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{06/06/2012}   Tipping

I have huge issues about tipping, both the concept and the amount.  It all came to a bit of a tipping head a few months ago when I had to get a £110 taxi from the airport home, having pre-paid the fare.  What to do?

I am under the belief that tipping is a consideration for taxis, restaurant staff, hairdressers, take-away deliveries and chamber maids (is that the right job title?).  There are probably more.  I pretty much always tip the former three, sometimes the latter two.  But why is it custom to tip in these circumstances, based at least in part on their relatively low incomes, when there are so, so many other customer facing staff whose salaries are on a par?

I think standards of service in the UK are generally poor, though particularly in restaurants this is often the fault of places being understaffed. I object massively to the increasingly popular system of adding a discretionary tip to a food bill.  A friend and I once had dinner at the St Pancras Grand, a treat.  Fortunately we weren’t catching a train because the service was atrocious.  In the end, having wondered repeatedly what had happened to our main course, the manager informed us that they were busy because of a large group.  Er, hello, just because there’s a large group in your large restaurant does not mean one of your tables of two can be ignored.  It was a while ago and I can’t remember how long we waited but I know I we passed the one-hour (adding times between each course) mark.  When the bill was finally produced, after we stood up, coats on, and walked to the server area, fed up of waiting, the discretionary tip was part of the bill, 12.5 % I believe.  It caused no end of trouble to have that deducted off the bill.  I am the customer, I decide how good the service is and if/how much to tip.  Isn’t that how it works in the tipping capital of the world, the US: you pay according to the service you get.

As for my £110 taxi fare, where no money needed to have changed hands, I spent the duration of the journey thinking about what to do.  In the end, I gave the taxi driver £10.  He chatted the whole way (actually a good thing as I had been on a late night flight, was tired and didn’t want to sleep) and was interesting (lots of local Folkestone gossip!).  He even offered to detour to a 24-hour shop so I could get milk and any other breakfast stuff.

However, a tip is kind of an extra thank you for your service.  But if your job is to drive, wait tables, cut hair, etc, why should there be an expectation of a little something extra.  In my job, I provide a service, at times it is apparent that I am exhausted and suffering, yet I neither expect nor get a tip.  I see people at supermarket check outs at busy times, they look tired and are working hard, why shouldn’t they get a tip?  Is it because you spend longer with a hairdresser or waitress, thus you become a little familiar with them, that a tip is appropriate?

I had a discussion with some friends the other day about whether to put in a tip for the person who was about to deliver our take-away.  We were divided.  Someone pointed out, “But it’s his job”.  True.  But that also applies to waitresses, etc.

I do not like the American philosophy whereby a member of waiting staff is paid a pitifully low wage with the knowledge that their salary will be boosted by tips.  I pay to eat in the restaurant, why should I be expected to pay part of someone’s salary in addition to that?  It is a nice gesture, a thank you for being attentive.  But if I spend a long time in a clothes shop trying to find something that fits, I might spend a long time with a sales assistant, but no one would expect me to tip.  Would they?  I used to work in a hotel restaurant over university holidays.  We were paid roughly minimum wage and worked hard.  Knowing you get tips as a waitress, I was every so excited about the prospect of extra cash.  In that hotel, most evening diners were residents and signed for their meals as part of their hotel bill.  If they were going to tip they would usually add it to their room bill.  The hotel got that money not us.  Nowadays, I think that has changed, ie the restaurant staff get a share of the tips added to, for example, credit card transactions.  But I will always leave cash tips.

A final issue I want to bring up about tipping in restaurants is whether the kitchen staff get a share of the tip.  I think the tip should be for the person you have interacted with throughout your meal, I have no idea who prepared my meal.  I know a lot of restaurants have a tip kitty which is divided amongst staff, or maybe that’s how credit card tips are allocated?  If I leave a tip for the waiting staff, it is because they have been nice, or whatever.  If that then gets shared out, where do you draw the line?  Does a waiter get the same share as a sous chef or washer upper?  Oh, it all annoys me hugely.

I wish I felt like I could tip if I wanted to, if the service were exceptional, but I wish I wouldn’t be made to feel stingy and unwelcome if I didn’t tip.  So I’ve come full circle and have merely confirmed that I hate the system of tipping, which I knew before I started writing this!

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