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Paris: To Tip or Not to Tip

By: Phil Chavanne

Tip included

Contrary to dinners and bars in the US, Parisian restaurants and bistros add a 15% service charge to the check when they tally up your account. This is required by law as the French tax authorities assess their levy on tips as well.

Your check clearly shows the 15% service charge as well as the TVA charge (a distant relative to the sales tax) also paid to the government. The inclusion of the 15% tip is indicated by the words ‘Service Compris’, which means ‘Tip Included’.

The good thing is that prices marked on the menu are all inclusive. Both the VAT and the 15% tip are included. No surprise when you are given your check. What you planned on spending is what you spend in the end.

So no extra-tips then?

Well, a small extra-tip is always appreciated of course. It’s the mark 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 you are under no obligation here.

Small extra-tips are also appreciated because they directly line your waiter’s pockets, unlike the 15% tip charge which is usually tallied up at the end of the day, and divided amongst all waiters. In some bars the owner may even keep the totality or part of the tip charge.

French law does not require indeed that service charges be distributed to waiters. So your waiter might not even see a dime of it.

But once again, you paid your dues when paying your check, and you are under no obligation to extra tip.

How much should you extra tip?

The average extra tip goes from a couple of Euro dimes for a soft drink or a coffee, to a couple euros for a whole meal. A warm way to express your satisfaction is to add 5 - 10% of the total check. Then again, it is no obligation of yours, and there is no set rule in regards to this percentage.

How do you tip elsewhere?

In many cases, tips are a valuable income supplement for their recipients.

Take taxi drivers for instance: the average salary of a taxi driver employed by a cab company is about €1,400 a month, which in Paris is more or less equivalent to a $2,500 salary in NYC. These guys put in 10 hours a day. Some years ago, they used to work 14-15 hours a day, 6 days a week, to make more income. French law forbids them to do so today. So they appreciate your tip all the way: 5-10% of your fare is a good rule of thumb.

At the theater, tip the lady usher: a couple of euros is fine at the opera house [these ladies are also paid on the evening programs they sell], 50 euro cents is good at the movie theaters. Years ago, the lady ushers were not even paid by movie theater operators. They lived on tips only. Even if they are on a salary today, it is doubtful they earn more than the minimum wage.

At your hotel, your porter will appreciate a euro per bag.

At expensive restaurants, classical concert venues, and discos, coat ladies usually take care of your belongings. Tip them a euro per large item when you retrieve your coats.

At the museum, you may leave a couple of euros to your guide if you went through a guided tour.

In summary

These are guidelines based on experience and custom. They are in no way a uniform code of conduct. These advices are also applicable elsewhere in France. In other French regions, where the standard of living is lower than in Paris, tips are even more construed as a mark of generosity.

In the final analysis, tipping is just that: a sign of your generosity and of your appreciation of the level of service you have just received.

(Written with the collaboration of Vincent Ramelli, a regular contributor to Paris-Eiffel-Tower-News.comFind Article, and a Paris-based specialist of the city.)

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