Differences in dining – Welcome to America!

Welcome foreign readers (yeah, we know you read us!). Chances are, you’ve been reading the news, and with a little bit of luck, you’ll take advantage of a favorable exchange rate, and come pay us a visit this Summer.

If so, here are 10 things we do differently in this country when it comes to eating (and drinking) out.

Free soda refills

In the vast majority of establishments, you’ll only have to pay for your first soft drink. Unlike Europe, where a refreshing beverage is usually served tepid, we like to fill up on ice, and provide complimentary refills on drinks.

Most fast food restaurants will let you tap your own drink, and unless there is a sign specifically banning free refills, go ahead and fill up.

Smart people will wonder why stores sell small, medium and large drinks, when you can essentially get the same amount of drink for a lower price. That my friend, is the right way to think! And before you ask – no, you won’t get free refills on beer, and if you do, please let me know where that was!

Portion sizes

Yes – I’m fully aware that the United States is the source of many jokes about big portions and big people. We actually have ourselves to thank for that. Times are slowly changing, but there are still plenty of restaurants where the portion size is picked so it looks huge, not based on how much food one person actually needs.

The Doggy bag

The doggy bag picks up where the previous topic ended. Large portions are not served just to make you overeat – you paid for your food, so feel free to ask for a container at the end of your meal to carry any leftovers back home (or to your hotel).

Nobody will give you strange looks; quite the opposite in fact. You’d better have a good reason to leave food behind.


Tipping is a really complicated topic, because it differs from anything you are probably used to. Tipping in most parts of the world is what you do to round up the check (cheque). If service was really good, you might even throw in an extra Euro or two.

In the US, tipping is what you do to pay your server, maître d’, sommelier or other hospitality worker. Your tip is their salary, as they most likely won’t be making anything over minimum wage, or less.

Refusing to tip, or tipping less than 15%, is what you do when your service was abysmal, not when you run out of money or don’t think it is worth it. When you order in a restaurant, keep in mind that you’ll have to add between 15% and 20% of your final bill for the tip. Tipping is not expected in fast food restaurants.

When you dine with a group, you’ll often be expected to pay a mandatory tip, which will be added to the bill. Unless service was horrible (in which case you should have asked for a manager), the restaurant will expect you to pay this. Sadly, the definition of “group” has decreased in recent years, and nowadays 6 people is usually where you start to be considered a group. The mandatory group tip is usually between 18% and 22%.

And if this wasn’t enough, you’ll be expected to tip the valet, cab or limo driver, bellhop and bar tender, and some people may even suggest you leave a tip in your room for the maid. The Internet is full of tipping resources, so to prevent an embarrassing situation, do a quick search for a crash course on tipping.

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