Diccon Bewes: The tipping point in Switzerland
Do you leave a tip in Switzerland? If so, how many Swiss francs do you tip? Diccon Bewes answers the questions that plague newcomers to Switzerland.
In Switzerland things are, in theory, much simpler – service is included in prices, be that in a bar, restaurant, hotel or taxi. Any tip is completely voluntary and there is never any expectation that you must leave 15–20 percent as practised in the States. But is it really that simple? What do the locals do?
Service has been included in Swiss prices since fixed salaries for service staff were introduced in 1974 (although hairdressers had to wait until 1980), which could be one reason why the prices can seem so high (and why the service can often be less than memorable)! If service is included, why bother working hard and being friendly to earn that tip? I have often wondered if that is the reason why many Swiss waiters permanently have bad-hair days. You shouldn't have to pay five-star prices to get five-star service.
Good service in Switzerland stands out because you don't always get it. But when you do, then it's worth showing that you appreciate it. So here are some rough rules about tipping in Switzerland:
- For most bills, you usually round up to the nearest franc or two. So if it's just a coffee at 4.50Fr, then you can make it a round five francs. If it's a meal for 26.80Fr, you could just leave 28Fr.
- If service has been better than normal, many people leave an extra 10 percent on top of the bill, especially if it was a meal rather than just a drink.
- Taxi drivers are used to people paying the exact amount or waiting for change.
- Remember that service is included in almost all prices. You never have to feel obliged to leave a tip.
Of course if you come from a country where service charges are expected or even added automatically, as many places in London now do, then it can be hard to get out of the habit of leaving a tip. My father always has that problem. And if service has been good, then by all means do reward it.
But having worked for years in retail, I've always wondered why people feel the need to tip someone who serves you for two minutes by bringing you a beer, but it's not expected to tip someone who spends 10 minutes helping you choose books. Or glasses. Or shoes. All are just doing their jobs, for which they are paid, so why should waiters be treated differently? Why not tip the tram driver who brought you safely to your destination? Surely that's no different from tipping a taxi driver, who probably earns just as much?
Tipping can be a minefield in many places but in Switzerland it doesn't have to be. As with so many aspects of Swiss life, there are clear rules about it. Giving a tip is not expected, and when it does happen it's seen by both sides (server and customer) as confirmation of good service. In recognition of that, I'd like to nominate three restaurants in Bern where I have had the best service:
Where would you nominate in Switzerland? Who would get your best service award?
Diccon grew up in Britain but now lives in Bern. He has spent the last seven years grappling with German grammar, overcoming his innate desire to form an orderly queue and exploring parts of Switzerland he never knew existed. And eating lots of chocolate. He is the author of the bestselling book Swiss Watching.
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