Tipping in Costa Rica

Written by Michael Simons on . Posted in Costa Rica Food, Costa Rica Living, Costa Rica Service Providers, EX PATS in Costa Rica, FAQ's, Vacation in Costa Rica

Should I tip in Costa Rica?

You will hear many different theories on tipping in Costa Rica, but you can already guess that mine is right LOL. I only say that jokingly, because I have always been known to be a good tipper. I got that fabulous trait from my father, who would always OVER tip when service was good. He even tips the mailman and garbage men at Christmas.

In Costa Rica, we are told, that a “tip” is included in all restaurant and bar tabs, labeled under the heading of “service charge” that is 10% of the bill. By law, there is a 13% VAT sales tax on all professional services, products, hotel rooms and bar and restaurant checks. If your pizza and beer are $20 you will pay $2.60 in tax and an additional $2.00 for the service charge, bringing the entire “cuenta” to $24.60.

Understand, that this $2.00 service charge is not a tip going directly to your waitress. It goes to a house account where it is split amongst all the employees in the restaurant. So, if there are 20 employees, your waiter is only getting 10 cents of this. They divide it amongst everyone, prorated by how many hours each employee worked.

In theory. Unfortunately, there are bars and restaurants, where the owners do NOT give the full amount to their team, and keep some of it for themselves.

I have worked in the restaurant business, and I can tell you, it is hard work, for very little pay. In Costa Rica, it might be 95 degrees and humid or even possible raining, as many establishments are located outdoors. Many places are understaffed and the servers are worked to the bone. Do them a favor. TIP THEM EXTRA!

Here is my attitude and it goes back to when I was living in the USA traveling around the country. I would stop many times, while out on the road, at a place like Waffle House. It might be very late at night and only a couple ladies working. They would re fill my coffee 7 or 8 times. They would bring me my waffle and my bacon: my eggs and my toast: and also, my big glass of OJ. So, they would visit me a dozen times throughout my meal, and almost always in a good mood. The check would come and it would be for $11.00. I am sorry, I cannot leave a $2 tip. It would kill me to see truckers leave a 50 cent tip. I would leave $20 and have been known to leave $100. My friend once had a heart attack when I dropped a C-note down and left. “What are you doing?”

I looked at it this way. If I was at Morton’s of Chicago, the steak would be $50 alone The shrimp cocktail, salad, baked potato, vegetables, bread and dessert another $100. Add to that 7 or 8 Jack Daniels and my bill would be close to $250. I wouldn’t think twice about leaving a $50 tip. Yet did the waiter work any harder than the waitress at Waffle House? NO. Just the prices were much higher. So why should I not tip the same. The single mom, working at 2 am actually needs the money a lot more than the career waiter at the steak house.

In Costa Rica, I do not look at the service charge as a tip. For the most part, food is substantially less expensive here, than in North America. I can have a steak and lobster dinner, for $20 ON THE BEACH. So, I usually leave an additional 10-20% tip. I always try to leave cash for the tip, as if you put it on the credit card, it ends up in the house account. By giving to the server directly, they can determine how and whom they want to split it with.

It is always wise to carry around a few US one-dollar bills, as these are great tips that are highly appreciated by the workers across the country. The parking attendant watching your car: the grocery store kid who carries your bags to the car; the taxi driver etc. TIP THEM. Do not come to this amazing country, and not share the love. These are the most beautiful people in the world; they are the friendliest people you have ever met; they have amazing attitudes; and they work super hard for very little pay. Do them and yourself a favor, and leave them a little extra, and thank them for allowing you into their paradise. You will feel much better about yourself as well.


Michael Simons

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May 2024
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