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From an etiquette standpoint, money is widely viewed as inappropriate dinner time conversation. But what about when the meal is over? That moment when it’s time to face the arrival of the bill, and the question of the tip? If you feel a bit embarrassed when it comes time to reach for your wallet, here are a few tips to manage the situation with elegance and ease.
When it comes to paying the bill, the rules are pretty straightforward: s/he who invites, pays. In terms of chivalry, and as is widely practices in Mediterranean countries, the men usually pay for the women present – something that isn’t standard practice in the U.S. or Northern Europe. If you think there’s something a bit sad about watching a couple split the bill after a romantic dinner, consider the option of alternating turns to pay, and having a clear idea of whose “turn” it is from the start. It’s not uncommon to feel a bit uncomfortable when the subject of money is raised, and there are many top-tier restaurants that still have a price-less menu for the women or guests, whose aim is to make them feel more at ease and “free” to order at will. When out together, women or young people usually split the bill in equal parts, without mathematically calculating the price of who ate what.
While the rules of bill-paying are few and precise, navigating the murky world of tips is quite a bit more complicated. In almost all European countries, rounding up the bill isn’t considered obligatory, but is a tangible way of showing one’s appreciation of the service – an appreciated gesture, but by no means required. In these cases, customers can add on between 5-10% of the final bill, a practice that translates to just about all European countries. Remember though, that the tip should never be given to the owners of the restaurant, and should always be done with discretion. In the U.S., instead, tipping is obligatory. In general, service is never included in the price – and not just when it comes to restaurants, but in bars, taxis, hotels, valet parking and beauty treatments like manicures, massages or at hair salons Percentages vary with every category: bartenders, taxis and hairdressers usually get 10%, but in restaurants the percentage goes up. The wait staff in restaurants depend heavily on tips for their earnings, and the accepted range is between 15-20% for service. If you have doubts regarding the when and how much of tipping, try looking at the Tipping site, which also explains the custom in other countries. Once you’ve established how much, there’s the how.
The rules of etiquette are quite precise when it comes to the way tips should be left. At a restaurant, the money can be left on same dish with which you pay the bill, and the tip should always be in cash. If you want to give the tip by hand, fold the bills into thirds, hold it firm to the palm of your right hand with your thumb and when you shake hands and say thank you, pass it to the receiver. But times and habits are changing, and Americans are starting to buck against the idea of the “automatic” tip, and being more selective about giving it to those who have truly given great service. In any case, anyone visiting the States should remember that, when in doubt, and when in restaurants, calculating an extra 20% for the tip is a good rule to keep in mind on your travels.