I recently returned from a trip overseas and thought I’d share a little of what I learned about bar etiquette in a foreign country. My journey actually started in London, England, then went to Norway, Denmark, and finally the Netherlands — Amsterdam to be exact.
I spoke to a lot of bartenders in the cities I visited. One thing that held true throughout my adventure, was that they all want to be tipped, they just don’t expect it because that’s not the way it is there. In observing the locals, I noticed that not one left a gratuity on the bar. I was also informed that if one does leave a tip, the standard is 5-10% (in the United States the standard is 10-20%). The major difference is that in those countries, the bartenders make a considerably higher wage. In Copenhagen, Denmark, I had a long discussion with one particular bartender who told me she was paid roughly twenty American dollars per hour. However, on a packed Saturday night, she walks with about seventeen American dollars in tips, mostly from American tourists. I concluded that the “American” way of doing things makes a lot more sense for everyone involved. Even though we bartenders here in the U.S. make a smaller wage, we are tipped more and our average income per hour is a much more significant amount. Get it? Bar owners have a smaller payroll and bartenders make more money — everybody wins.
Now, what to expect while drinking abroad. I’ll start off in London. Londoners love their pubs, and there’s plenty to chose from. The service is generally really good but not particularly friendly. Again, they are paid a higher wage by the pub owners for good service, they don’t have to “kiss ass,” so to speak, for that tip they don’t expect. Also, even though they will answer any tourist-related questions, it’s pretty apparent they aren’t very fond of them. One last thing, don’t expect an ice cold beer there. It doesn’t exist.
On to Norway. Again, great service, and the servers are a little more friendly. On a previous trip to Norway, I spent a day with the roommate of a friend I was staying with in Oslo. He just happened to be a bartender. He told me that they tend to expect a tip in Norway — again, along the lines of 5-10%. I did notice on that trip to Oslo, there were some Norwegian Kroners left behind by bar patrons. However, this time I was in Bergen, and though I did see a Kroner or two, not as much as Oslo. Maybe in the “big city” it’s much more common to tip. Finally, when it’s a clear day in Norway, don’t expect to find a seat outside, all Norwegians want to be outside on sunny days. You want instant gratification, go inside, there’s plenty of room there.
First of all, let me say that if your a traveler, Copenhagen, Denmark is a truly wonderful city and you must see it. That being said, let me also add that in our ventures, the Danes were, by far, the friendliest. They welcome the American tourists with open arms because, as one bartender stated, “Americans are the only ones that tip.” So obviously, the Danes want to be tipped, and as friendly as they are, they deserve it. Again, the beer isn’t particularly cold and there is no free pouring. All spirits are attached to a mechanism that pours one ounce. In addition, they use very little ice, so drinks are very weak. My advice, stick to beer.
Okay, last but definitely not least, Amsterdam. The first place we drank at was the good ol’ “Hard Rock Cafe.” I was beside myself when the bartender free poured my shot of Southern Comfort in a rocks glass. However, even though they free poured, you paid. It wasn’t until that night when we had a whole meal for less money than one round at the “Hard Rock,” that I realized that. That’s not how it was everywhere else we went though. The prices got lower and again, there was almost no free pouring. As far as the tipping thing, it varies from what I noticed. The bartender at “Hard Rock,” was shocked when I tipped him, at one point I thought he was gonna give it back. Then, while at a bars in the Red Light District, I noticed signs behind a few bars telling patrons to please tip the bartenders. Another thing, we all know that in Amsterdam, soft drugs like marijuana, hash and mushrooms are legal and readily available. Just know that the “stuff” you get there is considerably more potent then what you get in the states. I recommend not mixing these drugs with alcohol, the combination is not good.
I just want to finish off with a bit of advice. If you do what we did and land in a foreign country with no knowledge of what to do, where to go, or how to get there, go to the nearest pub and strike up a conversation with the bartender. They know the best places to go and the fastest, most economical ways to get there. Happy traveling!