A very common question for visitors to Spain is "do you tip in Spain?" Everyone has heard something different on this subject, so I will attempt to give the final word.
Update A blog post I wrote on this topic provoked quite a stern response from a handful of Spaniards who like to flash their money around. To counter their claims, I took a conducted a little poll among some friends about tipping in Spain. Take a look at my Survey on Tipping in Spain. You will also see a quote from the Spanish tourist board that accurately sums up the real situation in Spain.
Should You Tip in Spain?
As you can see from this photograph (taken at La Carboneria in Seville) bars are quite happy to take tips. But notice what is absent from this picture: a sign in Spanish. The bar only expects tourists, American tourists in particular, to leave a tip. They are aware that it is customary in the United States to leave a tip for every drink or meal and they certainly won't turn down your extra money, but you are very unlikely to find anyone other than those from the States leaving a tip in Spain. And you certainly won't see the Spanish doing it!
Tipping is not common in Spain and the popular website which says "Tipping is a great tradition in Spain" couldn't be more inaccurate. I have never seen anyone leave a tip just for a drink in Spain. Nor have I seen people tip at the cheapest 'menu del dia' restaurants.
When it comes to a mid-price or expensive restaurant, things are slightly different, but the Spanish will only ever leave a bit of the change after they have paid their bill; they will never dig into their pockets to get money out just to leave it as a tip.
But what if you really want to tip? Well, remember that you are likely to be the only person that day leaving them a tip. Is your 50c going to make any difference to their day? It is not like back home where your 50c adds up to everyone else's 50c, money which the bartender might save up to buy a new car. Your 50c is just 50c and it might seem so trivial to him (or her) in isolation that he'll just put it in the till.
That's assuming the bartender is even allowed tips. In many bars, it is kept by the bar owner.
If you need more convincing, notice how often in Spain you will be survived by two or three waiters or waitresses - perhaps one to take your order, one to serve you and one to bring you the bill. Countries where tipping is expected will have only one person serve you, so you know who you're tipping.
My advice is to save all the money you would normally leave in tips and give it to someone who is actually expecting money, like the street performers on Las Ramblas.
A little confused? Take a look at my Survey on Tipping in Spain, to see exactly when ten of my Spanish friends would and wouldn't tip.