It never fails. A lovely dinner out winds to an end, we signal for the check and someone at the table will either timidly or boldly ask, “So how much do you guys usually tip in Dakar?”
A good question. But I think the better question is ‘how much should we tip in Dakar?’ Tipping culture varies around the world and Dakar is its own unique blend of cultures, so who’s to say what should be done? Well, my vote goes to restaurant owners. They know the business, their staff, their clientele – and they go out to eat themselves, right?
I spoke with restaurant owners to get their 2 CFA on the tipping question and here’s what I found…
First of all, not everyone tips (apparently students in particular). Secondly, those who do tip generally fall in the 5-15% range (while in the US 20% is more common). Those who tip most generously are usually tourists and expats, with Americans leading the way on the high figures. However the biggest tippers are businessmen and politicians.
The restaurant owners I spoke with said that when they go out, they tip based on the service they received (and how demanding they were as patrons!), usually in 5-20% range, often around 1000 CFA/person.
“We’re not in the Dakar of 10 years ago where leaving 500 CFA was a good tip,” one of the restaurant owners explained. “Things have changed, and now we’re happy to leave a good tip of 1000 CFA or so per person. But you do need to keep in mind that 5000 CFA per day is the basic salary for most servers. If everyone tipped 15% (which is still less than Americans do back in the US), it would cause riots in the restaurants because servers would become money-minded instead of service-minded. Things do need to move forward for wages and tips, but with time. As wages get higher over the years, so can tips but for now I think a 1000 CFA tip for a server is aleady great.”
Another restaurant manager explained, “Salaries in Senegal are not good. Even though servers at our restaurant are among the highest paid in Dakar, everyone depends on tips. It really is important to tip if you are taken care of with good service. At the end of the day, it is still a service. If that service is good, I tip 20%. If the service is not good, I still tip but in the 10-15% range.”
Nearly every restaurant I contacted has an established a tip-sharing system among the staff, but this is a continual challenge. For example, the server might 60%, the kitchen staff get 30% and the bar staff 10%. If tables leave very generous tips, this could mean that the servers wind up earning more than the chef. And if you’ve ever worked in a restaurant, you know that having an angry chef or one who feel disrespected is not a good situation for anyone.
The key, as in all things, is balance. And the nutshell version is “About 5-15%, or 1000 CFA per person.”
Thank you to those who contributed their thoughts and opinions.