As a custom, tipping can get tricky when traveling outside of your social or geographical bubble. The Japanese, for example, don’t accept tips and get very uncomfortable, sometimes offended, about the whole business. North Americans are typically known for being generous tippers, for close to any service provided, no matter what, whereas in Iceland it simply doesn’t exist. Even within Latin America, tipping etiquette ranges from country to country. So when traveling throughout Argentina, how do you know what is considered appropriate? How much is too much of a tip at a restaurant in Buenos Aires? How much is enough for an airport taxi driver?
A few rules of thumb: Tipping in Argentina is optional and the amount is flexible, in almost any situation. (The reason being, in Argentina a tip is considered something extra, not a given). Of course, it will never go unnoticed or unappreciated and, sometimes, can go a very long way. But there are a few specific instances when it is socially courteous and a few more when it may be a bad idea to skimp. Below, we have outlined almost everything you need to know about tipping in Argentina, including who, when, why, and how much.
TIPS FOR TIPPING
In restaurants, 10% gratuity is considered the norm. Going over 10% is rare and considered pretty generous but leaving less or leaving nothing, if the service was particularly bad, is quite common. At fine-dining restaurants, where you are almost guaranteed to receive great attention, there should be no reason not to tip. Large parties or big groups of people (8+) will usually leave a little extra, but beyond that, 10% is a pretty golden standard.
In some instances, restaurants will charge a cubierto which is a “cutlery” charge anywhere from 10-20 pesos – a clever way of charging something for nothing. Not to be confused with a “service charge,” this money goes directly to the restaurant and is not part of the tip.
When paying for the bill or tipping in a restaurant, be sure not to leave the large amounts of money on the table and walk away, especially if you are dining outside. It is quite possible that it will be snagged by someone other than your server. Also, very few restaurants have a “tip” section on credit card receipts so, if you are planning on paying for the meal with plastic, be sure to bring cash as well.
If you receive table service at a café (which is most common), again 10% is normal: for the person behind the counter taking orders or making drinks like a Buenos Aires barista, usually nothing. Keep in mind, “to-go” coffee is uncommon in Argentina and lidded paper cups don’t really exist – more than likely you’ll be seated a café with a suit-and-tie wearing server and a tip is customary.
Tipping in Buenos Aires bars is becoming more common. Don’t worry, you won’t be snubbed or ignored for the rest of the night or have something fishy floating in your vodka tonic if you don’t tip, but bartenders will appreciate it. The barkeeps will give you exact change, down to the dime, and don’t necessarily want your coins scattered on their bar. If you want to leave a tip there is usually a jar available. Again, try not to leave money lying around hoping the bartender will see it – more likely sticky fingers will find it first. Better to put it directly into his or her hand.
If you are drinking high-end specialty cocktails that require some serious panache or know-how, tipping is appreciated.
Very rarely are tips given at a salon in Argentina – some older men will tip females, standing on tradition alone, or sometimes ladies who have had something particularly special done. It’s more common to tip if you frequent a friendly neighborhood barber and develop a rapport. Even then, it’s a bonus, not an expectation.
It is not necessary to tip cab drivers in Argentina, nor do they expect one. It is considered polite to round up to the nearest whole peso, so they don’t have to count out coins for your change (which they almost never have anyway). Sometimes, they will even round down and give you back the difference. Some of the shadier cab drivers, however, if you hand them a larger bill will mumble something about a “baggage fee” and try to hang on to your extra few pesos. It is ok to be adamant about demanding your change in these instances. You can be sure any Argentine would.
If the cab driver helps load or unload your baggage from the curb, it is nice to give them something in gratitude. Also, remis and private rental cars are usually very clean, prompt, and professional and given a 8-10% gratuity or less.
If you have a doorman (portero) at a rented apartment in Argentina and are only staying for a few weeks, no need to bother with tipping. If you are going to be there long term however, you should know that porteros receive monthly tips from the tenants, usually around 50 pesos depending on how nice the building and area are. “And only if,” stresses Buenos Aires native Diego Arbon, pointing a finger to the sky, “they are doing a good job.” It is also a common tradition for them to receive holiday presents, should you happen to be there during Christmas.
Doormen and bellhops at hotels, especially the fancy ones, will expect tips just like anywhere else. The amount is completely up to you, but a few pesos here and there are usually fine.
Bag handlers are definitely worth tipping, at both bus terminals and airports, especially in Buenos Aires. Basically, it’s a good idea to tip anyone you trust with your luggage. They don’t expect much, typically only your smallest bill, but if you stiff them, you may find that your luggage was accidentally “misplaced” during the trip. Scams are known to happen and a small tip can go a long way to guard against it.
“Car Attendants” (trapitos)
Car attendants, or trapitos, are the guys anywhere from 14 years old to guys with walkers who will pop up when you are trying to parallel park, tell you how much room you have between bumpers, direct you into the spot, maybe wipe off your headlights, etc. They will then “watch” your car for you while you eat dinner, see a tango show, or go to a concert, promising to wait there until you return. Usually, they are nowhere to be found by the time you get back, but your car will (hopefully) be in good condition. If you blow them off, your car could be unrecognizable when you return (any colorful combination of dents, scratches, a cracked windshield, etc.). They can charge $10-20 pesos in neighborhoods like Villa Crespo or Congreso and sometimes $30-40 pesos in Palermo Soho or Las Canitas to park on “their” block. At some of the big event venues, it can be upwards of $150 pesos. Not that they have done anything to deserve it, but it is wise to tip these guys, even if it’s not much. You can, of course, decline but it is not recommended to argue. A “half now” and “half later” approach seems to work, especially when you come back and they are no longer around.
Car Door Opener
On a similar note, “car door openers” have sprung up in certain neighborhoods, but these are usually harmless kids around 10-14 years old. Sometimes trying to look professional with taxi hats or shirts, but at times without shoes, they will open your car door and expect a few coins in return, usually whatever you have jingling in your pocket.
If you decide to dine in, you should be aware that tipping the delivery boy or girl is common, but usually only a couple pesos. Some restaurants have adopted a “delivery fee” for ordering by phone (somewhere around five pesos) but the tip itself is separate.
If you go to the grocery store and make a large purchase, typically you will have the groceries sent directly a domicilio (to your house). If you do, remember to give the delivery man a similar tip after he helps unload everything.
In opera houses and theaters, typically patrons tip the usher 10-20 pesos when handed the program – more of a tradition than a requirement.
If you go on a tour with a professional guide, who is most likely bilingual or possibly even trilingual and very knowledgeable about the subject, it is common to give them somewhere around 10-20% of the tour price. But again, only if you had a good experience and feel it is warranted.
“Free” tours you should be giving around $100-200 pesos per person for a 3-4 hour tour. USD are very much appreciated though.
Massage is one of the few services that are comparatively inexpensive to most other countries, but have however, drawn regular generous tips from those who frequent them. 15-20% has become the standard.
“Under the Table” Tipping
If you want to know if slipping the doorman at an exclusive club or the hostess at a packed restaurant will get you in the door, the answer is yes. Not in all instances, but as 38-year-old Federico explains, “We Argentines invented that.” Money can open almost any door for you in Buenos Aires if you want to wave enough of it around, and especially if it’s US dollars. “It really depends on how nice the place is. $20 USD will usually do the trick, but it can vary.”
When it comes to legal scrapes or border patrol issues, it has been suggested that a little back-handed tipping can smooth things over. While this is sometimes the case, you never want to be the one to wink and suggest such a transaction, as it might land you in even more trouble.
If ever in doubt, it never hurts to tip. You might get a raised eyebrow here or there but more than likely a big smile, and really, no matter where you are in the world, who doesn’t love free money?