Whether you are in a bar, cafe, brasserie, bistro, or restaurant, all establishments that serve drinks or food in France are required, by law, to include in the price of each item that is listed in their menu 15% of the price that is intended to remunerate the people who provide the service. There are no exceptions, and the system usually functions as intended, although an occasional unscrupulous owner cedes to the temptation to skim some or all of the proceeds intended for the people who served you. French law does not provide penalties for such aberrations.
So the rule of thumb for tipping in France is: if you are not satisfied with service you receive in an eating/drinking establishment, you do not leave anything extra in the way of a tip: zero. If you are pleased, leave up to five per cent of your tab in cash for the person who served you. It is best to give it to that person when he or she brings you the change, as you never know who will scoop up the cash left on the table once you have departed. I have occasionally seen clients seated next to a newly-vacated table yield to temptation.
You can leave less than five per cent, to nuance the degree of your satisfaction. One thing you can not do: add the gratuity to the sum charged to your credit card. There is no space provided for gratuities in the form you will sign for a credit card charge, and if the owner acrobatically squeezes a tip into the total that is charged, there is no guarantee that the person who served you will receive the intended gratuity. So tips in France should be paid in cash.
Some Paris Luxury Tours clients have been fleeced by waiters who replied ‘no,’ in response to their question whether service is included in the bill. There will always be predators prepared to lie to line their pockets—but do not be their dupe: Fifteen per cent for service has to be included in the bill, further tipping in France is optional, and five percent extra is a handsome tip.
You can use the same five percent rule for tipping in France in a wide range of services, such as drivers in limousine services, personal shoppers and other high end services, including private guides. If you are in a group tour at a chateau, it is customary to hand a euro or two to the guide who performed your tour, if you enjoyed the presentation.
The person who brings your luggage to or from your hotel room deserves a euro or two per bag, depending on the amount of effort involved. The door man at a luxury hotel who finds you a taxi will be more energetic the next time, if you give him a ten euro note. It can be half that amount at more modest establishments.
Cinema, theater and opera ushers should be given half a euro, and the same amount is appropriate for wash room attendants, unless there is a sign forbidding it, reading: pourboire interdit. Such is often the case in government-run institutions. Think of giving a euro or two to the person who checked your coat, with the same caveat as to whether it is allowed—which it is not at state-run museums, such as the Louvre or Orsay.
The 5% rule does not apply to tipping hair dressers or Parisian taxi drivers, for whom service is not included in the tab, or in the sum that appears in the taxi meter. Tips of ten percent for them make sense, especially if the taxi has waited in a long queue before embarking you, or your trajectory is a short one—provided you have been given nice service. Surly chauffeurs, and Paris has many of them, don’t deserve a single cent of tip.