A Tourist’s Guide to Tipping Culture in Central Europe

How much exactly should you tip in Central Europe? We've made a handy guide to help you figure it out.

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A waitress at a cafe terrace on archive photo from 1930 waiting for tip
Tipping can be a tricky business. Luckily, we're here to help you sort through the maze of when, where, and how to tip in Central Eastern Europe. Photo: Adoc-photos / Corbis / Getty Images

In the current economy, which is in the midst of a transition from solid money to electronic wallets – not to mention a rapidly changing plague-time war-time economic reality – it’s not easy to give exact tips for tipping around the world. The same holds true in countries in Central Europe, united by the European community but with different cultural, social, and economic backgrounds. Regardless of the differences that abound, there are some general rules that will help you get by in country in the 3Seas Region.

One caveat: as the famous line from “The Pirates of the Caribbean” goes, “they’re more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.”

Tip #1: A tip says, “thank you.”

Across Central Europe, tipping is common practice but is not compulsory. You can skip the tip if you didn’t enjoy your service, but feel free to be generous to express your gratitude. 

Tip #2: Check whether the service is already included in your bill.

This applies mainly to restaurants, where your check should directly list service as an additional position. This varies from country to country, but it’s usually safe to assume that the tip is not included unless otherwise stated. If it is, you are by no means required to tip more, unless of course, you want to. (Think tip #1).

Tip #3: Ten-to-fifteen percent is the golden rule.

First things first, refer to tip #2. If the tip in a restaurant is not included, the rule of thumb is ten percent of the check, or more for particularly stellar service. 

Tip #4: Tip one or two Euros per service in hotels.

For nice hotels with helpful porters, it is common to tip around one or two euros per service (or bag). There’s also no need to tip the entire service team when you check out. 

Tip #5: Round up in taxis and other service-oriented places.

The rule of thumb when it comes to taxi service is that if you’re paying in cash, you can expect the driver to anticipate keeping the change. The same holds true for take-out delivery drivers. And while servers in places like take-out coffee bars and eateries with counter-service don’t necessarily expect a tip, rounding up for a friendly smile is always welcomed. 

Nowadays, tip-jar excluded, many of these transactions can be made through phone apps, in which case you can add a tip as a percentage to your in-app payment.

Tip #6: It’s always good practice to have a little cash on hand – or exact change if you don’t want to tip.

If you’re paying electronically, it’s always good to carry a little cash for tipping. Some restaurants don’t allow adding tips to payments when not already included in the check. The same holds true in places where you order at the counter, food deliveries, and, to some extent, services such as hairdressers and beauty salons. 

The same works the other way around – if you really want to avoid tipping for whatever reason, always be prepared to have exact change on hand!

Fun fact: In some countries, such as Poland – a country not too strong on tipping culture – there is a (now-fading thanks to the rise of direct bank deposit) custom of leaving change for the postman as he delivers pensions. Formally a country official, the postman may be among the last jobs supplemented with medieval-style tips from fellow citizens.

Tip #7: Be clear about the amount of change you expect.

When paying with a high-value banknote in a restaurant, just tell the waiter how much change you expect in return instead of having them bring exact change. This is the most popular method in Central European, particularly in countries with an especially developed tradition of dining out like in Czechia, Austria, and Hungary.

Tip #8: When not to tip.

As a rule, tipping is customary, but it’s not required. Maybe you had rude or entirely inept service. Whatever the reason, we’re not here to judge. Just keep in mind that in the current precarious economy, some food service employees are paid minimum wages on the assumption that the overall picture gets better after a month of tip-earning. Do with this information what you will – either by letting your waiter’s bad day slide and tipping anyway or by trying to be the change in the world: ditching the tip and expecting waiters to negotiate better with their employers.

Tip #9: What to know when paying by card.

One more piece of advice is when tipping upon card payment. As we mentioned above, many restaurants allow it (though still some don’t). However, instead of going straight to your server, tips from card payments are sometimes put into a pool of tips shared amongst the entire staff. It also happens that some restaurant owners pocket the extra money and consider it income. Given that, it’s always best to ask your waiter their desired form of a tip.

And one last piece of advice: you want to avoid tipping the police as you may later be expected to tip the prison guard. Trust us on that.

Przemysław Bociąga

is a Polish journalist and essayist based in Warsaw. An anthropologist and art historian by education, he specializes in combining cultural phenomena with compelling narrative. He has authored and co-authored several books covering lifestyle and history. The most recent of them is “Impeccable. The biography of masculine image”. He has contributed to many leading magazines, both in print and online, and teaches cultural anthropology to college students.

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