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French restaurant diners divided over tips by card

James Harrington
James Harrington - [email protected]
French restaurant diners divided over tips by card
A server carries meals at a restaurant in France. AFP PHOTO/MIGUEL MEDINA (Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP)

Restaurants across France are increasingly offering diners the option to include a tip as part of the card payment process, especially since the government introduced a tax exemption on this form of gratuity - however the changes are not universally popular.

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Adding a tip (known as une pourboire) if you're paying by cash is a fairly simple process - just leave a few coins on the table or tell your server to keep the change.

However as more and more people are paying by card, card payment terminals are being equipped with the facility to prompt the addition of a tip at the point of payment - giving the diner the option to add 2 percent, five percent, 10 percent or no tip before they tap their card or type in their PIN.

Customers in France tend to have less cash in their wallets - in 2021, according to a study by the Institut CSA, 35 percent of French people said they never carried cash. As a result, the habit of leaving a few coins or a  banknote on the table in recognition of a server’s attention is becoming increasingly rare.

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Since January 2022, the government has exempted card-paid tips from tax, bringing them into line with cash gratuities, and has recently extended the exemption to the end of this year.

But while the idea of a tip option for card-paying diners may seem logical given the increasingly common use of cards to pay bills, anecdotal evidence suggests that customers and restaurateurs remain to be convinced, with many seeing it as a form of pressure to leave a tip.

READ ALSO How much should you tip in France?

“The waitress put the terminal under my nose and told me I could pay €1, €2, €5 – or another amount. It was a bit unpleasant, you feel obliged. In the end, I refused,” one diner told Le Parisien recently.

“In general, I prefer cash. At least I’m sure that the money I give ends up in the server’s pocket,” another said.

Servers, however, apparently lean in favour of the system. One told the newspaper that her monthly tips had jumped from €100 to €300.

But she admitted that French diners were more likely to complain about the imposition. “It’s easier with foreign tourists, who seem to be used to this system,” she said.

For Franck Chaumes, president of the catering branch of the Union des métiers et des industries de l'hôtellerie (Umih), this reluctance among French customers may be explained by the fact that, "it can give the impression that you're paying more for your meal than the advertised price".

In France service is included in the bill, so there is no obligation to tip. People who do wish to leave a little extra as a thank-you for good service usually give just a few euro or round up their bill.

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The French word for tip literally means 'for a drink' - pour boire - and was originally seen as giving the server the price of a drink for themselves.  

According to Umih figures, most of the 200,000 restaurants and bars in France are still not equipped to take tax-free tip payments. And take-up among customers still looks slow.

Some restaurateurs are resistant, too. Recently, Stéphane Manigold, head of the Éclore group which operates eight Parisian restaurants, sent a memo to employees closing the the door on tipping incentives on card terminals. 

“It's imperative that the payment experience remains simple, transparent and pressure-free, in line with our service standards”, says the entrepreneur.

If you're uncomfortable with adding a tip at the card machine you can always just leave no tip, or refuse the tip option on the card reader and leave some coins on the table.

Likewise, in restaurants that don't have the tip option on the card reader, you can always round up your bill and ask the waiter to put that amount on the card reader - for example if your bill comes to €31.70 you might ask the waiter to put €35 on the card reader.

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Comments (2)

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Leyla 2024/06/06 22:54
I detest this new approach. I feel pressured and I don't hesitate to say non merci, je n'aime pas ce système. If the staff try to pressure me, I don't leave a tip at all. Otherwise, I'll do what I've always done, leave a tip in cash.
Janet 2024/06/05 15:22
The first time my husband and I ran across this in Paris, the waiter quickly scrolled away from the option, looking embarassed it had come up. At another restaurant, the waiter there pressured us to leave a tip via the card reader, saying it was normal. He assumed that we, as Americans, didn't know anything different. It's too bad -- the food was good there and it's close to our apartment, but we're not going to return.

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