To tip or not to tip? New American-style tipping system causing controversy in Spain.

Image of couple sat in a restaurant.

Image of couple sat in a restaurant. Credit: UfaBizPhoto/

A new American-style tipping system that some establishments in big cities in Spain have started operating has caused controversy.

The system of tipping that exists when paying a restaurant bill in countries like the United States appears to be catching on in Spain. There are already reports in recent months of establishments in big cities like Madrid and Barcelona operating in this fashion towards their customers.

Some are known to be asking their customers for an extra 5 or 10 per cent of the total cost of the meal. This is a practice that has never existed in Spanish restaurants before. While the hospitality industry claims that it is not mandatory to leave a tip, many consumers believe that this action ‘somehow replaces decent wages’.

The ‘cuentas’ being given by the restaurants in question allegedly show the total amount without a tip, and then the amount with the suggested percentage of five, eight or 10 per cent, while some offer the option of a free tip at the customer’s discretion.

Some also specify that all this money is intended for the establishment’s waiters and cooks. It has been reported that some places even go so far as to associate ’emoticons’ of faces with the amount of tip left. If the consumer leaves no tip then a sad face shows, a smiling face is used for a fiver per cent tip, and a 10 per cent tip results in a very happy smiling face.

Rubén Sánchez, the general secretary of Facua-Consumers in Action, said he believed this is a technique that tries to ‘”create a feeling of guilt” in a customer who decides not to leave anything.

Sánchez reiterated that: “it is not an illegal act because they do not impose it”, but, he believes that asking for this money is “trying to take advantage” of the customer so that, “in some way, he becomes the one who pays the extra for a salary that is too low”. In his view, the tip “cannot be a substitute for a decent wage”.

Hostelería de España indicated that this is a ‘suggested’ option that ‘some apps associated with the smartphone are starting to use’.

The same sources reiterated that “it is not compulsory at all” to leave a tip. “It is still something voluntary because in Spain it is not part of the salary but it is an acquired custom in which the customer shows his satisfaction”.

One diner who was presented with such a bill said he thought at first it was some sort of a joke. Then, when: “they also gave you a choice between three options”, Lozano said he “couldn’t believe it”. In the end, he and his friends decided “not to give anything, as we felt violated”.

There have also been testimonies posted on social media from customers who have been surprised and do not hesitate to express their opinion on the matter. Some of them describe the “big role” that the waiters have to play in explaining it to the diners.

As a result, some of the restaurant groups that already applied this system have preferred not to comment on the matter when asked about their motives.

The controversy over tipping does not stop there. Recently, the Community of Madrid launched a campaign in which it encouraged people to leave a tip to allow professionals in the sector to “fulfil” their “small dreams and illusions”, as reported by


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Written by

Chris King

Originally from Wales, Chris spent years on the Costa del Sol before moving to the Algarve where he is a web reporter for The Euro Weekly News covering international and Spanish national news. Got a news story you want to share? Then get in touch at


    • Paul McGee

      12 April 2023 • 19:59

      Tipping has to be a genuine reward for good solid service not mandatory and never suggested. But, we must find a way to make the guest aware that making you feel welcome and satisfied is worth your consideration at least?

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