In the US, it is normal for the check to come and the waiter to take your credit card and leave you in peace as you contemplate how much to leave for a tip. In Cape Town, the waiter brings the credit card machine to you and then asks if you want to leave a tip (see Forget Tokyo, The Best Sushi Is in Cape Town). Despite the fact that VAT is 14% and despite the fact that I hate tipping (see I’m Not Tipping Uber Either!, among other posts), I felt obligated to overtip because it would have been awkward otherwise.
The same horrific experience has come to Puerto Rico. I went out for Korean BBQ, ordered a bottle of wine ($30), and bulgogi for two. Before tax, the price was $64 which is crazy expensive compared to my Korean BBQ days in Mongolia, the best place on earth for Korean food. Add on the 11.5% sales tax, and suddenly what was supposed to be a casual dinner turned into a financial liability. When I asked for the bill, the waiter came back with the Square credit card processing machine and asked me the terrible words, “Do you want to leave a tip?”
“No!” is what I wanted to say. Instead, I stayed quiet and, gun to head, was forced to pick from the choices: 15%, 20%, 25%, or “other”. Since he was holding the machine when he presented it to me, I was put on the spot. Going out to eat at Korean BBQ, a self-service meal, is not the same as going out to eat at a steakhouse. Tipping 15% or 20% on the entire bill, which includes wine that is taxed 11.5%, seems steep. Too embarrassed to hit “other” and leave a lower amount, I settled for 15% and a resulting $83 bill.
My first mistake was giving in to my craving for Korean food at a price I knew was considerably higher than what it should be. It’s as unforgivable as paying $15 in NYC for pad thai, a dish invented for tourists and served for pennies on the baht in Khaosan Road. My second mistake was not planning for the taxes on the wine and the tariff by way of tip on the bottle. My third mistake was not sticking to my anti-tipping ways and tipping what I want to tip, regardless of this high pressure sales situation.