Since moving to London, there are a few social idiosyncrasies that I have had to get used to. Some have been easy to get on board with. Like how no one seems to start work before 10.00 am. Others have been a bit more of a struggle. Like how people still pay things in cheques. And then there is the tipping culture.
My outlook on tipping is similar to Dexter Morgan’s outlook on most other social conventions: I don’t understand the concept, I don’t want to engage in the practice, and yet I quietly take part for fear of social reprisal.
Well, I am mostly quiet. If I am having dinner with friends, I will always throw in a little extra money with a wink and a smile and a grit of the teeth, secretly seething with feelings of anger and oppression. However, unlike Dexter Morgan, who hides his social misgivings from everyone he loves, I have no qualms in complaining about tipping to my boyfriend. He, in turn, calls me a cheap bastard.
But I protest! I am not cheap. I have no issue paying a fair price for goods obtained and services received. However, I do have an issue with farcical economic constructs.
Tipping isn’t really ingrained in Australian culture. Sure, you will find tips jars by the cash register at boutique cafés. However, these are just opportunistically placed receptacles for the disposal of unwanted loose change, rather than little pots filled with genuine rewards for good service.
The concept of tipping bewilders me. Essentially, tipping is a social custom, in a customer will tender a sum of money to certain service sector workers, at the customer’s “discretion”, in return for the “good” performance of the service by the service worker.
You all know what tipping is, so I am sure you don’t appreciate my pretentious definition. But then, if we all understand the concept, why do we all allow such an antiquated and illogical custom to continue?
Think about it. If you go to a café or restaurant or bar and are treated with good service, then the custom is to reward the attendant by giving them a tip. The better the service, the bigger the tip.
TRUTH BOMB: People who are hired to work in the service industry are paid to give good service. Therefore, we are rewarding these people simply for doing their job properly. Seriously, I don’t know any other type of job in the world where you get a reward for doing something right. If I do my job correctly, I get paid. If I do my job incorrectly, I get fired. Isn’t that how it is meant to work?
Some people have argued that the service industry is different. As the basis of the industry is to serve customers, then the tipping culture provides an incentive to ensure the service is good.
This, is B U L L C R A P.
The service industry is not the only industry where you serve some kind of customer. If that was the sole basis for the custom, then why don’t we give retail staff a tip if they correctly direct us to the bedding department, or if they suggest a well matched outfit to buy? As a lawyer, I was always painstakingly nice to my clients, even the arseholes, to ensure that I would keep their business. And yet, my client’s never slipped me a fiver when I offered them a coffee or a glass of water!
Obviously, there are many workers in other industries who receive monetary rewards for doing their job. It’s called a bonus. However, these are generally paid for exceptional work and for generating business (with the exception of CEO’s and merchant bankers, who seem to get bonuses for failing utterly).
Of course, there is a funny little difference between bonuses and tips. Bonuses, quite logically, are paid by an employer as a reward for doing a good job. However, in some twisted spin on reality, tips are paid by the customer.
Hey mate, you’re doing a real knock up job representing this café. I love how you greeted me when I sat down and recommended the chocolate cake. I will definitely give you £3.41 for your efforts. Keep up the good work.
Seriously. It’s a joke. There is no other industry in the world that works like this. Except for stripping.
Some people argue that the tipping culture drives down prices as wages can be lower and the costs for goods and services can be cheaper. NEWS FLASH: if you are paying a gratuity on top of the service, then surely the net position is the same for the consumer? The only person who benefits from this are employers, who use tipping as an excuse to pay their workers less.
Some people argue that this isn’t quite true as tipping is discretionary. And this is where my real annoyance kicks in. Sure, tipping is meant to be discretionary. However, in Europe and the UK there seems to be a sense of entitlement and expectation, which completely overrides the whole basis of the custom.
For example, in many cities, like London, there is a generally accepted “gratuity” that should be added on top of the bill for a tip. 10 percent, 20 percent, 14.percent: how can anyone keep up with what is “acceptable” when one travels from city to city. Surely, by its very nature, an acceptable tip is a tip that the customer deems to be worthy of the service provided, not what the “market rate” for a tip is in any given city.
And then there are “Service Charges”. WTF? Is there anything more arrogant than pre-calculating the expected tip. Proponents of the service charge say it takes the awkwardness out of calculating a tip. However, when the gratuity is printed on the bill, it makes it all the more awkward to use your “discretion” if you think the service was utter shit and you don’t want to pay a tip.
My absolute worst experience was when I went for breakfast at the aptly titled Breakfast Club with JD. Neither of us had cash, so we decided to split the bill, with each paying half on our bank cards. The waiter (who quite frankly, had been quite vacant and dismissive during our visit) allowed the arranged, however as he held the portable card machine in his hand and wiped the card, he said:
“So you will each pay half, yes? Oh, and of course there will be the tip on top.”
Excuse me? Not only is a tip expected, but we were now living in a universe where a tip is demanded. And for what? What exactly was my tip representing? It certainly wasn’t for good service, seeing as the waiter had failed to greet us, shoved a menu in my face when I was having a conversation, and served my breakfast ten minutes before he served JD. And yet here we were, faced with a choice to either awkwardly break the news that there will be no tip, or bashfully oblige and whack on an extra £5 on the bill.
The gall! The pretension! The outrage!
Or maybe I was just being cheap.