Knowing how to act in a local situation in any country you visit is one of the most confusing parts of traveling.
How much should you tip (or should you at all) in certain situations.
What is the acceptable way to pay or split the bill.
Are credit cards accepted or only cash.
In this quick guide I will try to answer all these questions and more about Switzerland.
Tipping In Switzerland
As a general rule there is no obligation to tip in Switzerland.
People are paid a fair wage for the work they provide and tips are not part of that salary (as is common in North America).
That means that tipping takes on another meaning in such situations.
From my experience living in Switzerland for years this is the general rule you can use:
- Round up to the nearest franc when paying for a drink in a bar
- Good to exceptional service in places like a restaurant - tip 5-10%
- Average service or problems while being served that are not well resolved - no tips
All of these rules are not expected, but good manners if you have good service.
Outside of bars and restaurants, the only other places I have tipped is in a taxi. As these guys also work hard for very little money.
If you are staying in a top level hotel (4-5 stars) again there is no expectation of tips to doormen or bell hops, but you can tip if you feel like it.
Just remember, tipping is not a big part of the culture here and you don't have to feel bad when you don't.
Paying In Switzerland
In this section I will cover a few areas from cash to cards, and how to pay in restaurants
Credit Card Acceptance in Switzerland
Things have moved forward quite fast recently in Switzerland, and in most stores, especially the larger ones, you can expect to be able to use credit cards. This also includes the supermarkets, which were quite slow to get on board.
The majority of restaurants will also have a machine, usually mobile. So you won't lose sight of your card while paying (and in any case, credit card copying is far less of a problem here than in other places I have travelled - and had my card copied/stolen and blocked).
Most of the card machines have contactless payments, so look out for the symbol.
American Express is less widely spread, but if you earn more points with your card, it's always worth asking
Most taxis accept credit cards, but don't rely on it (in any country). Always have cash on hand, and always ask before taking the taxi.
ATMs also accept credit cards, as well as most payment systems for cash withdrawl.
Cash in Switzerland
The swiss have loved cash for a long long time. In fact, having been here for over 15 years, I found many such money-related technologies came quite late (credit cards in supermarkets, cashless payments etc).
So, when traveling around in Switzerland it pays to have cash on you at all times.
Not all stores or services can be paid with via credit card.
You don't need to travel with a lot of cash, but also keep in mind that crime is a very minor issue here. So carrying 200 or more at a time (as I usually do) is common and rarely an issue (unless alone in an alley at night!).
Swiss stores can also easily change large notes (unlike in many other countries) so don't be freaked out by getting only 100s from the ATM (or even a single 200 note). Almost any store of any size will change it for you.
Pro Tip: If you want to get mixed notes from an ATM try entering a value like 110 or 210 when you withdraw cash. This forces the machine to give you at least one 50 and 3x20s. I use this trick all the time.
Paying in Restaurants in Switzerland
I wanted to cover this separately as it's really quite flexible in many European countries compared to places like the States.
1. Splitting the bill (check) is not a big deal and waiters will do it for you, often in their head, on the spot
2. Waiters carry around big money purses with lots of change to easily help you split the bill or pay on the spot (at your table). Watch them rummage for the exact change in a massive pot of coins!
3. If you want to use a credit card, just let them know when you get the bill (check) as it saves two trips to get the credit card machine! They will then bring it to your table in 90% of cases to pay in front of them.