Tax, Tipping, and Customer Service… Or Lack Thereof!

14 Feb


When Spaniards come to the US they are always surprised when they go to buy something for one price ($1.99 for example), but the cashier says another ($2.11). They aren’t sure if they are being taken advantage of! Since tax in the US varies from state to state it’s never included in the price. In Spain, however, the tax is almost always included in the price of food and merchandise. This allows you to know exactly how much you have to pay before ordering the product. But although it seems much easier than in the US, it’s also much more tax! 18% to be exact. If you make any big purchases you may be eligible to get the tax refunded to you at the airport. Save your receipts! Tax is called IVA and you can be sure if it’s included by looking at the bottom of the menu (IVA Incluido/IVA no Incluido).


When dining out tipping is almost never necessary. The waiters work for a monthly salary and do not depend on tips like the waiters do in the US. However, if you were at a nice restaurant where you’ve made a reservation, a 5% tip would be considered a nice gesture. In all other cases, just round your bill up to the next euro when feeling generous. It may seem strange to leave 10 or 20 cents, but Spaniards do it all the time!


A no tipping culture may sound great at first, but remember, waiters working for tips are much more likely to give you good service! In general, customer service in Spain is lacking by American standards. In many bars and restaurants the waiters seem almost angry, especially when they take 15 minutes to acknowledge your presence or slam down your beer and say “ready yet?” But after living here for two years I realize that in most cases it is just the Andalucian “bar culture.” Remember, you don’t tip and food/drink here is really inexpensive. Therefore, the few waiters working are usually running around and don’t have time for small talk or steps of service. Usually people seat themselves, even often at a dirty table (unthinkable in the US). The waiters don’t mind that you’ve sat down, but they won’t go over to clean off the table and take your order until they are ready. Basically, they will ask you what you want and you’ll tell them. They’ll bring it over in a hurry and then run away. If you need something else you need to be forceful! Since they don’t usually check back on a table you’ll likely need to signal. At the end of a meal they will never bring you the check unless you ask for it. It would actually be considered quite rude to do so. I suggest that when visiting Spain to plan for meals to be a bit longer of a process than in the US. Just relax, order another “tinto de verano” and enjoy!


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