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Tipping in France

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France, with a food culture second to none in the West (including the Americas), has long since solved the "problem" at eateries (I'm not sure about its globally branded US Fast Food outlets) by legislating that all menus, bills, checks and the ilke must state clearly that a fixed 15% service charge and tax (%?) are included in the individual menu items or wine list bins. As general rule, the French do not leave an additional pourboire unless there has been some special service or food experience beyond expectations.

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Having lived here for 18 years and worked in restaurants for 7 years, I can tell you that the staff don't see a single centime of that 15% service charge. They get their salaries which are pretty low; anyone below the level of chef de partie, a line cook, gets the SMIC or minimum wage, currently around €9.50/hour for a standard 39 hour week. In smaller, non-chain restaurants you'll work 50 or 60 hours without overtime.

Many but not all people leave a tip, a few coins is the generally accepted amount; I always leave 10% because I know how much it's appreciated. I also ask that it be shared with the kitchen, although I've only worked in 1 restaurant where that happened at all.

My last job in 2010 was as second de cuisine/sous chef and my monthly take home pay was €1378 after taxes. That was with 7 years experience. The best salary I had in a restaurant was €1500 as chef in a startup restaurant which closed after 3 weeks. I didn't get paid.

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Seems a really tough way to make a living.

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Yup. You have to love it.

I teach young French students now and they all have to do practical weeks and then two 6 month internships in the industry. They do it because they love the job but they hate the wages, hate rude customers and are appalled at the way many customers treat them. These are all well-off kids from middle-class families who've eaten in restaurants all their lives, and now they get to see the other side of the curtain they're shocked at how badly restaurant staff are treated.

And they all think the wages are crap, too.

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