Tips on Gratuities

Now, here’s a sensitive topic if there ever was one: tipping.

That extra “something” provided to (certain) people who provide services to us: waiters and waitresses, barbers and hair stylists, guides, helpers and assistants working for contractors you’re paying directly.

I’ve asked the question(s) many times of lots of people. And plenty, in turn, have asked me: Do you tip? Who(m)? Where? How much?

Unlike USA workers in some industries and trades, tips aren’t necessarily expected by their counterparts in Portugal and Spain.

But they’re surely appreciated … especially if unanticipated.

There’s a theoretical irony here in that a “tip,” according to reasonable references, was originally given “to insure promptness.” Promptness? Doesn’t that go against the grain here in Portugal and Spain?

But the reasons for gracious tipping these days go well beyond timing and promptness. They’re about the quality of service we receive.

Regardless of where they’re working or what they’re doing in their jobs, my understanding is that Portuguese and Spanish workers are entitled, at least, to the prevailing minimum wage.

Not so in the “colonies,” where restaurant and salon workers (among others) are paid a lower minimum wage, often not even earning a living wage that covers the basic costs of a life. For them, tips comprise a substantial portion of their income.

In Spain and Portugal, people in these same fields of endeavor make little more (if any) than the legal minimum wage. As of January 2018, that’s €700 (US $806) per month in Portugal and €1050 (US $1209) in Spain.

Despite the lower costs of some products and services here on the Iberia peninsula, I couldn’t live on those wages. Could you?

So, yes, I tip. Because I feel good when I can help and give a little extra.

But only for good and/or special service. And, usually, not to the owner or proprietor of a business, even if s/he is the one who is serving me … although, contrary to the conventional rule not to, I do tip taxi drivers who help me load and unload lots of baggage to and from airports.

Not everyone tips.They just don’t believe in it, as it’s not part of their culture, upbringing, and overall formation. If and when they do tip, it’s typically given as a token—but appreciated nonetheless.

Tipping has been one of those difficult adjustments for me to make, now that we live in Portugal and Spain.

While I am tempted to use the same rule of thumb that guided my gratuities in the USA – 20% for good service, 10-15% for acceptable, less for less – I am seeing how awkward even appreciative workers may feel and react when given a tip based on these percentages.

On my restaurant tab of, say, 20 Euros, most service staff are delighted to receive a one Euro tip … they seem uncomfortable accepting three euros (15%) or four (20%). Evidently, the rule of thumb is 5% in restaurants here and 10% only if lots of plates are being changed. Similarly, my barber is very grateful when I give him (or her) a 50 cent or one euro tip on a charge ranging from €6-10. More often than not, a few coins are appropriate and thankfully welcomed. Especially for beer or wine, coffee, and “raciones” (tapas).

When you do tip, try to leave it directly for those who have served you well. In cash (or coins), not on credit or debit cards, whose transaction fees and merchant charges will be deducted from your largesse.

Ultimately, tipping – like most perks and bonuses – is a judgment call.

There’s no right or wrong, no rules or standards set in stone.


My advice about tipping, therefore, is to do what feels right for you. Tip or don’t tip, whenever, wherever, whatever you believe is appropriate.

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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