How do you Handle Tipping in Turkey?

Photo courtesy of Baloncici at FeaturePics.com

Recently, my husband and I decided to get a quick and cheap dinner in our neighborhood.  We chose a restaurant that specialized in home cooking.  Our decision was based on two facts:  it was a new place we hadn’t tried and it had lots of side dishes on the menu.  I was craving vegetables.

The food was decent and the staff was very friendly.  But they were rather incompetent.  First, they were out of almost all of the side dishes.  They were also out of every dessert except the pumpkin drowned in sugar water – which I could not face again.  It wouldn’t have been so bad, except that they were incapable of telling us what they had or what they didn’t.  Instead, they waited for us to order something, then they would tell us they were out of it.  This painstaking ritual went on and on.

Second, they forgot to give us bread.  They also forgot to give us the delicious little cookies that they serve with tea.  The cookies arrived after we were finished our tea.  And frankly, it would have been nice to mention the cookies when we were struggling ordering 5 desserts that they did not have, one after the other.

Finally, the servers completely forgot about us.  It took a really long time for a quick simple meal, even though they had lots of staff and not that many tables to serve.  I hate to say something as sexist as this, but I have noticed that most Turkish restaurants go with the French tradition of male waiters.  There were at least 5 or 6 women running the show at this restaurant and they were making us (women) look bad as all they did was chat!  Not to mention the 5″ heels worn to wait tables!

So when the bill finally arrived, we were in a bit of a pickle.  It was only 30TL.   Between us, we had a 100TL bill and a 5TL bill.  In Ankara, it is typical to tip 10%, so 3TL.  Normally, we would have just left that 5TL bill, but they just didn’t deserve it.

Our real concern was that we did not want to wait another 30 minutes to get our change from the 100TL bill, and then have to ask them to break one of the bills into small change and hope they return again.  So we thought it would be better to put the 100TL bill in the book with the check, and then hand the waitress the 5TL and ask for change.

Mind you, we had to deal with 3 different people over the bill alone.

The third woman finally arrived at our table with the change from our bill, 70TL, and with the coins. She admitted that they were confused as all get out, which is what took so much time!  Grrrrr!  As we proceeded to leave the tip, we noticed that they shorted us 1TL.  We left 3TL anyway, because I didn’t want to confuse them more and insult them.  After all, they were super friendly, even if they didn’t understand the art of waiting tables.

Ok, so I realize these are low numbers we are dealing with and I don’t want to appear that we were just being cheap.  So feel free to raise the numbers if that makes you feel better.  But my question is, how does one deal with this situation other than just not leaving a tip at all?  Must we really suffer with the back and forth money exchange in order to get smaller coins?  (Surely, had we just given the 100TL bill, they would have returned with nothing smaller than a ten spot.)  Considering my husband is a Turk, I am sure he requested the change correctly. But is there something I am missing here?  Is it just another Turkish quirk?  Does anyone know how to ask for small change (coins) in Turkish without leaving the server dumbfounded?!

I have to say, this is another one of those situations where I just have to laugh!  A quick dinner?  What was I thinking?!

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21 thoughts on “How do you Handle Tipping in Turkey?

  1. Whoah, you’re the first person I’ve heard say there is a standard 10% tip in Ankara. I know plenty of expats who don’t tip that much, particularly on small bills, or else you train the restaurant to begin expecting it. Most of the nationals I talk to don’t tip at all, ever. One national was appalled at me tipping the water delivery guy (he carries them up 3 flights of stairs) even just a lira. They say that once you start, you always have to do it so better not to start.
    I saw this yesterday when I had an 18 TL bill for tea and baklava. I gave the waiter (the owner, actually) a 20 TL and he didn’t bring back any change (I didn’t say “üstelik kalsın” or anything, either). The guy I was with happened to tip him the last time we ate there, so apparently the owner expected it. I said “You trained him!”

    • Hi Justin and thanks for reading my blog! I agree that many nationals don’t tip, although I do know many who do. But I admit, many of them have lived or traveled to other countries and that may have affected them. I also know some neighborhood folks who also tip. Anyway, getting to the point of training, I have heard that over and over again! It’s often quite contradictory. Turks will often argue with me stating that the country is not “developing” and is in fact, developed. They point to the growing economy and what they consider to be a great education system. They then proceed in the same breath to put down their countrymen by basically pointing out that they aren’t to be trusted. “Turks don’t trust Turks.” And they don’t see it that way, they blame it on the yabanci instead! Same thing with the simple politeness of saying thank you to someone who waits on you. They don’t do it and they will tell you that the person will take advantage of you next time because you did. And that’s supposed to be our fault?! Big cultural difference!

      • The contradiction of pride in the “developed” country with putting down their fellow countrymen as “underdeveloped” is a very good observation.
        I just loathe falling into the “foreigner” stereotypes such as “He’s foreign so he’s wealthy so he doesn’t need the 2 TL change even for politeness sake.”

      • I agree Justin. We live on a Turkish government professor’s salary. Not wealthy! Although I sort of look like a Turk, I’m at least a foot taller than all of them, so I can never fit in – especially if I open my mouth. Dead giveaway – FOREIGNER! I often find myself hiding my DSLR when I am out, so that I don’t appear wealthy. You can’t haggle with a nice-looking (albeit refurbished) camera in your hand. “All Americans are rich!” Did you know that J. Paul Getty, Fortune Magazine’s richest man in the world in 1957, installed a pay phone in his house so that his guests would not feel badly about welching when asking to use his phone? It’s penny pinching that makes one wealthy! Depending on how the guy treated you, I may have had the nerve to ask for the 2TL back!

  2. Hi Terry,
    I have been reading your blog for two weeks and love reading,I live in Ankara ,too:)Sometimes we are searching for new places and different tastes with my husband and friends but sometimes it becomes so annoying to have such places and services. I would like to learn the name of the place not to go there:)

    • I will have to walk by there again to check the name for you. But I have to say, it’s worth a try. The place was adorable – not typical Turkish style. The manti was decent, but the manti stuffed with potato was really good. People often ask me 3 pieces of advice I would give to a newbie in Turkey. One of the three is always to laugh! Without daily laughter, our lives would be a mess. It’s a learning experience for sure! Thanks for reading the blog!

      • I’m a Turkish by the way and I agree with you about the advice about laughing.Giving tips in Turkey is a cultural matter,it is learnt in a society and sometimes it shows people’s status in a place to give more tips.So that Turkish men should be observed carefully in this matter:)So that they give tips to show off people.My husband used to be the tipper type who always tried to give tips but he gave up after me.His reason is not showing off but he loves being generous.I don’t think a person should tip in every restaurant s/he eats.There are some special ones really deserve tips by their service quality or staff or their tastes and meals but they are so rare.

      • That is very interesting, and is also typical in the US. Some tip to show-off. Others tip because they are generous people. I don’t know how tipping started in the States, For those who aren’t familiar with our process, we tip for what we consider personal services, wait staff, hair dressers, etc. Excellent service demands 20%. Bad service is 10%. Most tips fall somewhere in between. These people, however, rely on the tips as the substantial part of their income. For some reason, the US sets a minimum wage, but lowers it for employees in these industries. For example, when I was a teenager the minimum wage was $3.35, but working as a waitress was something like $1.80. Tips were my lively hood. I don’t know which came first, the chicken or the egg? The tips or the federal law? Americans eventually responded by creating tipping rules. We don’t tip the owner. Some don’t tip on the tax. Some don’t tip on the alcohol (which killed me bc I had actually studied how to sell bottles of wine in order to increase my sales, and thus, my tips.) One thing I learned here was not to tip taxi drivers because they own their vehicles. In the ‘states, we tip them too bc they are employees of companies. It just never made any sense to me that we tipped at all – but I follow the rules back home, tip on the alcohol, and find it hard to give it up when I am abroad.

  3. A very amusing tale, especially the waiting staff in 5″ heels! I would have given them the 100TL and told them to take the total that I was willing to pay, ie 33TL, and waited for my change.

    • Hi Andrew! Thanks for reading my blog! That is excellent advice. I would even take it one step further and just tell them how much change you want. That way they don’t have to do the math, but it may confuse them as to what to do with the extra 3TL. I actually had to read your response twice. At first glance, I thought you were going to leave 100TL for the experience of getting to watch them serve in 5″ heels! Hee hee.

  4. It’s the old dilemma. As we all know, we should only tip good service but, on the other hand, we also know that the staff here rely on tips to supplement their meagre wages. There’s no easy answer. Perhaps a quiet word with the manager? Or do we all always do. Just don’t go back again.

  5. Interesting post…I also was a waitress all through college and having worked in restaurants for so many years, I’m always a tipper. But I still question how much. I probably err on the side of too much like for the taxi that was 9.07 TL. I just give the guy a 10 and call it a day. But when you get bad service, I feel your pain…it’s hard to tip well in those situations.

    Regarding “bozuk para,” whenever I use the metro here in Istanbul, I put in 20TL into the machine, buy one jeton and pocket the 18 TL in change. It’s the only way I can ever get enough change b/c no one error seems to have it otherwise! Does Turkey not coin enough coins?

    • Good question Joy? It’s not just coins. If I ever go to a small shop or the hair salon in the morning, they can’t break any bill. You must have the exact change or they run to a neighboring shop. It’s strange, bc I would think that would happen once or twice and then they would come prepared. But it’s just not like that.

  6. My husband in Turkish and he’s been in restaurant business all his live. He never tips if service is bad and he complains a lot :). I have learned and ask always if someone “forgets” to bring back the change. If you don’t it will go on next time. I always tip for service ( waterman, food delivery, cleaner lady, GOOD restaurant) and I find it strange that some foreigners don’t because they think that Turks get used to it? That’s the way of the system in Turkey and it’s part of the salary for many. After years in Turkey I think service here is good but there are huge differences. I’m Scandinavian and I normally don’t complain in my home country because there is no reason, service is standard everywhere but I never get so friendly service that I sometimes get in Turkey.

    • Hello and thanks for the input. I am curious, where do you live in Turkey? My theory is that service may be better in tourist locations. In Ankara, it is usually better in fancier and more expensive restaurants. But not so much at the average smaller places.

  7. I absolutely agree with P above: I think the service here is excellent, certainly far better than anything you get in the UK unless you go to a top-class restaurant. Here I also tip for any local service like water delivery etc. I also tip my kapıcı if he does something over and above what his job description entails. My husband says we should also tip the bloomin’ postman!! Not every time but just so he keeps on coming! Taxi drivers don’t expect a tip but it is good policy to simply round up to the nearest ‘big’ number, but that can also work in your favour and it can be round ‘down’. My daughter also worked as a waitress in the US when she was studying and she certainly put me in my place when she said the waiters here in Turkey all work so hard and their salaries are so low, you should most certainly leave a tip. Not leaving a tip is very mean. But I also get annoyed if they just ‘assume’ they can pocket the change!

  8. I don not think that you should feel obligated to tip 10%, or any at all if you’re satisfied with the service. I am a Turk living in Ankara and I do not tip if I don’t like the waiter even if the food is awesome. I can assure you there is not a 10% tip rule in Turkey. In many cities, people just get up, go to the cash table and pay there. No tips at all. Some places just have boxes mainly for charity. In Ankara, Istanbul, etc. tipping is more common. But I believe, tipping when undeserved is not good for the business. And, I bet you know the quality of service business in Ankara is terribly low.

  9. Hi, at the moment we live in Ankara but we’re planning to move back to coast, we miss the sea and athmosphere. I don’t think there is any 10% rule but for person who is new in Turkey it’s something to start from. I think standar of service in Ankara differs a lot and here it’s easy to find also good staff because so many teachers etc, are out of work, touristic areas lack of educated staff, especially Antalya region and the season work is problematic.

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