Nothing, ten percent, fifteen percent, twenty percent, what-ever-you-want? How much should a tip be?
Every visitor to Cuzco faces this question when the check is laid on his or her table. But there is no guide given with the bill. And so, what is the answer?
Unlike in some countries, in Cuzco no service fee is added to the bill. And, unlike other countries servers are not paid sub-minimum wage with the expectation customers will tip them.
If you ask, you are likely to be told that the rule for tipping in Peru is that “it is up to you”.
“Yikes,” you might think. “Just tell me what the rules are. How am I supposed to know what you expect when I am not from here.”
And so, we find ourselves in the face of a classical cultural mis-cue that can be frustrating for both sides.
Fortunately, disaster is generally avoided because people follow the rules of their country and leave a tip and, if they don’t, the serves know there is no obligation in Peru to leave a tip. It will frustrate them, but they know that some people just don’t tip.
Though there is no requirement to tip, nonetheless your servers hope to please you and to receive a consideration. Furthermore, in most restaurants they are expected to share whatever tips come in with the rest of the staff.
So, kind of like on a first date where both sides are checking each other out, servers are trying to figure out and please their clients in hopes of a tip, like the hope for a phone call the next day.
By saying it is up to you, they allow the clients the freedom to show how much they appreciate the attention, just as “the next day” can show how much people valued the date.
But, for many foreigners, this is uncomfortable. It is not a first date, but a commercial transaction.
“Just tell me the cost and I will be glad to pay it,” you might think. “But no matter what I leave it may not be right. It could be too much–like the overly eager date–or too little–like the one who waits a week to call back. This is just too much.”
OK. Just for that case, Peru’s Congress has been debating a bill that may require a 10% service fee be attached to all food service checks. By serving up this number, they provide a guide for the wary tourist.
In the US the number may be the 20% demanded by many today or the old 15%, but here the Peruvian Congress is looking to set the number, and hence the expectation, at 10%.
If you want, you can engage in the flirtatious give and take with your service personnel that is so much part of Peruvian life. You can decide how much or how little you might like to leave.
But if you need a guide and want to know what local expectations are, then the Congress’ 10% is a worthy, and relatively safe guide.
You can always leave more or less, if you wish. But that amount will be acceptable and you can leave your table, satisfied with your meal.