The tipping point in Switzerland

July 9, 2012, 11 Comments

Do I leave a tip? If so, then how much? Two questions that plague every tourist. In Switzerland things are, in theory, much simpler – service is included in prices, be that in a bar, restaurant, hotel or taxi. Any tip is completely voluntary and there is never any expectation that you must leave 15-20%. This isn’t America. But is it really that simple? What do the locals do?

Service has been included in Swiss prices since fixed salaries for service staff were introduced in 1974 (although hairdressers had to wait until 1980), which could be one reason why the prices can seem so high! And why the service can often be less than memorable. If service is included, why bother working hard and being friendly to earn that tip? I have often wondered if that is the reason why many Swiss waiters permanently have bad-hair days. You shouldn’t have to pay five-star prices to get five-star service.

Good service in Switzerland stands out because you don’t always get it. But when you do, then it’s worth showing that you appreciate it. So here are some rough rules about tipping in Switzerland:

  • For most bills, you usually round up to the nearest franc or two. So if it’s just a coffee at 4.50Fr, then you can make it a round five francs. If it’s a meal for 26.80Fr, you could just leave 28Fr.
  • If service has been better than normal, many people leave an extra 10% on top of the bill, especially if it was a meal rather than just a drink.
  • Taxi drivers are used to people paying the exact amount or waiting for change.
  • Remember that service is included in almost all prices. You never have to feel obliged to leave a tip.

Of course if you come from a country where service charges are expected or even added automatically, as many places in London now do, then it can be hard to get out of the habit of leaving a tip. My father always has that problem. And if service has been good, then it by all means do reward it.

But having worked for years in retail, I’ve always wondered why people feel the need to tip someone who serves you for two minutes by bringing you a beer but it’s not expected to tip someone who spends 10 minutes helping you choose books. Or glasses. Or shoes. All are just doing their jobs, for which they are paid, so why should waiters be treated differently? Why not tip the tram driver who brought you safely to your destination? Surely that’s no different from tipping a taxi driver, who probably earns just as much.

Tipping can be a minefield in many places but in Switzerland it doesn’t have to be. As with so many aspects of Swiss life, there are clear rules about it. Giving a tip is not expected, and when it does happen it’s seen by both sides (server and customer) as confirmation of good service. In recognition of that, I’d like to nominate three restaurants in Bern where I have had the best service:

Where would you nominate in Switzerland? Who would get your best service award?

11 Comments on "The tipping point in Switzerland"

  1. Adrian Bernascone Monday July 9th, 2012 at 12:36 PM · Reply

    We had a great evening in the ‘Stuba’ of Hotel Chavez in Reid Brig owned by Lilian and Jo Steiner

  2. Andrea Tuesday July 10th, 2012 at 03:56 PM · Reply

    In Berne I love to go to the “Pangäa”.
    It’s just opposite of the Domino, quite expensive but very nice.

  3. diccon Tuesday July 10th, 2012 at 09:55 PM · Reply

    Hi Fergus.
    To answer your points:
    – As a bookseller I earned the same as, if not less than, a waiter with no chance of any tips. I guess you haven’t worked in retail here otherwise you would never have made that comment! I checked this on the internet and average monthly salaries are within 100fr per month of each other. Retail is badly paid and doesn’t always have a set minimum salary (either hourly or monthly), which in Switzerland waiters have done since 1974, hence the inclusion of service since then.
    – I find service in Switzerland generally poor to awful. There are exceptions but they only stand out even more. Yes, in London it isn’t always great but that’s true of many big cities, Paris especially. It’s only when you leave Switzerland that you realise how good service can be in normal restaurants and hotels in places like Yorkshire, Arizona, Gran Canaria or Bavaria (all of which I’ve visited recently and nearly always had far better service than is the Swiss norm).
    – Service is not included in Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Ireland and the UK, so that’s quite a lot of western Europe.
    – You say that ‘if service is bad don’t leave a tip’. I would do just that if I could but in Switzerland the price already includes service. So what should I do? Deduct 10% from the bill?
    This post was intended to help people who are unsure about tipping here. But yes, I am also having a moan about service in Switzerland, as it should be better than it is. No wonder Americans (and quite a few Brits) are so shocked when eating out here. High prices and low standards are a fatal combination for a tourist trade that is already suffering. It could do so much more to help itself.
    I appreciate the fact that you love living here as much as I do, but sometimes you should take off your rose-coloured spectacles and look at the real Switzerland.

    • diccon Wednesday July 11th, 2012 at 09:33 AM · Reply

      If only I had received a bonus working in a bookshop. You really do have a strange idea of what it is like to work in a shop! It’s not a bank.
      As for service in the UK, it is not always added automatically. Some places in London do that (usually posher ones), but certainly not all by any means. And yes I have refused to pay it if the service is bad: it is an ‘optional’ charge after all. As a customer you have the right to refuse to pay and I am more than happy to exercise that right.
      Switzerland is expensive, which of course most people realise before they come here. What they don’t expect is having to pay high prices and get bad service, and then have no choice about tipping as it’s included in the price. It really doesn’t do Switzerland or the Swiss any favours.

    • diccon Wednesday July 11th, 2012 at 09:34 AM · Reply

      They don’t add service charges in Paris because they wouldn’t dare. The service is usually so bad that no-one would willingly pay for it.
      You can keep your ‘wonderful’ Paris! Give me Rome any day: nicer food, nicer people, nicer city.

  4. Martin Saturday July 14th, 2012 at 02:32 PM · Reply

    Probably we should start to talk about how “good (or bad) service” (should) look like?!

    I usually not only tip the service, but also the quality of the food/kitchen! In a lot of restaurants I know, the service share at least some of their tip with the kitchen and very often they even collect it as whole in one pot and devide then the whole amount among all in a restaurant.

    And one fact is obvious above all: The better the restaurant (most of the time: the higher the prices), the better the service gets. There is an easy resolution for this: the service people in higher priced restaurants usually have professionals. They know their profession and have (some) passion for it. And obviously the service gets better, if not perfect.

    Ah, and yes, I usually add some additional tip to the oficcially included, if I am pleased.

  5. Andrea R. Trümpy Saturday July 21st, 2012 at 03:44 PM · Reply

    Hallo Mr. Bewes

    Mit viel Amusement habe ich Ihr Buch der Schweizversteher in den Ferien in Mallorca gelesen. Da mein Sohn schon seit 3 Jahren in England und seit jetzt 7 Jahren in Schotland wohnt, kenne ich auch Ihr Heimatland etwas näher.

    Ich hätte da noch ein paar Fragen:

    – Ich habe noch nie einen Schweizer in Stiefeln auf einer Bergtour gesehen oder war das einfach eine schlechte Uebersetzung von Bergschuhen/Bergstiefeln?

    – Wo kennen Sie in der Schweiz Nacktbadestrände? Ihrer Beschreibung nach soll es viele geben. Ich kenne die Schweiz ziemlich gut, mir ist aber kein einziger Nacktbadestrand bekannt!

    – Offensichtlich gehen Engländer bekleidet in die Sauna? Wie unhygienisch!

    – Wo verbringen oder verbrachten Sie bisher Sylvester? Bei uns im Glarnerland wird dieser mit viel Feuerwerk, Glockengeläute und ausgelassenen Partys gefeiert. Wird dieser wohl nur in Bern so trist begangen?

    – Almauftriebe gibt es in der Schweiz nicht. Bei uns sind das Alpauftriebe, da wir keine Almen haben, Diese gehören nach Oesterreich!

    – Zur Fonduekultur als Ergänzung: Wenn ein Mann seinen Brotwürfel verliert, muss es eine Runde oder eine Flasche Wein bezahlen, nur die Frauen dürfen küssen!

    – Als ich Ihre Beschreibung des Muttertags in der Schweiz las, meinte ich, ich sei in einem anderen Land zu Hause. Ausser dass man als Mutter von Mann und/oder Kindern einen Blumenstrauss erhält, halten sich die Festivitäten sehr im Rahmen. Dass die Züge an diesem Tag rappelvoll mit pflichtbewussten Sprösslingen sind, ist mir noch nie aufgefallen (und ich bin ziemlich traditionsbewusst!)

    – Appenzell: Was ist ein Trumm?

    – Sie beschreiben die Schweizer in Ihrem Buch als sehr ungastlich. Ich habe häufig Gäste und bin in meinem Freundeskreis bei weitem nicht die einzige, die das macht. Ein Geschenk der Eingeladenen ist willkommen, muss aber keinesfalls sein und eine kleine Aufmerksamkeit in Form eines Blumenstrausses, einer Flasche Wein oder einem guten Olivenöl tut es bei weitem!

    – Dass man hier den besten Käse isst, ist Ihre Wahrnehmung. Es gab Zeiten wo man den besten Emmenthaler im Ausland ass und nicht in der Schweiz.

    – Wenn Sie meinen die beste Schockolade stelle die Fa. Cailler her, haben Sie noch nie Läderach-Schockolade gegessen. In Bern gehört Merkur zu diesem Glarner Betrieb und ich gebe Ihnen den guten Rat nur mal Frisch- oder Bruchschockolade zu versuchen. Sie werden nie mehr Cailler-Schockolade essen wollen, von Alprose-Schockolade sprechen wir schon gar nicht!

    – Wir sprechen in der Deutschschweiz Schwiizerdütsch und nicht Schwyzerdütsch; dieses wird nur im Kanton Schwyz gesprochen. Dieses “Schwyzerdütsch” zieht sich durch das ganze Buch, aber ich nehme an, dass es sich auch hier um eine schlechte/falscheUebersetzung handelt. – Sie wissen ja sicher, dass in jedem Kanton der Schweiz ein anderer Dialekt gesprochen wird.

    …aber abgesehen davon, habe ich mich immer wieder köstlich amüsiert und Sie haben uns Schweizern mit Ihrem Buch mehr als einmal den Spiegel vor’s Gesicht gehalten. Besten Dank und weiter so!

    Mit freundlichen Grüssen
    Andrea R. Trümpy


  6. Carol García Saturday August 2nd, 2014 at 10:45 AM · Reply

    Good afternoon Mr. Bewes.
    I am a waitress in Switzerland.
    I would like to inform you that if you look at the tiket a restaurant not see the tip included. When someone does a job interview talking about if we tipped or not much. All Swiss give tips (10-15%). If you’re not friendly your contract ends. The salary Hospitality is one of the lowest in Switzerland.
    Thank you

    • Diccon Bewes Sunday August 3rd, 2014 at 11:07 AM · Reply

      Good afternoon. I realise there is no tip mentioned on the ticket, but that is because it is already included in the price of the drink or meal and not listed separately. It has to be that way, by law. And I know that the salary in the hospitality industry is one of the lowest but that is for many different reasons, such as no minimum wage. It is also low in shops, where I worked for six years, but no-one thinks to tip a bookseller when he (or she) helps you choose a book.
      So yes you can tip if you want to, and many people do (but not all Swiss that is for sure) but you don’t have to. Just as in France the prices you see on the menu include service.

  7. katherine Sunday December 14th, 2014 at 07:12 PM · Reply

    You have short changed the waiter 10 Swiss Francs.
    What is on the photo is Swiss Francs not Euros!!!

  8. Taxiunternehmen Luzern - Wiederkehr Taxi und Limousine GmbH Wednesday February 17th, 2021 at 11:32 AM · Reply

    Very helpful and well-written article. Looking forward to many such articles in the future.

Leave a Comment