To tip or not to tip: Answers abound

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Eating out in Norway is a pricey undertaking compared to most other countries, and then comes the dilemma over how much should be added to the bill in tips. Judging from a debate that erupted on the website for Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Wednesday, the locals can be just as unsure as visitors over how much to leave, or even whether they should tip at all.

Tipping is tricky in Norway, and experts think many Norwegians tip too much. PHOTO: Frognerseteren

The debate broke out after NRK.no published a story about research carried out by staff on the state broadcaster’s consumer affairs program Forbruker-inspektørene. They “tried to find the answer” to the perennial question of how much extra should be paid in tips at bars, cafés and restaurants.

Hilde Charlotte Solheim of HSH, the national organization for trade and services in Norway, was adamant. “Tipping is voluntary in Norway,” insisted Solheim, adding that it should only be an acknowledgement of, or reward for, good service.

“I don’t think people should give tips at all when they have an experience that’s not worth any extra recognition,” Solheim said.

Kai Victor Hansen, who has just written a doctoral dissertation on meals and dining out, was even more strict. He told NRK that service doesn’t even have to be poor in Norway to justify a decision to drop tipping. His guidelines are: Poor service, no tips. Normal service, no tips. Service that’s better than expected, a tip of 5 to 10 percent. In others words, much less than the 15-20 percent often given in tips in, for example, the US.

Tipping levels can also depend on the standard of the café or restaurant, with less expected at casual places. PHOTO: Views and News

Hansen also has proposed a few rules for what constitutes good service: If you receive a friendly welcome upon arrival, quickly receive menus and the table is properly set. Also if you’re given information that may affect your meal, if the food and drink is served according to expectations and in line with what’s described on the menu, if your wishes or needs are met and if the server remembers who ordered what, is attentive and smiling.

Solheim said she thinks many Norwegians are uncertain about tipping, not least because they’ve been made aware through travel that tips are not only expected but needed abroad. “In many countries, restaurant workers are paid poorly and live off their tips,” she said. In Norway, however, personnel in the food and beverage industry are often organized and receive adequate pay, according to Solheim.

And then there’s the high price level on the menus to consider, not least because they reflect Norway’s high prices in general, already include MVA (tax) and often a service charge as well. Restaurants earlier stated on menus that tax and service were included, but many no longer do. Tipping on the full amount of a restaurant bill can thus leave the customer tipping on an amount inflated by tax and service already.

When the bill comes, though, there’s usually a line allowing for something “extra,” and a total amount is rarely filled in. That leaves the restaurant customer with the impression that the server expects a tip. Both Solheim and Hansen insisted the customer should not have a bad conscience if they leave the “extra” line blank.

Their positions set off debate among readers of NRK’s story (external link, in Norwegian). Several disagreed with Solheim and Hansen and claimed many restaurant workers in Norway do not receive “adequate pay” and thus rely on tips. Some thought it was “petty” or even “cheap” not to leave a tip, and disagreed with the notion that Norwegians tip too much.

“Everyone knows that people working in the restaurant branch are often very poorly paid,” wrote one reader. “It shouldn’t be a problem to give something extra so they can have a liveable wage.”

She was quickly confronted with other opinions. “It sounds like you think everyone going to a restaurant has better pay than the waiters,” wrote another reader. “Of course that’s not true.”

Others complained about what they called a generally poor level of service in Norway that was unworthy of any reward in the form of tips: “Many (waiters) should really sharpen up, and I think that would happen if they got extra for being extra attentive, and just get ordinary pay when they do an ordinary job.”

Everyone seemed to agree on one issue, that tips should rarely be more than 10 percent of the bill in Norway. Others were likely to just round up the total, meaning their tips would amount to very little in percentage terms on big bills.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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