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Make sense of... Leaving a tip in France

You do not have to tip in France – but it can be the polite thing to do for a service well done. 

The French word for a tip, pourboire, literally means ‘to have something to drink’ and should not to be confused with the similar pot-de-vin (pot of wine) – a bribe...

The first recorded use was in a Molière play in the 17th century where a character in L’Ecole des femmes pays a tip, saying voilà, pour boire (there you go, to have a drink).
Unlike certain countries such as the US, workers in service industries are always supposed to be paid an acceptable amount for their work (always, at least, the minimum wage) and payment for their service is included, meaning tips are an extra, if you appreciated the service and felt the person put in effort beyond a bare minimum.

The practice is not common, but in a few establishments (eg. certain large Paris brasseries) the way the staff are paid may include a specific service element based on turnover (usually as well as a fixed part), in which case a percentage should be noted on the bill such as service compris 15%, meaning 15% of the bill is this built-in service charge.

Legally this is the only situation where the bill needs to say service compris (‘service- charge included’), otherwise the term prix net (taxes and service included) may be used (though restaurants often do not make this distinction).

Either way, the customer is not expected to worry about whether the person serving is paid enough – a tip is always just a tip.
A few years ago the UMIH hospitality industry body proposed reducing the fixed part of workers’ salaries and encouraging diners to make more use of variable tips according to quality of the service, as opposed to service being deemed as included. They said it might encourage staff to be friendlier and take the job more seriously. This proposal was not carried out.

Who gets the tips?
An UMIH spokeswoman said in most establishments, especially smaller ones, tips are collected directly by the person who is tipped. In others, staff are expected to put them into a common fund to be shared out among all the staff in contact with the public. The spokeswoman said practices vary, but the common fund method is typically used more in more luxurious establishments.

Who should you tip?
A common example is café or restaurant waiters, where it is common to tip by leaving money on the table when you go. Tipping is also common for hairdressers and, to some extent, taxi drivers. It is not expected automatically and you should not feel obliged.

Certain types of worker who often used to be associated with tipping are no longer so common, such as petrol pump attendants in filling stations, or ouvreuses de cinéma, who would guide people to their seats with a torch or sell ice-creams from a tray.

One difference from the UK is the amount of tip, which unless you are dining somewhere expensive is likely to be a few coins, rather than a note – generally no more than around 1-5% in a restaurant, 5-10% in a café: for example for a drink costing €2.80, you might leave 20 centimes, for a meal costing €21, maybe 60 centimes. Café waiting staff are usually low-paid and tips are often a significant part of their pay – their aprons traditionally include a pocket for collecting them. It is common to leave a tip by leaving the money on the table when you leave.

For a taxi you might round to the nearest euro (or ask the driver to gardez la monnaie – keep the change). You could add a euro or two if the service was especially good. How­ever, drivers should have spare change and should not begrudge you expecting it.

At a hotel, it is reasonable to tip a euro per bag to a porter who carried your baggage to or from your car to the room, perhaps up to €10 if it is a luxurious establishment. In a luxury hotel you might tip €5 to a valet who brings out your car from the garage. It is also considered good manners to leave a tip for the chambermaid – sometimes you will find some envelopes provided in a drawer – perhaps €5-20 depending on the length of stay.
For deliveries, you could tell a pizza delivery person to keep the change or give them a euro if you have already paid by card; simil­arly if you had furniture delivered, giving more if the delivery was physically difficult.
A few extra euros are appreciated at the hairdresser (or beautician), perhaps one to 10 depending on how exclusive the salon is.

Tipping should be done in a discreet, not ostentatious way, and it can be inappropriate in some circumstances – for example maîtres d’hôte in smart restaurants say some clients try to tip before the meal in the hope of a better table, which may not be appreciated. It is not usual to tip for good service in a shop.

Tipping is reportedly less common and less generous in France than it was, and used less by the young than older generations.

Can you tip by card?
It depends on the establishment – sometimes not, and increasing use of cards for payment is said to be one reason for diminishing tips in recent years.
One solution often used is that the customer indicates the full amount they wish to pay including tips and this is taken on the card; the employee then tells their employer and takes the tip money out of the till.

Etrennes
One special kind of tip is étrennes – a Christmas/New Year gift of money for certain people who carry out local services. A classic example is money for the pompiers (around €5-10) when they call round with their annual (not-for-charity) calendar.
People who have a concierge (caretaker) for their building traditionally give them a substantial étrennes tip (eg. an envelope with €30-50 in it). People may also give money to their postman (€5-8), sometimes €5 to their binman (if they knock on the door for a chat at this time of year, this will be what they are hoping for).

The image here was drawn by artist Perry Taylor. For more of his work see www.perrytaylor.fr

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