Friday, May 6, 2011
Win This Book...Please! Plus, the Obligatory "Tip"
At the end of my Tuesday post on Ernesto Sábato, I included a contest to give away two copies of the new fourth edition of Moon Handbooks Buenos Aires. As of this morning, I’ve had only one response (a correct one, from Jennifer Rose of Morelia, Mexico), which leaves me one copy more to dispose of.
Frankly, I’m both surprised and disappointed to have had only that one response, to a contest whose answer even a reader who has never been to Buenos Aires can find by following the links in that previous post. Perhaps I erred by adding the contest as a postscript to the Sábato post but I thought the two photographs made it conspicuous enough. At the very least, I’d like somebody to do me a favor and win the second copy.
The Cubierto Is Not a Propina
For foreigners, one of the most confusing practices in Buenos Aires restaurants - it’s far less common in the Argentine provinces - is the cubierto, often translated as “cover charge.” In effect, it’s an up-front fee for the privilege of sitting down at the table in many, though by no means all, of the city’s eateries. It ranges mostly between five pesos (about US$1.25) and 15 pesos (around US$3.75).
There are various explanations of the cubierto. Some restaurants say it’s a charge for bread or minor appetizers, others for dishes and silverware. What’s clear, though, is that it’s not optional: obviously, at most restaurants, you can’t do without dishes and silverware, but even if you decline bread or appetizers, you’ll still pay for them. Simply speaking, if you expect to dine at most Buenos Aires restaurants, you’ll have to pay up front, though some places impose the charge only at night.
It’s worth emphasizing that the cubierto is not a propina (tip) - rather, it goes entirely to management. Why they can’t simply fold the charge into the rest of the menu is an open question - perhaps it’s a deception to make it seem as if the main dishes are cheaper than they really are, but there’s no question that it irritates Porteño diners. In a recent article in the online magazine Planeta Joy (Spanish only), dozens of commentators speak indignantly of the practice, and even go so far as to suggest boycotting restaurants that impose it. Several restaurateurs themselves denounce the cubierto.
There are alternatives. Often, when I’m in Buenos Aires, I place a phone order and simply walk to the restaurant and take the food home; even some very fine restaurants offer take-out service or even “delivery,” an English-language word that’s a common usage in the Argentine capital. Sometimes take-out or delivery prices are even a bit cheaper than the in-house menu; delivery personnel, though, will expect a tip.
If you do choose to sit and pay the cubierto, there’s still the issue of tipping the waiter or waitress. Ten percent is the norm in Argentina (and Chile, for that matter), though many Argentines stiff the staff. In Argentina, it’s nearly impossible to add the tip to a credit card bill, but in Chile it’s widely accepted.