In the U.S. tipping is customary and expected for everything from lackluster to outstanding service. It is an etiquette which is ingrained in all trades, from wait staff at restaurants to our baristas, valets, cab drivers, porters, and many more trades. In Europe tipping is not as habitual, and in Belgium it is even less frequent. Belgium shares many similarities with it`s neighboring countries, such as the Netherlands.

The restaurant and hospitality industry in Belgium represents a well-paid group of workers. They`re usually students. Regardless, minimum wage at cafes, restaurants and bars is well above that in North America, so servers do not live off of tips. In fact, many don`t expect anything beyond coins left on the table.

This guide attempts to cover most situations that you, as a tourist, will encounter. Hopefully using these `tips`will provide a smooth experience when interacting with locals in restaurants, bars, hotels, tour operators, and taxis.

Currency: Can I pay in U.S.dollars, or should I use Euros?

Belgium is part of the European Union and has completely converted to use of the Euro. US dollars are not accepted. Please be sure to have the correct currency on hand or be prepared to exchange your dollars for Euros upon arrival. In our culture we can put everything on credit and debit cards, however in Belgium you will find cash is still king! Currency exchange desks can be found at the airport and many locations throughout the city.

Restaurants, Cafes, and Bars: When should I tip? How much is customary?

To start, it is important to know that the government requires that all taxes and service charges be included in the published prices for most service establishments - restaurants, cafes, salons, etc. Even taxi fare includes taxes and a standard service charge. To be absolutely sure in a restaurant that tax and service are included feel free to ask the waiter. Leaving a tip is customary in restaurants. Don`t overdo it, but don`t be stingy either. One or two Euro will suffice, left on the table at the end of the meal.

The first thing you may notice is that there is a low demand for happy hours, `early bird` specials or daily deals.. and if you find them, chances are it`s a tourist restaurant. When dining out it is polite to wait until the host/waiter welcomes you and brings you to a table. In less formal settings, such as cafes or diners, you can just grab an empty table and wait for your server. To tip leave just a few Euro, or about 10% if the service was excellent! If you do not have smaller bills, let the server know what you want to pay, including any amount for tip, and what you expect back in change. If another staffer takes your payment for the bill, give the tip to your waitperson directly. Since the wait staff are paid well enough without tips, the service can tend towards less than stellar, though general consensus is that service is better on the Dutch side than the French. You may need to make concessions for what constitutes `good service.`

In a cafe leave some small change on the counter or table. When ordering drinks in any bar forgo the tip altogether. It may feel wrong at first, but it is honestly not expected. If you are in a group and sit down together to order drinks and have a server bringing them, simply round your bill to the next whole Euro. It may only be 40 cents, but your server will be grateful that they do not need to make change!

Also bear in mind that, in general, the population here is very direct and outspoken. This openness can, at times, be misunderstood as being rude, nosy or unmannered. The Belgian people merely see this as a sign of honesty and trust rather than being unmannered.

Hotel Staff: Who should I tip?

The practice of tipping is not very common in hotels in Belgium. In hotels a service charge is included in the bill for staff. Breathe deeply, it goes against all you may know as a traveler!

Simply because the staff do not stand around with their hands out does not mean that you can`t, IF you wish to reward good service, do so. If you make that decision, keep it cool. For a Porter who helps to carry your bag(s) to your room give him no more than 1 Euro per bag. Similarly, hotel Concierge staff can be very helpful for first time travelers; they are a wealth of information from directions to restaurant suggestions and reservations. Tip them (again, only if you wish to do so) accordingly for their helpful service, but certainly no more than a few Euros. For Chambermaids leave your tip at the front desk at the end of the stay, and aim for about 5 Euro in total (seriously).

Taxi Drivers: Should I tip?

Taxi drivers do not expect a tip. Their service charge is already included so you may encounter very stoic service. That is not to say that they are unfriendly, but do not expect them to talk your ear off! If you feel the irrational compulsion to tip simply round the fare to the next whole Euro or feel free to tip up to an additional 5% or 10% if they are extra helpful (loading bags, making recommendations, helping with a car seat, etc). Always remember when travelling abroad that it is good practice to agree on a final fare before the cab driver begins driving.

Tour Guides: Is a tip required?

Tour guides in Belgium are compensated admirably and there is a service chage built into the company`s rates already. If your guide is particularly enthusiastic, helpful or informative and you can`t overcome your need to tip, leave a few Euro. They will not be expecting the gesture and will be very appreciative.

Miscellaneous: Is there anyone I should tip that I would notnormally?

Toilets: Here, as is the Netherlands, most public restrooms will have an attendant who ensures cleanliness and that the space is well stocked with toiletries. Even if you do not partake in the offerings, it is very polite to pay the attendant. He or she will often have a saucer where you put your money. Tip approximately 0.50 Euro.

Other Services: In the event that you are in Belgium for a special occasion (wedding, honeymoon, graduation gift, birthday, etc..) and employ the services of a hairdresser, make-up artist, party planner, personal shopper, tailor or spa services and the like, use your best judgment in tipping. Spas and salons already have a service charge included and do not require an additional tip. Factor in the cost and quality of service and, as a general rule, stay well within the 5 - 10% range. It is easiest to round up to the next whole Euro.

Final Thoughts:

Remember that it is perfectly okay to abstain, especially if you are not happy with the service provided. Unlike in the U.S., waiters are paid a living wage, and the expectations for tipping are lower in Belgium than in America. This is also true for hotel staff, though if you encounter a problem with the service within the hotel, we highly recommend speaking with the manager.

Try to pay for all services in cash (other than your hotel) and if you feel uncomfortable with that thought, be sure to ask for a receipt. This is important for two reasons; If you leave a tip on a credit card, the person providing the service may not always get it, and if there is a discrepancy it is important to have your receipt to settle it with the manager of the establishment and to prove that you paid for the service.