I will be travelling in western Europe, and I would like to dine at the restaurants there. Am I expected to tip the waiter/ waitress? How can I tip them when I am paying the bills by credit card? Do I have to prepare some coins just for that purpose?
There's a bit of per-country variation, but the rule of thumb across Western Europe is that service charges are already included in the bill (sometimes as a separate line item, sometimes not) and it's not necessary to tip in addition to this.
If you must, and you usually wouldn't unless the service is really good, rounding up a euro or two to the nearest suitable number is sufficient. This is usually done only with cash, since the kind of places that accept credit cards tend to also be the kind of places with hefty service charges already in the bill, but you can usually tip by credit card as well the same way you would in the US: just write in the amount after tip and sign.
Wikipedia has a fairly handy per-country breakdown.
Edit: Sigh. The OP asked about tipping in "Western Europe", I've summarized the rule for "Western Europe", which is that tipping is generally not necessary. Of course there are exceptions and not every restaurant and every country is exactly the same, hence the link to Wikipedia, but the key point is that, unlike the US, you never have to leave 15% in addition to the bill.
Scandinavia (where I'm from):
matches the UK as described by Rory here. If the service is really good, you can tip upwards of 5-10% if you want. But please note that most entry-level jobs like cashiers, waiters, cabdriver etc. pays a lot better in Scandinavia than in the US (or frankly, most other countries), so you're not stealing anyone's lunch by not leaving a tip.
If the waiter gives you the credit card reader without an option for tipping, you are OK just paying your tab and leave. Same with bars or cabs.
Anyways, welcome to Europe. We love visiting Americans, gives us an opportunity to practice that second language :)
EDIT: Bad phrasing on my part. See comments below.
In Europe there aren't really any rules that govern tipping as a whole.
Simply reading the various answers might already have given you a good indication; the rules differ per country, and within the countries they often differ per establishment as well.
As the rules differ so widely, it may be more useful to use some common sense, and try to figure it out as you go:
- If it is explicitly stated that service charges are included, you're probably not expected to tip.
- Likewise, if it is explicitly stated that service charges are NOT included, that probably means a tip is expected.
- Tipping is often considered more of a kindness than a necessity; use it to show your appreciation.
- The Wikipedia article recommended by jpatocal has fairly decent (as far as I can judge) guidelines for most countries.
However, keep in mind that tipping is rarely such a big deal as in the US, and that Europeans themselves are often as confused about whether or not, and how much to tip!
Edit: For the amount, I've often heard 10% of the bill as a guideline, but in practice I've far more often seen people just round up the bill. However, I can imagine this also changes a lot from country to country; read the other answers or see the Wikipedia article if you want a country-specific indication.
In whole Germany (quite similiar in Austria and Suisse / Switzerland) it's quite usual to tip. As waiters are payed (salary or by hour) the tip doesn't have to be high, typically below 2 or 1.50 Euro (example: 16.80 Euro --> 18) - by every person (!). Of course it depends on the price category...
Only if you're really disappointed you would let give back the exact change.
More info for Europe here: http://culinarytravel.about.com/od/planningculinarytravel/a/Tipping_Guide_Worldwide.htm
As mentioned here before, it depends on the country. From my point of view (and I am talking only from my own experience):
in Poland - it is not expected. But if you want to, the gesture will definitely be appreciated. It's OK to leave about 2-5 PLN. Usually no need to leave more, but leaving too little can be found insulting by some.
in Germany it depends on region. My experience in Bayern and Berlin, and I assume in many other parts - they expect tip and sometimes don't even give change for small values (under 1-2 EUR). In northern Germany it was not expected and treated as just a nice gesture.
in Austria - [EDIT] I noticed many people don't give tips. Hovewer, it is considered nice to pay some more in restaurants. After waiter tells you the price, just say how much you want to pay (eg. price is 7,40€, you say "8" while giving 10€ bill, and you'd get 2€ change and nice smile).
I find in most countries a small tip, i.e. leave the change take the notes (and Euro/Pound coins) is nice. In the UK particularly a lot of restaurants add 15% service charge (I believe they have to state this on the menu and you are legally allowed to not pay it) - which means no tip as you just paid 15% tip anyway. Taxis I always round up to the nearest Euro/Pound or add another Euro/Pound if its less than say half a Euro/Pound.
No tip is expected in fast food places or bars of course.
As someone who works in a UK restaurant, I have almost never seen anything other than the cost of the food to be shown on any restaurant bill. The exception is indeed really high-end restaurants.
Our tips are divided among the floor staff, because we don't have a single waiter catering to a particular table. And the kitchen staff are also included as their prompt work is clearly part of the service.
Tips generally range between 5% - 10% of the bill. Customers paying by card usually tip in cash.
I'd say that in general tipping is a lot less common in Western Europe than it is in the US. More specifically for Sweden I'd say people almost never give tips. The main exception I've seen to this has been among the "young rich" (or "brats" as they're sometimes called around here) who in recent years have taken to tipping generously as a way of bragging (giving a large tip just to show everyone how rich they are without actually having to rudely mention how much money they have). Among regular people though, I can't remember the last time I heard of anyone tipping.
In Italy you don't usually tip the waiter.
If you pay by cash, you can leave some euros more than the amount (from one euro to five usually) if you are particulary satisfied, or if you pay by cards sometimes there is a box or similar near the cash register where you can leave some money that will be divided between the staff, but it is not something that is expected.
In Switzerland the service is included in the price of the meal (and thus invisible), so tipping is unnecessary.
If the service is far beyond what is normally expected, leave a small tip, between 2-5 francs.
Whilst a credit-card tip won't be refused, it is a bit crass. You'l be considered as better-educated if you pay the exact amount by credit card and tip in cash.
Tipping in foreign currencies is also considered a little clumsy.
In Germany, it is usual to tip in the area of 10% of the bill, or "round up" to the nearest round amount: Some examples: - Bill: 12.80 -> the 10% tip is 1.28, so many people will pay 14 - Bill: 14.20 -> the 10% tip is 1.42, but most people will simply pay 15
If you are unhappy with the service, and don't indicate a tip by saying "Stimmt so" or saying the "rounded up" amount, most waiters will act surprised or disappointed. Demanding full change back strongly indicates that you were unhappy with the service.
I knew many students earning some money as waiters/waitresses, and they usually earned more on tips than on the very low salary paid to them by the restaurant owner.
Experienced travelers have put together a great tipping guide over at FlyerTalk for waiters/waitresses, porters, and taxi drivers.
Many hotels and restaurants add a service charge to the bill. In most cases, an additional tip is unnecessary. If no service charge is added to your bill, 10% is the general rule for restaurant service, and $1 per bag for a hotel porter.
In Slovakia, service and all taxes are included in the price of meals/beverage. If you see in the menu a sandwich for 1.23 EUR and a drink for 0.69 EUR your total will be 1.92 EUR, this is what you pay the waitress. If you pay by cash she will bring you 0.08 EUR in change and if you don't need to be bothered by the cents you can leave her 3 cents and take the 5 cent coin or just leave the whole change.
However if you want to leave a tip it's OK too, it's unexpected but not insulting and the waitress will be quite happy.
In France, service charges are not included in the bill (or I missed something in my own country). Therefore, when the waitress brings you the bill, she brings it in a little (plastic) plate to put your money (or credit card) in order to pay the bill.
If you want, and if the service was good enough for you, you can leave some euros (between 1 and 3 euros usually) in the plate, even if you decided to pay by credit card. Then, the money you left will be shared between the staff at the end of the day.