It was while dining at Liszt Ferenc tér that I really got a taste of how tipping works in Budapest. I have to say that I’m a rather big opponent of the tipping culture in general, so what I found in Budapest what shocking to find in a European capital.
Here’s the thing in that if you generally stay out of touristic areas, tips aren’t such a problem in Budapest, but even still, the general system works in such a way that the tip is mandatory. A low key restaurant will only put on 5% or so for a tip. This is tolerable, although it still goes against the grain of Europe at large wherein the customer completely decides the tip based upon the service received. But, if you move in to an area that is more touristed, this automatic tip grows a great deal. It will often be a minimum of 10% and can be as much as 15%. The customer is not informed of this either at lesser restaurants, due to their inclusion of how much the tip is in clandestine spots on the menu.
Beyond this, you can also have an experience like I did where you go to a place, the food was okay and the service atrocious, only to find that a whopping 12% tip was added to your bill without your asking, which is out of line even in a tip-happy place like San Francisco. In addition to this they say the take credit cards, but the machine is supposedly broken (a common ploy.) So then you want to pay in Forint only to discover that you don’t have quite enough, but they give the option of paying in Euros as well. The only catch is that when you calculate the exchange rate quoted, it’s 20% less than prime, which in this case was 200 Forint to the Euro instead of 250. So, suddenly, you’re giving a rather bad restaurant a 35.4% tip!
What is one to do to avoid this? Well, when faced with a bill like this, you pull out every scrap of local currency you can find in order to pay it without using foreign currency. Secondly, you avoid touristic places to eat. Thirdly, you wait for the day that Hungary is on the Euro so that at least one of these scams can be done away with. Fourthly, you just try not to eat out to much, which is hard because the food is usually so damned good.