If you come from a country where tipping is the norm, the guidelines for tipping in Switzerland may seem a little confusing.
You may have already heard that tipping in restaurants in Switzerland is not necessary or even, strictly speaking, allowed. The tip, or Trinkgeld, was in fact abolished 35 years ago, replaced by an all-inclusive bill that covers the tip as well the payment for food and drink.
Immediately after noting that tipping is not necessary, most people, if pressed, will allow that it’s okay to leave something. You should round up the bill to leave a little something extra.
Okay. What does that mean? For someone from the US where tipping is the rule and not the exception, it means that paying the bill in a restaurant becomes an uncomfortable moment. How much is enough? Is too much an insult? And how do you leave the tip? On the table? Hand it to the server? There won’t normally be a line for it on the credit card bill (which makes sense since a tip is theoretically not needed).
The golden rule in restaurants seems to be to round up. 20 Minuten reports that the industry group GastroSuisse recommends that guests who wish to thank the server for good service should ‘generously round up’ the bill.
That’s still pretty vague for me, so I’ve come up with my own strategy. For something like a coffee, I’ll round up to the nearest Swiss franc. For something below CHF 100, I’ll round up to the nearest 5 or 10, and for something over CHF 100 I start going by percent. Most of the time this about 10–15 percent, but I’ll go even higher in some cases, because truly professional service does tend to stand out around here, and I’d like to do my small part to keep it going. Except for the way I tip on bigger bills, I think this tracks to the way many people here tip.
You can tip too much. I’ve done it. I used to frequent a little coffee and sandwich place, where the people behind the counter were unfailingly pleasant and efficient. I never tipped (I was still under the influence of the unnecessary tip notion). But one day, overcome with ex-waitress guilt, I told the server to keep five francs. Oh dear. That was awkward. Was I sure? Really? No, you don’t need to do that. Good grief. Unless your German is up to explaining alien cultural notions, it’s best not to rock the boat.
According to an interview in Beobachter, you can also make a tip awkward to accept by saying something like “I need to get rid of my [foreign] change.” Tipping really is about rewarding good service. It’s not expected and it’s not an obligation.
I don’t give a Trinkgeld
The flip side of tipping for good service, rather than for all service as in the US, is that you can feel perfectly free not to tip for bad service. I will most definitely skip the tip when service is bad in Switzerland, unlike in the US, where the service had to be so abysmal that I hoped the person would leave the business soon after, before I would consider leaving nothing. (In the US servers live entirely off of tips. You’re not taking away something extra, you’re taking away a paycheck when you don’t tip.)
How do you…?
So how do you leave a tip? The best way is to do your rounding up when the server comes to collect for the bill and tell him or her how much change you want. You’ll get a nice thank you while the server counts out the change and all will be smoothly concluded. It’s also great practice with numbers for German learners.
To tip or not to tip?
According to the interview participants in a December 2009 Beobachter article, tipping is part of the relationship with regular customers and says a lot about who you are. But there’s no easy formula. A great regular might never tip but still have a warm relationship with their hairdresser (oh yeah, you can tip in the salon too), according to the Coiffeuse interviewed. But never tipping your bartender might send a different message, indicating that even though you’re there every Friday night, you don’t really like the service or the bartender.
I guess what my tipping says about me is that I’m an American. And maybe it says I’ve been there. Waiting tables is hard. Even if you’re not good at it. If you’re really good at it, then you are the rare master of an unappreciated art. That’s worth a few francs.
Kathy is an American in Zürich, studying German and French, learning about the food and wines of Switzerland and living the dream with her husband. When not memorising new verb and preposition combinations, or traveling, she’s blogging about the ups, downs and oddities of expat life over at TwoFools in Zurich.
Photo credit: La Stanza bar, Zurich by Simon Aughton (Flickr.com)