What to tip in Europe: The rules of tipping in the UK, Italy, Spain, France and more

"Should we leave a tip?" It's a vexatious subject and in the context of Europe the protocols are anything but clear. Unlike in Australia you'll often see tax added to a restaurant bill and it can be stiff – as much as 25 per cent. As a general rule, if you want to make sure your tip goes to the person who served you don't add it to a credit card payment, leave it on the table in cash.

Italy

St Mark's Square, Venice

St Mark's Square, Venice. Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK

Mamma Mia! You think Italians have been busy for the past 2000-plus years building a great civilisation? Some of the greatest thinkers, sculptors, painters and architects the world has ever seen, creating monumental works? That's the top end of town. What most of Italy has been busy doing for the past 2000-plus years is figuring out ingenious ways to siphon cash out of the pockets of those who have come to gaze with wonder upon the works of the Caesars, Michelangelo, Bernini et al, and who now require feeding. The rules around restaurant bills are more arcane, more byzantine in Italy than anywhere else, all designed to baffle and confuse the foreigner, and as any Italian waiter knows, in confusion there is profit.

At a bar you never tip. In a busy bar you'll likely head first for the cashier and pay for whatever you're having then give the receipt to the server behind the bar, with whom no money changes hands. If it's a one-man operation you'll pay after you've had your coffee and no need to leave a tip, it's not an Italian thing to do.

When you eat at a restaurant take a good look at the menu. If it says "coperto e servizio compreso", that means your cover charge plus service is included. You have been warned, and the service charge probably won't feature as a separate item on your bill. In that case you might leave a couple of euros if the service was extra special. Whether or not service is included, Italians rarely tip, although if you insist on eating in a tourist area you'll see plenty of diners leaving a tip, Americans especially who are consumed with guilt if they leave without tipping.

You might also see an item on the menu "pane e coperto", bread and cover charge. In the province of Lazio, which includes Rome, the coperto – the cover charge – has been outlawed but you'll still get hit with the charge for bread.

See also: Venice rip-off: Cafe charges customer $67 for two coffees, two waters

The Nordics

These are the countries that make the rest of the world look like paupers. Some countries will load a hefty Value Added Tax onto your restaurant bill. That's a mark-up of 25 per cent in Denmark, 12 per cent in Sweden. In Denmark it's called moms but it sounds like "mumps" and it's almost as sick-making.

As for tipping, do what you would in Australia. Waiters are paid a living wage and tipping culture is about the same. A service charge is commonly included in your restaurant bill so with that plus VAT, whatever you order on the harbourfront in Copenhagen might end up costing a third more than the price of the dish itself. If service charge is included no need to top up the bill with anything more.

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UK and Ireland

In pubs and bars tipping for drinks you've ordered over the counter would be slightly weird, although you might, modestly, in a ritzy cocktail bar with table service. In a cafe you could round the charge up to the next pound. Most London restaurants will add 12.5 per cent service charge but you can dispute the charge if the service wasn't up to scratch, or if you'd prefer to leave cash on the table. Nothing more is required. A menu might say "service included" and the same applies. If you're dining out with the swells in a name-dropper restaurant you might tip 10 per cent. In Ireland, rather than a percentage, it's common for locals to round the bill up if the service was decent. If the bill was €55 you might make it €60.

France

The French are not big tippers and there's no reason to go overboard. Around 5 per cent of the bill is fine although many restaurants will have the words "service compris", service included, on their menu, and that can be as much as 15 per cent so no need for anything more. That's a discretionary charge and you're within your rights to refuse to pay it if the waiter has ignored you and sighed at your pathetic attempt to pronounce "rognons d'agneau a la moutarde a l'ancienne". In a cafe you might round up to the next euro, if it's a great restaurant and service has been outstanding, 10 per cent maximum.

Greece

Greeks tip very little, if at all. Among foreigners it's more common and expected, especially if you're dining in a tourist area or one of the popular islands. However, there's no downside if you walk away and leave nothing. Check the menu as well as the bill, a service charge might already be included. If not 5-10 per cent would be about right. There might be a cover charge which will be for bread and water, but that's not the same as a service charge. If you're way out in the boondocks and eating in a family-run joint with no other tourists around you won't be expected to tip, appreciation for the food would do nicely.

Switzerland

Check your bill, service is often included. In a cafe it would be unusual to tip but in a restaurant, rounding up to the nearest five francs is sufficient reward for good service. If it's a great meal you might stretch that tip to a maximum of five francs. In Zurich and other German-speaking parts of the country tipping is more common than French, Romansh and Italian-speaking regions.

Spain

No Spaniard would never tip in tapas bars and there's no reason for any visitor to violate this custom. Same goes if you're eating on the cheap. In a medium-priced restaurant you might leave a euro or two, many Spaniards will just leave the change to the nearest euro. So if the bill is €37.50, they'll probably leave the 50 cents, or nothing, rather than the €2.50. If it's a really big night out at a good restaurant then tip five per cent of the bill. The IVA on your bill isn't a service charge, that's the Spanish name for their GST.

Germany

Service – Bedienung – will usually be included in your bill but even so it's the done thing to leave your small change in a cafe, and around 5-10 per cent for a medium-priced meal in a restaurant. This is known as Trinkgeld, "drinking money". Waiters have a pouch and when you ask for your bill your server will stand at the table while you hand over the card or cash, and note that many restaurants in Germany and Austria don't take cards. It's customary to add something to the bill and say the total amount including the tip. For example if the bill is €32 you might say "€35", don't leave the €3 on the table.

See also: Tipping in America - when to tip and how much

See also: The world's 50 greatest travel experiences for cheapskates

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