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By Regina W Bryan in Barcelona—
I just got back to Barcelona after spending two months in the United States and Canada. It’s normal to have a little culture shock when going in-between countries, and one of the aspects of life back in North America that always confuses upon return is tipping. In Barcelona, and all over Spain, it’s not usual to tip as much or as often as in the USA.
When I first moved to Barcelona, I always left a tip, usually 10% of the bill. I have worked as a waitress (everyone should once) and believed that it was downright rude not to tip. I always tipped at bars, cafes, and restaurants. As time went on I was told over and over by Europeans and Spaniards that what I was doing “wasn’t normal,” and I noticed that they weren’t leaving much of a tip when we went out to dinner or for coffees. Certainly there was no tipping at bars. Gradually, I tipped less.
Then I ended up writing an article on anarchy and socialism in the 1930s in Barcelona. Doing research for the piece I learned that at one time in Barcelona tipping was deemed inappropriate because it created more of a class divide. Why should a waitress be tipped but a fishmonger not? Why should you tip your taxi driver but not the store clerk? The idea is that if everyone makes a fair wage and is covered by socialized health care, then tipping is no longer necessary. It was then that I sort of had an “ah ha” moment.
I get why we have to tip in the States, where some servers make $2.50 in minimum wage and don’t have health insurance. While waiters are not well paid here, they do make a “living wage” and are covered by a socialist government (for now).
That said, usually the service is not good in Barcelona. When it is, I remember it, feel grateful and may even tip 10%! Since servers are not working for tips they may not be eager to see if you need another beer or liked your food. They also won’t be in a hurry to rush you out the door to turn tables, which is refreshing.
So, how much should you tip? I don’t know. I always leave something, and in writing this I actually asked many of my friends what they tip out of curiosity. Here’s what they told me:
Rounded up. If it’s €7.65 the driver gets €8.00. Never more than €.50 and some people don’t tip taxi drivers at all. (Catalan friend)
Depends. One friend said, “Never more than €10, no matter how expensive the meal is.” The same friend tips only when service is good and not at all if it’s bad. (Swedish/Canadian friends)
I’ll usually leave a couple euros on top of the bill if the service is good, maybe more if we are a large group.
A wealthier friend told me that he would tip €20 at the most, even if he was taking his whole family out to dinner and the bill was well over €600….
A couple euros to the delivery person. (Spanish friend)
Bars & Cafes:
Again, most people just round up or leave their spare change, which is a bit sad I suppose. One friend told me the most he’d ever leave is €1, and that’s if the waiter is nice. He also mentioned that Catalans have a bad rap for being tight-fisted, and not tipping. I have heard this generalization before, but have no idea how Catalans compare, in terms of generosity, to the rest of Spain and Europe. (Spanish/Catalan friend)
In Barcelona, as in other large cities where many buildings don’t have elevators, the supermarket will deliver your purchase to you (and carry them all up the stairs). It’s awesome, and I’ve used it many, many times. The men who lug your bags of wine, water, canned goods and cleaning supplies up multiple flights of stairs deserve a tip in my opinion, and it is to them that I give most generously (especially if they look thirsty and are soaked in sweat). They’ve got a hard job.
The most I’ve given is €6 and the least maybe €2. From what I’ve been told, most people do not tip these guys.
Have thoughts to share on the subject of tipping in Barcelona? If you live in Spain or another part of Europe, I’d be interested to hear how you tip and when, as it seems like everyone has a different opinion about it!