If you are like the typical traveler, tipping is always a bit anxiety-producing. If you know what you are facing before you reach your destination, trust me, life will be much easier. For starters, the concept of tipping is rather different when traveling in Europe. It is neither expected nor as high as it is here in the U.S., even when service has been stellar. In fact, if you left a 20% tip at a restaurant in Europe it would really scream that you're an American tourist. But because of our American penchant for tipping, many countries have now come to expect some sort of tip.
If you have never been to Europe or it has been awhile, we would like to offer you some tipping tips to help destress your vacation and give you one less thing to worry about. It does vary a bit from from country to country and region to region. For instance, in restaurants in France, by law, a service charge is added to your bill and in Denmark, they add a 25% VAT in addition to a service charge.
Just make sure you have exchanged your dollars for euros/pounds before you leave, so you have some tip money in hand when you arrive and please, tip in the currency of the country you are in and not U.S. dollars. Then, as you travel, always try and keep some single euros on hand just for tipping.
As always, we encourage that when in doubt, you ask the hotel staff for advice or seriously, err on the side of leaving a modest tip and use your best judgement. Just never feel guilty about your tipping. It is not the issue in Europe that it is in the U.S. Hotel and wait staff in Europe are generally well paid and tips are considered a "bonus" and not part of their salary. Just don't ask them if they should be tipped...
The main people in hotels to consider tipping are the concierge, porter, doorman getting you a taxi, and housekeeping. If the concierge has done something very special for you, like booked you at a hot restaurant you could not get into, you may want to tip up to 10 euros, but again, one to two is acceptable. Porters who help you with your luggage may get one or two euros per bag. You can also leave a euro per day for the housekeeping staff when you leave, but it is not expected. Doormen generally are not tipped, unless they do something just for you. Then, one or two euros is customary. But, it's hard to resist when they look as dapper as the ones at Claridge's in London.
Always check the menu first to see if service is included. Know what the word is for service in the countries you are traveling to, so you will recognize it on the menu. It is also often noted on the menu outside the restaurant.
In Italy, you could see servizio incluso, meaning service is included and has been built into the menu prices or coperto e servizio compreso, which means your cover and service charges are included. Be advised that a cover charge is not the same as a service charge. That is for things like bread and water, yes a glass of water. Then, double check when you get the bill to make sure a tip has not been added. If the service is included, that should suffice for the tip, especially in countries like Switzerland, Iceland, and Scandanavia.
If service is not included, the customary tip in restaurants is 5-10% and 10% is considered generous. An easy rule of thumb and what many Europeans do is to add one or two euros for each person in your party. But, it is at your discretion and there is no need to leave a tip if service was bad.
Bartenders are not usually tipped, but if you've received great service or just can't not tip, either round up or one to two euros will suffice. When ordering food from a counter including at a pub, it is also not customary to tip like it can be here - think Starbucks.
It is wise to make sure you have cash for tips. Most restaurants do not allow you to add a tip to the bill and if they do, you can't always be sure your waiter will be the recipient. Plus, it is recommended that you hand the tip to the wait staff directly. If you are paying in cash and need change, just tell the wait staff how much you want them to keep and they will give you the change. For example, say the bill is 52 euros and you want to leave 5 euros for a tip. Hand over 60 euros, say 57 and you'll get 3 back.
As a general rule, countries where a service charge is added include Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, England, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, the Nordics, Slovenia, and Switzerland. But always double check the bill and if not included, add 5-10% cash depending on the type of restaurant and the service received.
Unrelated, but I can't wait until most restaurants in the States get the little credit card machines that they have in Europe. The wait staff bring it to your table, swipe your card, and you're done in seconds.
Our general experience traveling in Europe has been very positive with taxis especially in London and they do not expect tips. It is, however, common to round up to the next euro/pound. If you have a very long ride or get help with your bags, then round up to the nearest 10. Say your fare is 66 euros, then give 70. However, if your service is terrible, do not tip. If you are fortunate to have a chauffeur, then you can either ask the person who booked the driver what is standard or if the tip is included. When not, we have given 10% of the cost. If someone at the airport helps with your bags, one euro per bag is a good rule.
We use private local tour guides all the time. You gain so much knowledge and get to see things you probably would never on your own. For tipping, a few euros is common or 10-15% of the total charge, but I use my discretion. If they've been really good, we will give them the equivalent of $20. For other tour guides at museums or on buses or boats, don't feel obligated even if they hold out their hand. But, if you've enjoyed the tour or might want a recommendation for where to dine, again one or two euros will be appreciated.
Service for spa treatments and in salons varies from country to country as expected. For instance, you should tip in France and the UK, but no need in Sweden, Italy, or the Netherlands. As with restaurants, be sure to check if a service charge has been added to your bill. If not included, it is typical to tip 5 - 10% for spa services. This includes a stylist if you desperately need a haircut while traveling.
The bottom line for tipping...When in doubt round up, give one or two euros, or stick with the 10% rule and you can't go wrong...And always carry plenty of small denominations in bills or coins to tip in cash. Done!