To tip or not to tip in Spain: how does it work?

by Lorraine Williamson
what to tip in Spain

MADRID – If you travel regularly to different countries, you’ve noticed each country has its etiquette on leaving a tip. But how about Spain? After a delicious meal, you get the bill. The moment you want to pay, you suddenly ask yourself whether you should tip or not.

In the UK, for example, we are used to leaving a tip if we are happy with the service. Although the unwritten rule states that you pay 10 to 15% of the total amount consumed, not everyone adheres to it. Because tipping is not mandatory there either, you can vary the amount. Logically, many depend on the quality of the service and what is consumed. 

In some other countries, such as the United States, tipping is an established tradition. There it is normal to add 15 to 20% of the total amount. The very modest salary of the staff is increased by this. In countries such as Sweden and Norway, it is rather common for customers to round up the bill. Only when the service is highly appreciated will people pay a 5 to 10% tip.

No tipping regulations

It’s quite hard to determine a general rule for tipping because there’s no such thing as tipping regulations and typical percentages for rewarding good service by waiters. In this sence, the situation is different in practically every country. But what about Spain? What is common here? How much tip should you leave? Does it depend on the waiters, on the restaurant or even the autonomous region where you are? 

How does it work here? Tipping in Spain? 

In Spain, tipping is not expected in simple restaurants, especially from Spanish customers. Because foreigners often pay tips, as they are used to in their own country, the staff in catering establishments in tourist places count on it. However, in Spain you can choose not to leave any extra money. In the more upscale restaurants (those with cloth tablecovers) it is an unwritten rule to pay a tip of 5% to 10% of the final bill, depending on how satisfied you are with the service. 

In somewhat simpler restaurants, it often comes down to customers who are satisfied rounding up the amount to be paid or leaving some change. If their ‘menu del día’ costs €8.75, they pay €9, for example. But one time they give a few tens of cents and the other time it is a few euros. 

How is the tip distributed among the employees? 

Because the practice is unregulated, there is also no modus operandi for employers as to how far they distribute the tip among their employees or pocket it themselves. Usually, there are two types of practices that are followed: 

In small restaurants, in particular, people often work with a common pot. From time to time, the tips are then divided equally among all employees (waiters, kitchen staff and any delivery drivers). 

In larger establishments with different types of staff (waiters, chefs, sommeliers, bartenders, etc.), the tip is divided into percentages. Everyone receives a percentage of the tip amount based on the amount of their salary. 

However, tipping or not tipping is usually a touchy subject among employees in the hospitality industry. It is an interesting extra on top of the usually not-too-high or even frighteningly low basic salaries. Some waiters feel that only they are entitled to the tip because it is based on their efforts to give the customer a good time. Therefore, they don’t like having to share the amount with other employees such as cooks or delivery drivers. 

Can you tip if you pay by card? 

Not in all places you can pay the tip directly with the final amount with your credit card. Especially smaller establishments prefer to receive it in cash so that they can put it in a pot and distribute it more easily. Therefore, it is always better to check. In bars, staff often ring a bell when someone has paid a tip to cheer the staff up. 

How much do you tip a deliverer? 

In addition to the restaurant sector, tips are usually common among other professional groups in Spain, such as taxi drivers, tour guides, hotel staff or home delivery staff. With the emergence of delivery apps, delivery service becomes more frequent and necessary. The unwritten rule there also states that the tip should be around 10% of the order. Similar to what happens in a restaurant. 

Origin of tip 

Partly because of large differences between tipping in different countries, it is difficult to determine the exact origin of the tip. Etymologically, the origin of the Spanish word for tip ‘propina’ is clear. The word ‘propina’ comes from the Greek verb pinó, which means to drink. After adding the prefix pro-, the word propinó is formed. That was invented to describe the action of reaching out and offering a drink to another person. This verb continued to evolve into the Latin term ‘propinare’, which is the immediate antecedent of the term ‘propina’. It is defined by the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language (RAE) as a small tip for good se reward services. 

Another explanation says that the word “to tip” is derived from the Old French word “feu”, meaning “fire”. In medieval inns, it was customary to light a fire to keep the customers warm. Guests gave money to the person who cared for the fire in thanks for his services. 

The word “tip” as in “to tip” is originally from English and is derived from the phrase “To Insure Promptness” which means “to insure speed”. In the early 18th century, customers in English coffee houses began to give money to servants to ensure they were served quickly and efficiently. This became known as “giving a tip”. Later, the use of the word “tip” was extended to other service industries, such as restaurants and hotels, and spread to other parts of the world. 


However, tipping can be controversial. Some argue that there should be no need to supplement workers’ wages. Others feel it is a necessary and appropriate way to reward good service. Regardless of one’s opinion of the practice, tipping remains a common practice in many parts of the world. 

Increased pressure to tip 

An almost obligatory tipping culture, as is common in the US, is now starting to emerge in restaurants in Madrid and Barcelona as well. Various Spanish media, including El Economista and Huffingtonpost, reported this in recent days. While it is voluntary in practice, some consumers feel pressured to leave a tip. Consumer organisations claim it is a way for companies to avoid paying their staff a decent salary. 

In a restaurant in Barcelona, a user saw that his ticket had an emoticon associated with the tip. If he left nothing, it was accompanied by a straight face and the smile increased as the tip percentage increased. At the bottom of the bill, it was specified: “100% of the tip goes to waiters and cooks.” 

A few weeks ago, the Madrid region encouraged citizens to pay tips, saying “It’s the tips that make possible the small dreams of those who serve us every day,” says this spot. 

The general secretary of the consumer organisation Facua, Rubén Sánchez, thinks that this tactic is used to “create a feeling of guilt” in the customer who decides not to leave anything behind. Sánchez reiterates that the relevant catering establishments are not acting illegally because they do not impose it to leave a tip. However, he believes that by asking for that money they are “trying to take advantage” of the customer so that “he or she somehow becomes the one who supplements the underpaid salary” of the establishment’s staff. The tip can never be a “substitute for a decent salary”, he concludes. 

Also read: Which service should bars and restaurants in Spain not charge?

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