Always tip your baggers at checkout and the great mystery of Dominican restaurant bills
The ever confusing and mysterious ITBIS and LEY taxes.
If you are new to the DR, and even if you’re a seasoned ex-pat, returning tourist or visitor, there is an aspect of Dominican work life that may remain unknown to you.
The average monthly income in the DR is 20,000 DOP (Dominican pesos) or $377/month. Many in the service sectors earn less—some are only working for tips. In most supermarkets, the baggers are only working for tips and are not being paid by the store. So try to remember to at least give them your spare change, if not a 50-100 peso note.
Tipping all service people, including bartenders, is a good practice while in the DR. Many visitors are baffled by the taxes “ITBIS” and “ley” they see on their bills.
*Many people are confused (and upset) when they get their tab and see that 28% has been added to the cost of their meal and drinks. 18% of that is called “ITBIS,” and it stands for “Impuesto sobre Transferencia de Bienes Industrializados y Servicios,” which means Tax on Transfer of Industrialized Goods and Services. It’s the equivalent of sales tax in the US or VAT in the UK. 10% of that 28% is called “Ley,” which means “law” in Spanish. These two taxes can be a topic of much debate because Dominican law requires hotels and restaurants to add a 10% “service tax” to your bill.
If asked, managers will usually say, “service is included,” while servers will almost always say, “tips are not included.” Here is why their answers vary:
The 10% service tax is not a gratuity for your server. It is distributed among ALL employees, although not necessarily in equal shares. Many restaurants allocate a large portion of the 10% to management or the chef rather than to the server or bartender. Furthermore, in restaurants where 10% Ley is equally distributed among all employees (including but not limited to security, and maintenance personnel on duty at the time), which means the person directly serving you at the table may only get a fraction of that 10%.
As if that is not confusing enough, sometimes the 28% has seemingly not been included at all. There are two different scenarios for this. Often customers can feel they have been tricked when they see this 28% added to their meal. So, some restaurant owners will just include 28% in the prices of the item. Another reason you may not see the 28% on your check is if you pay cash. Such is more likely to be the case in smaller restaurants where credit cards are not accepted.*
Remember, too, that service is apt to be a bit different than what you may be used to back home. Spanish/Dominican dining culture differs in that diners like to take their time enjoying their meals and hanging around conversing afterward. Therefore waitstaff is not in a hurry to clear the table for the next party. So you most likely will have to flag down your waitperson as they will likely not be constantly checking on you.
To the uninitiated, this may seem to be poor service, but it is not. The waitstaff doesn’t want diners to feel bothered or pressured, and they figure if you want or need something, you’ll just let them know.
You are on an island after all and therefore are also on island time with all the attendant more lax breezier attitudes that go with it.
A good practice is to try at least to appreciate or at least see the sometimes strange, often frustrating differences as opportunities to expand and strengthen your sense of humor.
Chances are if you traveled, you did so to experience something new or different from your usual surroundings. Learn to go with the flow. Patience is always a virtue when traveling and experiencing the new and unfamiliar and it will serve you well in the Dominican Republic.