Tipping in Portugal – How Much is Too Much?

Today we were invited to a popular seafood restaurant in the Alentejo to celebrate a friend’s birthday. It was not a set price lunch so we went with a ‘kay sa ra’ attitude. What will be will be… I was not organising the lunch so splitting the bill was not my problem for once.

When we go out in a large group I usually take my lead from everyone else. If most people are ordering fresh fish by the kilo then so will I. Equally, if they are ordering simple Portuguese fare at knockdown prices, I do the same. All in all it’s swings and roundabouts: Some you lose and some you win.

Mr. Piglet and I shared a dressed crab and a meio kilo of garlic prawns washed down with copious amounts or red and white wine. Hey, we were dining in a fish/seafood restaurant in the Alentejo so the food was not expensive. Good wine was cheap and it flowed freely… too freely! Hey, and at one point, after I’d lost my inhibitions I could even speak Portuguese.

A jolly time was had by all until the bill came. Even from my end of the table I could hear the sharp intake of breath.

“How much?”

The bill was scrutinized

My God, what a cheek! The restaurant tried to charge us for ten bottles of wine instead of eight, and goodness knows what else.

Of course it was far too complicated to break down and split as to who ate and drank what, so the bill was divided equally between the six couples. Kay sar ra… you win some you lose some…

I’d had enough wine to sink a battleship so to be honest I was way beyond caring until the person sorting out the bill demanded €2 per person for the tip. Woah…Even in my drunken stupor I could still work out this was €24 euros.
What?
€24?
“Oh, it’s 10% of the bill,” came the casual reply.
I don’t care you’re having a laugh, I thought!
Fortunately others vocalised their objections and we settled on a few euros.

Some people tip 5% of the total bill and I’m told the Portuguese don’t tip at all. But 10% is way over the top.

Unlike the USA and maybe Canada service charge is not the waiter’s salary. It is a tip for good service. While the food was excellent the service was basic and certainly did not warrant a €24 euro tip.

Jeeeeez!

hApPy BiRtHdAy, flower we had a great time!

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38 responses to “Tipping in Portugal – How Much is Too Much?

  1. I’m with you on the tip; if it’s good service then I will gladly tip accordingly, but bad service doesn’t deserve one. (Excluding the US and Canada, of course).

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    • Hi, Barb.
      I’ll also gladly tip for good service. I still remember a young waiter moving parasols to shelter us from the midday sun when we wanted to eat outside.He could not be more helpful. We gave him a good tip for that alone. When we were in Canada the waiting staff could not have been more helpful and ere always cheery. We always gave them hefty tips.

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    • I’m Canadian and still feel that bad service doesn’t deserve a tip anywhere, including Canada. If I did a poor job, I would expect a warning, not extra money. There are plenty of service jobs where tips are not expected or received — flight attendants, for example — which makes the service industry very imbalanced.

      I’m all for tipping after good service, but I don’t believe in tipping if that’s not the case.

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  2. The waiter pegged you for drunk end ferriners, it seems. Sigh.

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  3. We usually tip 20% for attentive service . . . but that US custom. I’m not in the know about tipping in Portugal.

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  4. Talking from an Australian viewpoint methinks any waitstaff would expect at least 10% anywhere – I usually round it off to about 15%, but in better restaurants 15-20 % would be the norm if compulsory gratuities had already not been added. And our waitstaff is properly paid. Horses for courses methinks . . . here 24 euros does actually sounds very little to serve six couples . . .

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    • Hiya Eha, I think that’s the thing. When we go to the checkout at a supermarket do we tip the poor checkout girl? I’m torn on this whole tipping issue. IT’s the same with taxi’s. They give you a set price so why tip. the wages here is very low but so is the cost of living. One is relative to the other

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      • Well, taxi fares do get rounded off here rather than a % being paid. Hairdressers, doormen getting you a cab etc do get tipped tho’! . . . local habits some of which methinks are morally correct and others just that: a ‘habit’ which if you do not follow may make the day uncomfortable for you!!

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        • I would give a tip to a doorman getting me a cab… although we don’t stay in those types of hotels 😉 ANd I always leave a little something for the chamber staff. My hairdressar owns the salon so she gets all the profits anyway rather than paying for her ‘chair’. Unfortunately, I don’t have any luxuries so no one else to tip…

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  5. We don’t do tips at all in NZ so kiwis always stumble over the custom when overseas. My standard tip ‘Save money and be nice to your mother’ apprently isn’t what tipping is about.. 🙂

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  6. The fact that they padded the bill with a couple bottles of wine would be tip enough for me, I’m afraid!

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  7. I’m with you – in Spain it’s not typically expected and even then it’s rounded up to the next euro if there’s just two of you, a couple of euro if it’s a big group.

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  8. I like to tip for good service, but it seems the restaurant was being “cheeky” by already upping the bill. I tend to round the bill and not do a percentage of the bill, but it all depends on the service too.

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  9. I usually aim for a 10% tip. Happy to give more when the service is great but will give less – even no tip if the service is poor. Shame on the restaurant for over charging. I would not give them a tip but would name and shame them. Or at least avoid going back there.

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  10. As a restaurant owner I know most waiters in Portugal are paid about 5 Euros an hour, about 100 euros a week. Not enough to live on without tips. Furthermore the tips are usually shared amongst all the kitchen staff, chef, cook’s helper, dishwasher, waiters. So the waiter usually gets about 1/4 of what you leave. The standard here is 10% and anyone who tells you otherwise is just making excuses for being cheap. It seems the restaurant made some sort of error (or tried to pad the bill) but this was not the waiter’s fault. So if the service was good the tip should be paid.

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    • Kate, I understand where you are coming from but when a menu states service charge is included I’m not going to load my bill unless I’ve received exceptional service. It’s not being cheap it’s being careful with your pension. If the restaurants are only paying their staff the bare minimum, then shame on them for not paying them a decent living wage.

      Do we tip girls on the checkout? No of course not. Taxi drivers? Delivery drivers? where does it end?

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  11. Can I just put the Portuguese perspective on this? I have a Portuguese girlfriend with an extended family and numerous friends and acquaintances; all Portuguese. I have never known them to tip to the extent that we ferriners think is right. In fact they will rarely tip in a cafe or bar. If the bill came to say €4,90 and all they had was a €5 then they might walk away without waiting for the change. As far as restaurants are concerned we would usually tip €1.50 to €2 regardless of the size of the bill.

    You see, the lovely Portuguese do not actually expect a tip. There is an exception of course and that is the Algarve and other tourist areas, where years of us Brits and others handing over 10% upwards has accustomed staff to the idea. Consequently the Portuguese customers find that they are not particularly welcome there and at busy times it has even been known for them to be refused entry, even when there have been tables available. In fact, on one occasion our group of four (me and 3 Portuguese) were refused entry. So, we left and the other three went round the corner while I went back inside to secure a table, whereupon the others joined me. To say that the service was frosty would be putting it mildly.

    I am not against recognising good service but there is absolutely no need to go overboard.

    When in Rome…

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    • Colin, thank you so much for leaving your comment! I agree with everything you say… and is my attitude to tipping. I think it is so sad when a restaurant would refuse to give Portuguese a table. We support the local restaurantes in the winter when the tourists have all gone home… they are grateful for our business in the low season.

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    • I moved to the north of Portugal (Porto area) and aware of the mass tourism in the Algarve, but had no idea this type of blatant discrimination was going on. I think it’s even worse that it’s happening to the Portuguese in their own country!

      I’ll be heading that way in September, and will be on the lookout for this practice/attitude. If I see it firsthand I will definitely be writing about it!

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      • Hi Gail,
        Do go to the Western Algarve. It is different… we rarely venture into the concrete jungle. Where we are the holiday makers are mainly Portuguese and Spanish. 🙂

        If you do write about your experience I’d be interested to know.

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  12. Pathway To Portugal

    I’m glad you had a lively time! Here in the US they can automatically add a 20% tip on the bill for larger parties. But that’s here and expected. I’m glad you shared as I’m still learning what’s appropriate.

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  13. I’m with you on this one and although it’s the norm in the US and Canada to leave big tips, as a customer, I resent being forced to pay more than the menu price for meals. It should always be the customer’s decision to leave a little extra if and only if they feel a tip is deserved. I have worked as a waitress and of course I appreciated getting tips but I feel that employers should pay a decent wage rather than expect their clients to compensate for their stinginess.

    If, as Kate says, they are not paying staff enough to live on, it would be better to raise the prices on the menu if necessary to enable them to give them a wage rise. Or, as someone I know used to do, give staff a percentage of the season’s profits as a bonus as an incentive to give great service.

    As far as tipping in Portugal goes, I usually round up the bill or leave a euro or two if I’m paying by multibanco and am pleased with the service. If there’s a large group of us, we might all chip in around a euro but it’s extremely unlikely that we’d ever end up leaving 24 euros, especially if they’d overcharged us.

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    • Hi Julie,

      I’m most def with you, especially if the restaurant owners paid their staff an incentive bonus at the end of the season. That’s a brilliant idea! I don’t think the onus should be on the customer to bump up the staff’s wages…

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  14. Lucky you weren’t eating in the central area of Lisbon – as a big group none of us liked to be seen to check the bill but there was definitely an unaccounted for 50 euros in there, plus a 23% service charge. Still, we all had a good time and as you say, win some, lose some!

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  15. Hi PiP,
    In Portugal is is not customary to use a 10% or even 5% of the bill for tips rule. Obviously the waiter won’t come back if you tip them that, but custom is 1 or 2 euros (2 if a big party only). And don’t feel forced to do it as tips are for good service only.

    I hope you challenged the bill, I’ve done it various times, and if it was a genuine mistake they will apologise and rectify it!

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  16. I *usually* tip 10% and living here in the States, that is considered “barely acceptably”. The service I receive plays a huge part in how much I tip. I’ve been known to tip $5 for an $8 meal a few times when the server really went above and beyond (server working alone in a big crowded restaurant, yet my coffee cup was never below half empty and the good was brought in good timing), and I’ve been known to leave no tip at all if the service was bad.

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  17. I just found this blog and started reading it (good job btw! :D) and I found this post.

    I am portuguese and we never ever ever ever (some more) ever ever ever tip (unless we want to).

    It is nowhere expected and certainly for sure not demanded.

    Damn that alentejo restaurant .p C’mon, alentejo, the land of the cheap food and booze.

    Seriously, next time don’t give anything! I was going to go to bed but now I’m annoyed 😛

    Ofc if you have a very expensive bill it doesn’t hurt to leave 5 euros or smth, but again, it isn’t expected, and much less mandatory.

    Have I told you how angry this made me feel? Seriously stahp! with the tipping!

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