Guidelines for “tipping” in Panama

Blog by Joy Huppe

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Tipping, in general, is a curious phenomenon. It is a direct exchange between the consumer and service provider which almost everyone engages in at one time or another. Additionally, tipping represents a major source of income for many who work in the service industry, and as such, it is a consumer behavior of enormous importance in the economy. Lastly, tipping is one of the few areas of the economy where the exchange is dictated by informal rules of custom rather than explicitly stated procedures. Factor in that tipping norms vary cross-culturally, and are influenced by individuals’ perceptions and awareness of this custom… and you may end up scratching you head, wondering whom to tip and how much.

It should come as no surprise that tipping etiquette in Panama is different than say the U.S. (where tips are expected/implied), or from say, New Zealand (where tips are few and far between.) So how should you handle tipping when visiting or living in Panama? The answer we resonate with the most is “listen to your heart” and give how/what you feel is appropriate. You cannot go wrong when you give from the heart. However, in matters of money, the heart usually takes a back seat… and this is where suggested guidelines can be helpful.

Tipping has evolved over the years. While the exact origins of tipping are not known, the custom dates back to at least to 18th century England when collection boxes with signs stating “To Insure Promptness” (TIP) were placed in inns and coffee houses for people to deposit coins. At its core, tipping is simply a monetary incentive given to invoke or reward exceptional service. Overtime, in certain countries, the custom of tipping has become mandatory and/or relied upon in certain industries to actually meet minimum wage requirements. For example, it is commonly known in the US that restaurant waitstaff earn much less than minimum wage because outside tipping is factored into their end totals. Another common practice for restaurants is to include the tip as part of the bill when serving parties over a certain size.

In Panama, the customs on this are a bit looser, but similar to the US.   You may or may not see a “propina” added to your bill, regardless of party size. Technically this is not legal, but this does not stop many area establishments from engaging in this practice. Use your judgment when dining out how you would like to handle this, while keeping in mind the following. It is commonly required for waitstaff in Panama to pool their tips, of which they will only get a certain percentage, regardless of the quality of service provided. Therefore, every little bit counts, especially if your server went above and beyond the call of duty. Other advice is if you are paying with a credit card, you should consider leaving the tip in cash. This is because, unfortunately, it is also common for restaurant owners to pocket credit card slip tips and not reimburse their servers.

A standard amount for tipping in a restaurant here in Panama is 10%, and tips are considered a reward for good service, rather than an obligation. Keep in mind that service workers here in Panama earn staggeringly low wages, so tipping is a great way to help supplement that and get your money into the hands of people who actually need it.   However, if you received truly horrible service, you should speak with the owner/manager to let them know, and whether or not you decide to tip after that is up to you.

So far we’ve talked about tipping in relation to dining out, yet there are countless other instances where tipping is appropriate. Spas (massage, hair cut/color, etc.), hotels (room cleaning, baggage handling, etc), and tour operators are also incentive-based industries. For spa services it is customary to tip at least 10% of the total cost of the treatment. Of course, if you received exceptional service, you may want the tip to reflect that. An appropriate tip for hotel porters is suggested to be .50¢ – $1.00 per bag, while $1 – $2 per day is suggested for housekeeping.   For tour guides it is suggested to tip $5 – $10 per day, depending on the duration of the tour and the quality of the service.

Interestingly, it is not customary to tip taxi drivers here in Panama. However, you may decide to round up your fare. Or, if you have a favorite driver you rely upon, it wouldn’t hurt to slip him a little something.

Again, when in doubt, erring on the side of tipping is always appreciated!   Don’t worry, over-tipping is not an insult. Also, a simple smile and praise go far to reward someone for a job well-done. Honest appreciation is taken to heart and remembered.

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Believe it or not, there is a bit of controversy when it comes to tipping outside of one’s home country. Some people are of the opinion that tipping can be detrimental to the local economy of the country they are visiting. While there is a point there (think a waiter earning more than say, the chief of police), it is important to note that the Latin American countries have the most inequity in the entire world. Why would it make sense to not give to those who don’t have?

In Panama, there is some controversy surrounding the bag boys found in most of the larger supermarkets. These boys are usually school-aged and not legally employable. They don’t earn any money, other than what they may collect in tips for bringing customers’ bags to their cars. It is not uncommon for the boys to be rewarded with $1.00 by every “gringo” who utilizes their services. This can add up quickly and be quite a lucrative business for a school-aged child. Some are concerned that this may discourage them from actively pursuing higher education and instead becoming accustomed to “easy money.” Others hold the opposite viewpoint that money earned will help contribute to the boys’ families income and overall quality of life. Despite differing opinions on this topic, the choice to tip remains personal and entirely optional… though you can be sure that the money is appreciated!

Here at Casa de Montaña, we value our hard-working staff and encourage tipping for good service. For our guests’ convenience we’ve placed small envelopes in each of the rooms for tips that then get divided between our house-keeper/chef extraordinaire (Veronica) and house-keeper / all-things-handy-man (Nicolas). We strongly believe “what comes around goes around” and also that “paying it forward” makes a difference, especially here in Panama!

Restaurants in Boquete

By Eliecer Andres Lay

 

I have dined in pretty much every single restaurant in Boquete searching for ones that are going to meet my “high” expectations! One of my favorite restaurants is La Posada Boqueteña which is an Argentinian restaurant that offers mostly grilled food. My favorite dish is the huge plate of nachos which includestortilla chips, pico de gallo, sour cream, cheese, chicken and more. Another one of the tasty dishes is the mixed tray which includes grilled steak, chicken, yucca, potato, pork and more.Here is an example of the mix tray that they offer.

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In Boquete, the cuisine options have been growing for the past few years.  Not too long ago you could not find many varieties of restaurant as you do now. From American, Italian, Chinese to Argentinian – these are some of the type of cuisines you can find when you visit us in Boquete.  Depending on what you are looking for, there is a likelihood that there is a restaurant waiting for you that will meet your needs. The prices in Boquete are affordable depending on what you are desire. Panamanian food is usually less than $5 dollars and it will include a full meal. There are some Panamanian restaurants in Boquete that are known for their low prices and good food, giving a great value for your money. El Sabroson, Los Orquideas, Nelvis and Km 35 come to mind as some of the best Panamanian restaurants around town.

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As a general rule, tipping in Panama wasnot obligatory so people did not need to give any tip unless they really wanted to. Nowadays, depending on which kind of restaurant you are visiting, the tip (or propina) will be included on your bill as the government is starting to make it obligatory.  Most of the restaurants will include the tip on the bill so you do not need to worry about adding a tip to the total bill. Just make sure you look closely at the bill to see if there is an additional amount listed under “propina”.

Lee Seltzer has shared his personal reviews about some restaurants of Boquete in his blog, and this is what he wrote:

American

Baru Restaurant: Right at the central park, open 11am- 10pm for food longer for a bar.

Big Daddy’s: I have not had a burger but the word on the street is they are excellent

Argentine
La Posada: A good grill, great pizza, live music on Saturday nights. In my opinion they have the best pizza in Boquete and the best steak.

Breakfast
Punto de Encuentro Cafe: Olga is wonderful. The food is good and the atmosphere is still good.

Panamonte: A past Sunday brunch favorite. It has been several years since I have had breakfast there.
Central ParkWatch the town wake up and enjoy something tasty. I love the liver and onions for breakfast.

Chinese

Yings: Good food a little more expensive than David but better than most in David and a lot more convenient in Alto Boquete.

French
Art Cafe (formerly La Crepe: Excellent crepes and more. Revisited several times and I can recommend their specials, excellent food.

International
The Rock:The Rock is solid. This is the place for a dinner undisturbed by loud music or a blaring television. It is all about good food, good service and consistency. The management is international, the cuisine international and the quality of product as good as you will find in all of Panama, not just Boquete. The Rock has withstood two floods literally destroying it and hopefully it will withstand the test of time.

Mikes Global Grill: Good food, good entertainment and worth the trip for a truly international menu.

Italian
some people like Il Pianista.

Mexican
Antojitos:Trini’s food is as always excellent.

Panamanian
El Sabroson:One of my favorites for fast cheap eats. Try the trout (trucha).

Cafe Nelvis: Still my favorite for fried chicken. They have moved across from the elementary school Bajo Boquete.

Central Park:Was my favorite Boquete Breakfast spot before Sugar and Spice, a great view of the park and usually good eats.

Milquiburger: I still have not tried a burger because the fried chicken so damn good.

Seafood:

Boquete Fish House: Excellent fresh seafood prepared as you want it. Check the board for the daily specials.

Sandwiches

Sugar and Spice:I call Sugar and Spice a Bakery because it is, but it is also a great place to have a sandwich on fresh baked bread. Highly recommended.

New restaurants keep opening up in Boquete so it is important to ask us about the latest list of restaurants and our recommendations. We have an updated list available in our office of all the restaurants and a map showing the locations. Just recently a restaurant called “Black & White” (a Spanish Tapas place) opened up in Bajo Boquete (Boquete downtown). We have been there a few times. The food and the service are excellent! As Boquete keeps growing and changing, so does the restaurant scene. Now if Boquete would only get some Thai, Pakistani/Indian, and Vietnamese restaurants, we would be all set! Any takers?

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