Last week I was at Vogur Country Lodge in Fellsströnd having a chat with the owner. He told us about a German couple that had been staying with them for five nights and had eaten at the restaurant every night. They told him that the evening meal had been the highlight of their day the entire time they had stayed with them and that they wanted to reward the chef somehow for the awesome job he had done. They had read that tipping in Iceland was rude and illegal and were therefore asking the owner whether it would be OK to approach the chef to reward him because they didn’t want to do anything that they were not supposed to.
It’s not illegal to tip in Iceland
I don’t know where this myth comes from but there’s nothing illegal about tipping in Iceland. It’s probably arguable whether the person who receives the tip should pay taxes of it or not, depending on whether you look at it as supplement to their salary or a gift, but no one will throw you into tipping jail if you want to reward someone who’s done a good job.
It’s not customary to tip in Iceland
Although it’s not illegal to tip in Iceland it’s not something we do. The reason for that is that we have pretty good unions that make sure that everyone gets paid a decent salary for their work and therefore it’s the employers job to pay their staff and not yours. Service charges are included in the prices and sometimes you will pay less for take-away than sitting down. Having said that, if you take inflation, taxes and housing prices (in Reykjavík in particular) into the equation the minimum salary in Iceland is not great and the travel industry is not a high paying industry. But you are not expected to tip, we don’t do it, and if you see a bill that states that the service charges are not included you should feel free to ignore it.
It’s not rude to tip in Iceland
This one is not as straight froward as the others because in some situations people might get offended or feel awkward if you try to tip them. If you get great service in restaurants, hostels, from tour guides or anyone else you deal with on a professional level that you feel deserves a reward you should not feel bad about leaving them a tip. They are not giving you good service because they expect a tip but I’m sure it will make them very happy to receive one. Many bars and restaurants have tip jars now and more often than not the staff uses the money to do something socially outside of work together.
I think the line between when it’s OK to offer a tip and when not lies in the fact whether or not you are paying for the service that was given. If someone offers to show you around without asking for payment you can offer paying for gas (Icelanders often don’t feel comfortable asking fort things like that) or invite people for a meal on your excursion but giving them money at the end of the trip for no reason is a bit weird. I once met someone for coffee in Reykjavík that offered me money at the end of it and I felt very weird about it. I wouldn’t say I was offended, just somewhat confused. Icelanders are hospitable people and take pride in taking good care of their guests and might feel you are suggesting that the only reason they’re being nice is that they want something from you by offering money. In these situations gifts are a different matter and probably a more suitable way to go.
As I was leaving Vogur Country Lodge I saw the German couple chat with the chef and tell him how happy they had been with his food. I don’t know if any money exchanged hands but both them and the chef were smiling ear from ear and no one looked particularly offended.
I had dinner at Vogur and I can vouch that the food there is fantastic. The hotel is basically located in the middle of nowhere, in the most beautiful surroundings, and the quality of the food really surprised me. We had a lamb tenderloin with mashed potatoes with all kinds of seeds and stuff in it and it was just perfect. Perfectly cooked and oh so yummy. The chef, who’s just a young guy who’s girlfriend is from the next farm, studied and previously worked at Vox restaurant in Reykjavík so he should know his stuff.