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Europe trip review: eating out

One difference I noticed in Europe, relative to the U.S., was in eating out. We didn't generally eat at fancy places but at brasseries, cafes, pizzerias, etc.; I think they were generally the same 'level' of eatery we mostly eat at here. What I noticed was that the waitstaff service was much, much slower than I'm used to.

Maybe one factor was a difference in attitude about dining, a more leisurely attitude. If you think of eating out with friends as a relaxed, multi-hour affair, you might not want the waiter imposing too much (although I'm straining to think of 'taking your order' or 'noticing that your glass is empty' as 'imposing'). I'm willing to chalk up some of the slow pace to cultural differences.

I wonder how much the tipping customs make a difference, though. Customers generally don't tip in Europe. I often don't like the custom of tipping in the U.S. because I think waitstaff should be paid decent wages without having to depend on the kindness of strangers. I've heard horror stories of snotty customers treating waitstaff poorly and unfairly. Perhaps I've overlooked a major advantage of the tipping system, though, which may be that it results in restaurant service that is much better than it would otherwise be. Of course, I like to determine how much money my waiter receives for the level of service I got.

The worst service we got was at lunch in Paris, where the waiter all but ignored us, got rebelzero's order wrong, never brought our drink orders despite a reminder when we managed to get a moment of his attention, and might never have brought the bill without the intervention of another waiter. Fuming, I thought to myself, "This guy has totally lost his tip," before I remembered I didn't having any tipping power here (except to reward exceptional service). Other customers at the restaurant seemed to be suffering from his lack of service, too, which brought to mind another possible factor: labor laws that—according to my understanding—make it more difficult for employers to fire staff than it would be in the U.S. I'm just speculating, of course. Your viewpoints are welcome!

Addendum: From the most recent J-List newsletter:
Japan is unique among industrialized nations in that the concept of tipping never caught on, and is in fact about as alien to people here as taking your shoes off before entering your house would be in the States. You can expect service with a smile wherever you eat (as a wise gaijin once observed, "in Japan, you know no one is horking in your food"), and if were to leave a tip on the table you can be pretty sure the staff would run after you to return the money to you. While it's certainly nice to not have to tip when eating out, there are times and I receive exceptionally good service and want to show my appreciation, but the lack of a custom of tipping makes this impossible—it would actually be quite rude to even try in most cases.



( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 20th, 2006 02:56 pm (UTC)
My experience was that Europe's service is slower than Australia's... yet Australia also doesn't have a tipping culture, so that can't be the sole factor. (Likewise, I didn't find that service in the US was noticeably better than it is in Australia, even allowing for any truth in the rumours that foreigners get very bad service in the US because we're expected not to tip.) I suppose it could be labour laws: Australia's are closer to the US's than they are to, say, France's.

But I was inclined to put it down to different cultural expectations and I noticed that service in very heavily touristed spots (eg, the castle in Prague) was considerably worse than in only mildly touristed spots. I also wouldn't be surprised if there is some prejudice against foreigners (particularly English speaking foreigners and perhaps particularly particularly Americans, but Europeans assume I'm English so I get the prejudice against the English instead) at work in some places, but if the whole restaurant is suffering, that wouldn't be it.
Jun. 20th, 2006 03:10 pm (UTC)
I so much prefer dining in Europe. Although, I have never had quite the horrible experience you described. I really enjoy the luxury of not feeling like I am being rushed out if I have a good conversation with friends. I have been in some restaurants for 3 hours without evil death looks. Of course, I have also learned to ask for my check about 30 minutes before I want to leave too :-)
Jun. 20th, 2006 03:16 pm (UTC)
restaurant culture in general is different in europe.. from the service provided by the establishment to the tip provided by the customer. the customer isnt as important and service isnt as important. unless its a high class restaurant, people go to eat, not to have a dining experience. they dont care if their waitress has a smile or a smirk on their face as long as their food comes out hot. i do agree time in general is a cultural difference too. americans are always in a hurry, and i think we tend to put 'timely manner' in with service.

my european friends have a hard time understanding our tipping system. they dont know why we voluntarily make the meal 15-20% more expensive when there is already a set price. they also dont know why we support our wait staff in this way. generally in europe, waitstaff are paid fair wadges and can make a decent living without the support in tips. in the U.S., this isnt the case at all. most wait staff (in every-day diners and restaurants) barely get paid minimum wage because they are expected to earn 3-4$ an hour in tips, of which they have to pay taxes on anyway.

we also have a different attitude about dining in general. we expect an experience when we go to a restaurant, regardless of the price of food. in essence when we tip, we basically pay how much we feel the meal was worth.

its more than just dining.. where you tip everyone in the american service industry, you tip virtually no one in europe. i found this out the hard way when i tried to tip my taxi in spain and he kept on giving me change.
Jun. 21st, 2006 03:47 am (UTC)
Well, if you would like the opposite, come visit in China. You need a damned cattle prod to get the waiters away from your table. A polite "please, give us some time" won't stop the waiter from hovering directly over you, waiting for you to suddenly learn to read Chinese faster and order.

On the other hand, once the food is on the table, they will never, ever come by again, unless you shout for them. Once you do, the service is fast, but yelling over a (usually) noisy restaurant to get the waiter's attention still seems a little rude to me. Just a cultural difference, though.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )