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swiss saturdays: tipping in switzerland

June 19, 2010

I used to be embarrassed by my fellow American tourists abroad.  Yelling in English, wearing shorts, eating at McDonald’s, and generally making me wonder if we needed to have tighter restrictions on who should be eligible for passports.   Years later, many of the Americans I run into dress appropriately, make a conscious effort to at least learn a word or two in the local language and manage to speak, not yell, at people.  And while I think we still have a way to go before we dethrone the Japanese as best tourists in the world, I feel that we’re at least moving in the right direction.

With that said, I still get nervous about being identified as American.  Why?  When it comes to tipping we’re freaks and the rest of the world loves us for it.   In countries and situations where I know I’m not supposed to tip, I’ve seen staff stand there awkwardly for a moment waiting for a tip simply because they know I’m American and figure it’s coming.  Whereas I used to tip to disengage (and once accidentally tipped a guy in a Budapest hotel $20 because I had messed up the exchange rate), now I just smile politely, thank them again and wish them a nice day.

Just to be sure though, before traveling anywhere I always try to crack the tipping code before departing and I recommend you do the same.  So, if you’re planning a trip to Switzerland, hopefully this will  be helpful.

Tipping in Switzerland

Every Swiss person I’ve ever asked has said “Just round up.”  This doesn’t help me.  I’m not going to round up to 100 francs on a 98 franc bill.   So, it isn’t until I nag them until they’re ready to write the authorities to revoke my visa that they admit “Okay, fine, if you need a number, leave between 5 and 10%”.  Thank you, that’s more like it.  A number.

Who do I tip and how much? Basically, anyone who has served me food or drink.  Examples:

  • At a cafe.  I order a coffee. Bill is 6.10CHF.  7 is fine.
  • At a restaurant for lunch, service is fine, but not great.  Bill comes to 42CHF.  I leave 45.
  • At a restaurant for dinner, food is great, service is great.  Bill comes to 72CHFs, I leave 80.

Who don’t I tip? Everyone else, but I’ve been known to give a franc or two to a good cabbie.  I can’t help it.  I’m hardwired for it.

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