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When I pay by cash in a restaurant, I get change back first and then I usually have enough small bank notes to give the wanted amount of tip. However due recent tendencies I tend to pay by card almost for everything. Fun as it be, I simply ... have no cash, or do not have it the form I am willing to give without change.

In Switzerland, the smallest note I can easily get from the cash machine is 20 sFr (roundly $20). It is often more than I am willing to give. 10 sFr exists but usually not available from cash machines and 5 sFr is already a coin that gets difficult to obtain.

Some payment devices in restaurants allow entering the wanted amount for tip. Unfortunately waiters tend to enter zero there before handing the device to me to enter the password. I do not understand exactly why they are doing this.

If I pay by card and have the suitable amount of cash available, I simply leave it on the table. This looks especially important to me when I go to the same restaurant repeatedly. But if I don't, I am forced to go away without leaving any tip at all, even if the service was good.

The options probably would be

  • Ask the waiter to include the wanted amount of tip in payment from the card. When exactly should this be said and how approximately would the phrase sound?
  • If they really dislike this way of getting tip, ask the waiter to split the larger bank note so I would have suitable cash to give a tip.
  • Assume it is their problem that they enter zero for the tip before handing the device to me, and take this as a tip refusal, likely instructed by the management of the restaurant.

At the place I live and work, there is no easy access to the bank counter where I could ask for a big bag of the 5 sFr coins I usually prefer to give.

The most usable answer would be for Switzerland where I currently work, but if there is a stable rule in some other country, I could probably re-apply it so it also may be relevant.

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    I thought the Swiss don't really do percentage-based tipping? It's more "leave the spare change", and if you don't leave any that's OK too -- Lord knows Swiss restaurant prices are high enough as it is and the waitstaff are decently paid as well. Jan 1 at 13:41
  • 5
    I'd often read that tipping is a uniquely USA custom (some say racist or barbaric). All the answers here (as well as the question) suggest otherwise.
    – WGroleau
    Jan 2 at 21:10
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    @WGroleau, in the US, if the wait staff does not get tips they do not take enough money home to live. In Europe tips are an extra above a living wage and you are free not to give anything. But people still like to reward good service.
    – Willeke
    Jan 2 at 21:19
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    @Willeke, I am a US citizen_I know that. Which may be the source of calling it "barbaric." The "racist" accusation says that when slavery was officially ended, tipping started to ensure "servants" didn't forget who was the "master." What I don't know is how true are the claims that tipping should not be done anywhere else. This thread suggests those claims are not accurate.
    – WGroleau
    Jan 2 at 21:49
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    @lambshaanxy Yes, one would think that, and some Swiss/residents don't tip ever by principle, but most do (e.g., having a lunch with colleagues for 20-30 and round up a bit). "Decent pay" is relative: they aren't overpaid by Swiss standards, but are payed around median salary (mostly a bit less than median though).
    – D. Kovács
    Jan 3 at 9:11

6 Answers 6

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Swiss resident here: when they tell you the amount you have basically the following options when paying with a debit/credit card:

  • show the card without comment → they will put the exact amount into the POS-terminal, hand it over to you for payment;
  • show the card and tell them a new amount with your tip → they will thank you, put in the amount you said, hand the terminal over to you for payment.

Almost all establishments accept "upped" card payments and everywhere where I asked, the waiters told me that the owners do honorable bookkeeping and distribute the gathered extra amount (tips) as part of the salary.

Usual tip varies amongst Swiss/residents:

  • you can go without leaving any tip (especially if you are not happy with the food/service or are a small earner), nobody expects tip, they are earning a living wage
  • if you are earning well/showing off/are very happy with the place/food/service, leave a tip of up to 10%, excessively more is unusual. Usual is to round up: small amounts (up to let's say 50) to the next full Franc or add 1-2 (e.g., 27.80 to 30.00), medium amounts (up to let's say 100) to the next 5/10 (e.g., 66.60 to 70.00, 68.90 to 75.00), larger amounts round and add some but not much more than 10%.
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    Great answer, emphasis on "tell them a new amount". For instance if your bill is for 28 francs, say "Make it 30" and you're all set.
    – Calimo
    Jan 2 at 17:49
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In Germany when asking to pay, I typically will tell the waiter upfront I will be paying with card. Mostly it goes like this, the waiter brings the machine to the table and will tell the total amount. When handing them the card, I will tell them amount that I want them to charge and that's what they run.

Occasionally they will pre-populate the charge to coax a cash tip out of you, but than they are mostly out of luck. I don't consider it my responsibility to carry convenient cash with me and cash tips are somewhat questionable: it's a huge temptation to not share with the back end staff and for tax evasion.

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    When the waiters receive cash money, they have an idea how much tip is around and is due to be split with the kitchen staff. When every guest pays by card it's up to the restaurant owner to distribute the money. Jan 1 at 19:35
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    That's their problem not mine. Fortunately tipping in Germany is not yet as out of control as it is in the US. In the US almost all tipping is done by card and it apparently still works. Despite the paper trail, they still manage to hide about 23 billion dollar per year from the tax-man.
    – Hilmar
    Jan 1 at 20:57
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    Same procedure in Switzerland. Just tell them the amount you want to pay and pay that amount by card. If they already entered the amount in the card reader they just hit the "Stop" button und enter the new amount. If they dont want to do that, as @Hilmar said, not your problem. Jan 2 at 8:47
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    +1 if they don’t take card tips, it’s their problem.
    – JonathanReez
    Jan 2 at 14:50
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    In the US, it's of questionable legality to fail to give the entire tip to the waiter or to require that the tip be shared with back end staff. This is on the grounds that the tip is intended by the customer to be given to the waiter only. Some states agree with this interpretation and enforce this; other states agree but do not enforce; other states do not agree. Jan 2 at 23:19
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Just hand over the smallest note you have and ask “Can you please break this note for me?” or “Could you get me some change?”. In French “Pourriez-vous me faire de la monnaie?”. Don’t know the equivalent in other languages, sorry. I’ll make this a community answer so people can add other versions.

Note that the more upscale the establishment, the larger the notes/coins you will get if you don’t specify. You would get a 10 and two fives from a 20 for instance (meaning they expect a tip of 5 or 10), or even two notes of 10, where in other places you would be sure to get a few coins of 1 or 2 of whatever currency.

So you can specify, adding “could you get me coins/notes of X”.

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Back when credit cards were done with different technology that used to only allow one number to be entered, I used to tell the person (typically a cab driver) the total to put in. For example, the driver might say "that will be 16.50" and I would hand them my card and say "put it through for 20" and they would say "thankyou!" understanding the difference was to be the tip.

Since your waiters don't know they need the machine until you give them your card, you can say as you hand it over "please add X for a tip" and they won't put the zero in for you.

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    But tips given on the card do still often get into the pocket of the restaurant rather than the wait staff.
    – Willeke
    Jan 1 at 13:48
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    that's a separate issue Jan 1 at 13:49
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    @Willeke I usually ask them first if the staff get the tips (UK) and they usually say Yes but I think there is some rule and anyway they may not be allowed to say No.
    – mdewey
    Jan 1 at 13:59
  • If the management keeps the tips the staff will know that, so they probably won't add the tip on anyway. A lot a card terminals have a tip option anyway, so the customer can see how to add it. Jan 1 at 16:45
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    @mdewey: If you ever find yourself visiting the US, and anyone tells you anything other than "yes" in response to that question, please be aware that they (management) are violating federal labor law. On this side of the pond, tips are the property of waitstaff (but management can enforce tip pooling between employees who "customarily" receive tips), and management keeping the tips is considered straight theft. That doesn't mean it doesn't happen, of course.
    – Kevin
    Jan 2 at 3:43
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Where I live and due to covid, people have almost forgotten about cash! we use electronic payments in everything to the point I see banks started to remove some ATMs because people do not need cash as they used to.

However, I have the same issue like you, I love to tip and I feel guilty if I didn't, but cash isn't available on me at all times, but technology comes to the rescue!

We have a local payment app for individuals, I ask the waiters/delivery people if they have that app installed, if they do I ask them to show me the QR code and I simply scan it and tip them the amount I wish, which then goes directly to their account.

If there is a popular payment app in your country as we do, it will not harm you to ask if the waiter has it installed and use it!

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Tipping is very cultural. There are places that don't expect tips (like Japan) and places that expect a 20% tip even when service isn't great (e.g. the USA) with lots of places in between where tipping is 10-15% and you are not expected to tip if you did not enjoy the service.

My advice for travelers is to check. Places like WikiTravel contain sections on tipping, for example for Switzerland it's:

Tipping isn't mandatory. You can leave something if you want, but you're not obligated to. Unlike other countries, restaurant staff have very high salaries and tips are normally included in the price of your meal.

This has also been my personal experience during my trips in Switzerland. The nice thing is that it has also been my experience traveling to any other country :)

If you would still like to tip my advice would be to ask a local, as other answers indicate this depends a lot on the customs and culture of the country and in most countries where tipping is common there is technology to accommodate it (like an extra choice in the credit card payment terminal).

It is also totally fine to ask your waiter how to tip, I am sure that's a question they'll be happy to answer.

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