Britons travelling abroad often face enigmas and embarrassing moments, some of which take place in restaurants. These little inconveniences can come at the start of the meal (ordering a wine) or at the end (deciding a tip).
But in Mallorca (and the rest of Spain) tipping should never present a problem of any kind — because any service charges a restaurant wants to make are included the price of the dish.
Every time you pay a bill in a bar or a restaurant the service overheads are in the price of every item you ordered. There is no need to pay a centimo more than the figure on the bottom line.
In the early 1960s, when Spain’s tourism boom was clicking into gear, restaurant owners wanted to add a service charge to the bill. But the government thought that would be bad for business and told the owners that their overheads, including service charges, had to be reflected in the prices they were charging.
Even in the past two years, I have noticed that a few places put at the end of their bill ‘service charge not included’. If an inspector saw those words the owner would be in trouble because the service charge is included — in the price of every item on the menu.
In compensation for not being allowed to add a service supplement, the government ruled that restaurants could charge for bread.
Until then every restaurant automatically put bread on the table because it was a basic part of a meal, just like a plate or a knife and fork.
A few restaurants immediately started to put a modest price on the bread but many, especially the family-owned places, refused to charge…at the beginning.
Most restaurants nowadays charge for bread and for most places the income from bread (and its considerable profit) helps to balance the books at the end of the month.
Although service is being charged in the price of every dish we order, most people I know like to add a tip — mainly because they are getting very good service and a tip is a quick and efficient way of showing their contentment and thanks.
The service at most of the restaurants I review runs the gamut from good to extremely good and (occasionally) to perfect, so I most willingly add a 10 per cent tip to the bill.
During a lunch or dinner service, the waiters and waitresses work non-stop and at top speed and will be at your table with a smile if you have a query about some dish.
On a couple of occasions I have given a 10-rating to the full dining room staff. The first time that happened was at the Japanese restaurant Quinta Avenida (in Avda Conde de Sallent) and I’ll always remember the very young waitress who didn’t have an answer to the question I was asking, so she went off and returned with the head cook.
That’s what I call good service. And no one knew I was there to write a review. On occasions like that I up the tip to 20 per cent.
Good waiters and waitresses can help to make a meal a memorable one. That welcoming smile, a willingness to deal with a customer’s special request, do make a big difference to the overall enjoyment of eating at a restaurant.
As I like to share dishes dishes with my dining companion, that sometimes means extra plates and cutlery and more work for the waiter. This is usually done with a smile…and I always tip a bit more.
When a waiter or a waitress gives us any kind of special attention, particularly when it is done with alacrity and grace, then we should show our satisfaction with a more generous tip than usual.
It’s a good idea to bear in mind that dining room staff are just like you and me: they respond to the way other people treat them.
So it is also important that we smile when entering a restaurant (or supermarket, shop, bar or bus) and that we greet the staff in a friendly way.
Treat others as you would like to be treated is a policy that usually pays dividends all round, especially in restaurants and other places where our contact with the staff is more than transitory.
There are two places in Palma where the staff are among the most courteous, helpful and professional that you’ll find anywhere in the world — but you must never show your appreciation by leaving a tip of any kind.
I am talking about the cafeterias and restaurants of El Corte Inglés in the Avenidas and Jaime III. El Corte Inglés has a very strict no tipping policy.
At the bottom of cafeteria and restaurant bills you’ll see a note saying “Servicio incluido. No se admiten propinas.”
This message is repeated at the tail end of the bill with translations in Catalán and English: “Service included. Tips not allowed.”
The policy at El Corte Inglés is that their service is the finest they are capable of and that tips will not improve it.
When customers who are unaware of the no-tipping code give the waiter a tip, the store’s policy is explained and the tip is politely refused. If a customer leaves a tip on the table, the money is put into box for one of the charities.
This is an admirable policy and in an ideal world every business would be run on the same lines as El Corte Inglés. But we don’t live in an ideal world, do we?
However, we can still show our appreciation of the impeccable service we get in every department of El Corte Inglés — by being as charming and polite to the staff as they are to us.