One of the most confusing things for visitors to Paris is figuring out the tip system. Unlike the US where tips are expected (and considered part of the wages paid), in France by law a 15% service compris is always included in the price wherever you eat or drink. No matter what anyone says, a service charge is always included. Guidebooks often underscore this fact, reminding you that the service is included. But also they add that it’s okay to leave extra.
But Paris has many international visitors, and it’s pretty common to leave something after a bite to eat or drink (leaving a few coins, or some bills, is called the pourboire, which roughly means “for something to drink.”) But it’s never expected and is only given for good or attentive service, or at a place you habituate frequently.
Other circumstances where a tip is common: In restaurants if you have a baby or children that require special attention, if you don’t speak the language and the server is particularly patient and helpful, or if you stand up and spill red wine all over the place and broken a couple of glasses as well. (Not that I’ve ever done that…)
Although I have a few Parisian acquaintances that don’t leave anything on principal (reasoning that it is, after all, included), most I know do leave a little something. But if you go to a restaurant and they don’t return with your change when you leave money for the bill, that’s extremely bad form and I always say something. And in those cases, I don’t leave anything.
If you do want to leave something extra, don’t add it to your credit card slip since the waiter probably won’t get it. Instead, leave the coins in the tray where the check was presented or on the table.
Lastly: Don’t feel obligated to overtip. In all but the fanciest of restaurants, leaving more than 5-10% is generally not done, even though it may be customary and considered impolite to leave less than 15% in your country.
So here’s a little guide based on my observations and experiences dining and getting around Paris:
If you have a drink, although not necessary, often people leave the change. If the bill is 3.80€, you can leave 4€. 5€ (unless you’ve accidentally smashed the table in half or something) is excessive.
Simply round it up the nearest whole figure if you want. At the bar, if a coffee is 1.20€, you can leave an extra 10-20 centimes behind if you want.
Meals & Restaurants
In normal restaurants, including cafés, one can leave €1; for every €20. So if the check is €80, you can leave anywhere from €2-€4. Think of it as a gesture, not an obligation. Once again, it’s not necessary but is appreciated for good service. And I think this equation works out just about right.
In nicer restaurants, such as 3-start tables, where the service is exemplary, a tip of €20 is fine to leave. It’s not normal to tip the coat check person. When in doubt, look at French diners and see what they leave as a gratuity.
In simple restaurants, if the waiter grabs your coats and puts in on the hook, there’s no need to give anything. But in a nicer restaurant, especially if there’s a coat check, €1 per coat is expected.
Like restaurants, tipping in a taxi isn’t necessary, although most of the time I give a little extra, roughly an extra 1-2€ in Paris no matter what the fare. If coming from the airport and the driver’s helped you with luggage and the like, 5% is fine to give him or her.
Conversely, if they take you on a tour of Paris, ie: the longest route possible, I don’t give them anything unless they were doing it to avoid traffic or a demonstration blocking the streets.
If your concierge at the hotel goes out of their way to make you a host of restaurant reservations, especially at hard-to-get places, it’s a nice gesture to give them something for their efforts. While a box of chocolates or a bottle of good wine is welcome, a monetary gesture of gratitude is a good way to show your appreciation.
If they make a phone call or two to get you into a local bistro, it’s not necessary. If you give them a list of places that you’d like them to book you at, I do recommend a little something, especially if you plan to go back to that hotel. Trust me, they’ll remember you. And getting you into a nicer place that’s normally booked is quite a feat—depending on the level of hotel you’re staying at or restaurant you’ve requested, 5, 10, or 20€ is appreciated.
A tip of €1 per bag is appreciated, unless the bag is extra-heavy, in which case you can be more generous.
And if you go to the theatre, it’s almost mandatory to tip the usher at least €1 per person for showing you to your seat.
A 10% gratuity is fine to give the person who cuts your hair.
Except for the woman who cut my hair when I first arrived in Paris years ago and I had to walk around the city looking like a sponge that got stuck in the garbage disposal for a couple of weeks until it grew out. She got a tip, but I didn’t go back.
(I hope she used the money to either improve her skills, or to head back to school to find another line of work. Boy, was that scary…)
Wikipedia‘s Guide To Tipping in France and elsewhere.
ParisMarais has a few tips
Magellin’s World Tipping Guide
Fodors’ Foodie Guide
About.com on Tipping in France
Heather’s notes at Secrets of Paris
Two Great Dining Guides to Paris