The Tipping Point

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Once you’ve gotten over the sticker shock of a night out in Basel, you’ll be left with an uneasy feeling about more than just your dwindling bank account. Tipping (no, not cow tipping) is by far the the most confuddling Swiss-ism for this North American expat.

In the US, tipping 20% in restaurants is the norm. How simple and how easy… if not easy on the wallet.   In Basel, if you tried to tip 20% at dinner they’d send for the polizei.
So, what is the right amount to tip? And not just for meals. What about hairdressers, taxi drivers, that cute bartender and more? I took a completely non-scientific poll of Swiss citizens and long-time Baselers to get to the heart of the matter:

Drinks (at bar) – Rounding up to the CHF

Dinner wait staff (mid-range – up to 100 CHF) – about 5 CHF; “Nothing if they were crap.”

Dinner wait staff (high-end- over 100) – 5 to 10 CHF or approximately 5%; “rarely leave more than 20 CHF”

Sommelier – nothing

Haircut/ color – nothing (tho some expats report giving 5-10 CHF; I gave 20 CHF once and it was returned with a stern admonishment that it was “too much.” I now give nothing)

Hair washer – nothing

Spa services (massage/facial) – nothing

Nails – nothing

Taxi – 2 to 3 CHF

Hotel maid service – 2 CHF per night in big hotels; nothing in family run establishments.

Hotel bell hop – 2 CHF per bag

These are just the tip of tipping eisberg, so if you have more insights on the magical art of Swiss tipping (e.g., do people tip COOP delivery service?), please email me at

Shockingly Good Schoki

Hot Chocolate Basel

Snow is falling in Basel. And when that happens, I find that the best thing to do is cozy up to a steaming bowl of hot chocolate.  Not too sweet. NO marshmallows, thank you very much (tho my little man, Oliver, begs to differ). While I usually make my own, using my bulk-bought Vahlrona cocoa I bought in Paris at G. Detou, a fabulous baking supply store, I am always in search of great cocoa-makers.

So imagine my molten-chocolate glee, the first time I tried the heisse schoki (hot chocolate) at Cafe zum Roten Engel, a charming little cafe tucked away in an equally charming little square called Andreasplatz, about two blocks from the Marktplatz in Basel.

Not only does the cafe make a great, creamy and foamy schoki (4.90 CHF for a large bowl) that will warm the (non) alpine chill right off your bones, the place also has gobs of Euro atmosphere. Featuring small marble-topped tables packed tightly together, a simple menu scrawled on the chalkboard behind a rustic wooden counter, it can make you feel like a local from the moment you step foot inside.
In warm months, stop by and sit outside by the fountain for tasty fresh-squeezed orangesaft (orange juice) and people-watching on the ‘platz’.

Café zum Roten Engel

+41 61 261 20 07,

Andreasplatz 15, near Marktplatz

School’s In

School is back in session. If you’re new to Basel that can mean a lot of confusion. Thanks to a recent email from a reader, I’ve updated the English-speaking schools section to include the Swiss International School. Located in Basel Stadt (Erlenmatt, near Badischer Bahnhof), this school offers a bilingual English-German curriculum, making it a great option for expats who are staying for a bit longer and might be more interested in immersing their kids in the local culture. Current classes run from preschool up to grade 11 and they just started their first IB diploma program.  Visit the school’s website for more detail (they also have schools in Zürich and Winterthur as well as at some sites in Germany).

If you’ve had a good experience at other schools, please send the information to me at