it to someone who is actually expecting money, like the street performers on Las Ramblas.
Tipping Survey: Would you tip in the following situations in Spain and how much would you leave?
- Two coffees at a small cafeteria costing 2€
Only 20 percent of those asked would tip for two coffees. Said JL from Madrid: "If the coffees cost 2€ in total, probably 80 percent of people wouldn't tip, but if the coffees came to 1.80€, maybe 50 percent would leave the extra 20c."
- One menu del dia that cost 6.70€
When there is a conveniently small quantity of change that can be left, most do so. Only one of those asked would put more money on the table.
- Four menu del dias, each costing 9.90€ (the bill comes to 39.60€)
Similar to the above, even though the meal is a little more expensive and there are more people eating.
- A small beer in a normal bar (1€)
Virtually no one would tip for a small beer.
- A large beer in an expensive bar (5€)
Interestingly, those who would tip in a small bar wouldn't in a more expensive bar (presumably because they expect the staff to be paid more or because there is likely to be more friendly service in a small bar).
- A whiskey and coke in a nightclub (7€)
Not one respondent would tip in a nightclub.
- A meal for four with wine and deserts in a medium priced restaurant, costing (84.50€)
The more expensive the meal, the more important it seems to be that the service is good.
- A meal for eight at an expensive restaurant, costing 400€.
When the price of the meal increased, the tip didn’t necessarily increase relatively. Most would tip about 5 percent for a large meal, though some would tip less (or not at all). And many added the proviso "if the service was good."
The Final Word on Tipping in Spain
So, what is the bottom line about tipping in Spain? The results of this admittedly small survey suggest the Spanish indeed do not generally leave tips for drinks and they do not feel compelled to always leave a tip for food. If they do, it isn’t as much as in other countries.
If you come from a country where tipping is normal and you feel you ought to tip, we're sure it would be appreciated (though tipping for drinks will always make you look like a slightly clueless foreigner). But don’t feel like it is a necessity, especially if the service was bad.