Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Las propinas--tipping in Argentina (Ken)

USAmericans tip. It is part of our culture. Both of my daughters work in the restaurant business. Helen and I have both been waiters. As recently as ten years ago at age 40, I was a waiter in Ocean City, Maryland for a summer making money so my younger daughter could go to a private school that year. I understand North American tipping well. Maybe that is why I have trouble with it here in Buenos Aires.

I belong to a Yahoo discussion group, BAnewcomers. The topic of tipping has been thrashed about this week, and it got me thinking on the topic again. Here is some of what was said:
Tania Lee wrote:
“I just asked my Argentine work mates and they all agreed that 10% was normal - as long as the service was good, if the service is bad they don't leave anything and if it was not good but not terrible they would leave less than 10%. Apparently Argentines never leave more than 10%.”

“Rshpuntoff” wrote:
“Let me give you the rules again. Note these are the rules of thumb for how Argentines tip: spare change in a café, 10% in a real restaurant, and nothing for taxis though if you want to round up so the driver doesn't have to give you change it is considered very ‘amable’ of you.”

He continued later:

“Enough of the guessing!“10% is considered a STANDARD tip here in restaurants. Anything above 10% is considered either generous or a courtesy because you appreciated the service.“In cafes it is normal to leave "some change." 25 centavos is fine and 50 centavos is nice. If you feel you made the waiter / waitress work a lot you can always go crazy and leave a peso. If you don't leave anything it isn't necessarily that big a deal.“Yes, some Argentines leave less than the standard ... they are considered cheap. I know. I married one.”

I went out for a long walk today to think about it. After two hours of walking and thinking, I went into my favorite watering hole for some almuerzo. I now have enough language skills, so I did my own informal surveys with the mozas. Marina and Mercedes were not too busy and they were wiping down some trays nearby. Pedí, “Tengo una pregunta. Por favor, explicar las propinas a mí.” I got a one word answer: “Malo.”

They went on to tell me that the Spanish, French and Brazilians are really bad tippers. The North Americans, according to them, are the most consistent. For the most part, North Americans have caught on the 10% rate, according to the girls, but larger tables sometimes tip more. Argentinos are poor tippers.
I went home and Helen wanted to go across the street to the café. I met her there and, once they were not busy, I asked Leo, Marisa, and Romina about tipping. “Los Argentinos, son propinosos?” Leo shook his finger; again, a one word answer, “No.” He then said, “Solo extranjeros” [Only foreigners]. He went on to explain that up to about $10, the North Americans may just leave some change, but above that, they consistently leave 10%. Argentinos, if they leave anything at all, just leave the small coins, not the peso coins.
Anyway, back to the discussion board.

Rshpuntoff closed with: “Argentina is a nation of immigrants so you are now officially Argentine. The question is, Are you going to be a cheap Argentine like my wife or a tipping Argentine like me?

Finally, Darin Hall probably put it best: “If you are American, remember that being generous is the only positive stereotype that we have, so let's try to reinforce it.”

I don’t know. The United States is now a service economy. We understand service. We have to—it’s all we have. We don’t make anything anymore; we just sell things to each other. Obviously, I am bringing my USAmerican values to this situation. Maybe I should. Maybe I should not.

I am just trying to understand.
My panel of experts
Top: Mercedes y Marian at El Alamo
Middle: Marisa, Romina, y Leo at Balcarce
Bottom: Melisa at Balcarce


Chas said...

So what are you saying, Dr. K? Is 10% enough or not?

Ken and Helen said...

I don't know. It looks like it. Still, I leave at least a peso for any tab less than $10.

emilyeffinconrad said...

I hope I go to BA one day 'cos I will feel so knowledgeable on everything

Juan said...

Ok, my 2cents about the topic.
Here the average tip is 10% for people who earn Pesos but if you are a tourist with 3 to 1 exchange 15% sounds more reasonable.
In the other hand i.e. in US average tax is 6% here is 21% so locals must be tip less.
At the end use your common sense based in the quality of the service.

Jos said...

During my recent trip to Mendoza, my tips were generally very generous. . .usually in the 15% range since the food was so affordable.

Needless to say, the waiters/waitresses very very nice to me!

Caroline said...

I learned from a friend who's been living in Argentina for 7 years that the reason tipping is not as high in BsAs is because Argentine waiters are making a decent living (comparatively) unlike their minimum wage counterparts in America.

greekinargentina said...

Hi Ken and Helen I beleive in tipping and give up to 15 percent if the service is very good.

Last night I went to a peruvian restaurant zadarvie and the waitress was exceptional and I tipped her accordingly.

Showing respect to others and rewarding them is fundamental to a healthy society.

Mia said...

The US-style waitstaff in Argentina is post 1990. It probably started after 1993. Before that the traditional European style was the norm: White shirt, black pants, a bow tie, and a black or white jacket. At some cantinas, trattorias and bodegones you'd see mozos wearing a white or gray duster, instead. For the most part, in Buenos Aires, mozos come from the provinces, but you'll also see older Spaniards working in the most traditional restaurants. These professionals, in general, earn a decent salary. They don't depend on tips, as their USAmerican counterparts do. Therefore, Argentines, just like the Europeans, do not feel obligated to tip and, if/when they do tip, it's never based on any "established" percentage.

You just tip based on who you are and your personal circumstances. If you are a tightwad you'll tip pennies regardless of your financial situation, if you are young and "cool" you'll tip more than you can afford even if you only make 500 pesos per month.

When I was living in Baires, I used to have breakfast at La Biela during the week. If the check was, say, 2 pesos for café con leche y medialunas, I'd always leave 3 pesos. That was a 50% tip. Why? Because the mozo who served me would always make sure that my breakfast was perfect. He'd reserve my favorite table by the window, the coffee was always piping hot, etc. When I stopped somewhere else for a quick café I'd leave just a few coins on the table. For cabs, if the fare was, say, 4.20 pesos, I'd give the guy five pesos.

You don't tip the owner of the hair salon, but you do tip the employees (hoy much depends on the particular service and the location of the hair salon). Same goes for any other services. In my building it was customary to tip the portero once a year, just before the New Year. While some people would give a nice bottle of vino or sidra, others would just put some money in an envelope and leave it under the door.

Tip what you consider to be fair, Ken. If you get bad service, please don't tip at all.

Juan said...

"If you get bad service, please don't tip at all." or leave 5 cents coin to remark the bad service you received. ;)

99 said...

10-15% is ok for Argentinians, Americans are expected to be more generous -like in the US. 3x1-
I never tip less than 1 peso no matter who -taxis or other-. And I always complain at Mike for being moooore than generous ;)