Tipping in South America


Tipping in restaurants in South America is not as common as in the United States. Generally, tipping is taken very seriously in the States, and people leave that 15-20% tip in a very conscientious way. It’s a matter of pride, of paying for what you received, doing your civil duty to waiters, or something to that effect.

In South America, though, people can begrudge that percentage, and tend to take service for granted. In order for waiters to get their wages, in some countries restaurants will add a 10% tip to the bill, automatically, without your being able to do anything about it. Good or bad service, the waiter will get his share.

In Colombia, so as not to arbitrarily give that money to waiters who might not have earned it, congress decided to pass a law (Ley 070) that requires the restaurant to ask the consumer if he wishes to pay the service. In fact, the law even tells the restaurant who has to receive the tips – so, legally, the restaurant is under obligation to give the waiter and other servers their due share of the tips.

What does all this mean for you when you have a meal out in Colombia? For one thing, at the bottom of the menu, in tiny letters that are impossible to read, you’ll find a very long notice that begins: “Advertencia propina. Se informa a los consumidores…” and that seems to go on forever. If your Spanish isn’t that good, or you forgot your reading glasses or magnifying glass, this can be bewildering the first time you come across it.

Also, the waiter, assuming that you already know what this is all about, will ask you before printing your bill if you’d like to add service. They will ask you, with their heart in their hand, “¿Desea añadir el servicio?”. This is the moment of truth, the moment where you let them know if that service was adequate, if they were quick enough to bring you the side dish you asked for, or if they were bright enough to get your order right.

So it’s your chance to say a simple “Sí” and bring a smile to their face – but there may be that rare moment where a “No” was definitely earned. That’s your call. And, of course, you can certainly feel free to leave more than that 10% for your appreciative waiter.

So that you know what it’s all about, here’s the translation of that tiny notice, in plain English, and in text that is large enough to read:

This notice is to inform consumers that this commercial establishment suggests a tip that corresponds to 10% of the bill, which can be accepted, rejected or modified by you according to the service received. When requesting the bill, indicate if you would like to include said amount or not, or indicate the amount that you would like to give as a tip. 100% of the tips collected in this establishment go to the staff. In case you have any difficulties with tipping, you can lodge a complaint with the Superintendence of Industry and Commerce.

Have you had any interesting experiences with tipping/service/waiters in Colombia? Please share them here!


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