Sorry to inform you: Proper tipping is not an easy task on our multi-cultural island. The Dutch side very much follows the American style, where a service charge is not automatically included into the meal price noted on the menu, and the staff depends very much on tips. The French side follows European law, where waiters are making a decent salary independend of tip. Ad a third element to confuse the issue: scrupleless restaurant owners, who keep tips for themsevles and pay their staff only a pitance. We hope that this article is giving a bit of guidance and helps to protect hard working service personal.
Tipping in Dutch Side Restaurants
Restaurants on St Maarten's Dutch side follows the American system for paying wait staff: very low base salary, service charge not included in prices on their menus, and the expectation that the guest is adding at least 15% to the check. There are a few establishments which try to confuse the issue; they use standard US forms for their checks, which include a line for "Tax". In many cases, a 15% charge is added to this line. This is a service charge and NOT tax, as there is no such tax on the island! To make matters worse, service staff is NOT getting this fee in many restaurants!
Don't be shy: ask your waiter or waitress if they are getting their tips paid out. In some restaurants, they are instructed not to give an honest answer. If you feel this to be the case, ask for the manager to get to the bottom of the issue.
Tipping on the Island's French Side
Even though European laws states that the service charge has to be INCLUDED in the price of a meal, most restaurant owners on French St. Martin are relying on the American way of handling this issue. Legally, the price posted on the menu includes service and there is no obligation to pay more. Most European just round up and leave a few Euro, pretty much what an American guest would pay on top of the customary 15% in the US, in order to show extra satisfaction.
The truth is: the staff of the restaurants on the French sided expects American visitors to tip well (or over-tip) and doesn't expect too much from their European countrymen.
You will keep everyone happy with an amount around 10%. Don't be shy to ask about the house policy regarding tipping.