I’ll Give You the Tip

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.

I do not like to tip.
(Source – http://www.showtime.com)

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.

Begging: also for people with jobs.
(Source: http://www.funnytipjars.com)

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.

This girl really knows how to serve you a cappuccino.
(Source – http://www.calvinayre.com)

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.

Coffee: now charged with “service”.
(Source – http://www.log.otel.com/tipping-etiquette-around-london/)

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.

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11 thoughts on “I’ll Give You the Tip

  1. Did I inspire you to finish this?!?! I’m going to say yes in which case I will remind you that I will absolutely blog again first….maybe.

    I’m not sure if I agree with you on this but you make good points actually. I think your anger should be directed at the employers for paying such horrible wages to their staff. I’ve had tip-based pay before (not stripping, surprisingly) and it’s very frustrating because sometimes no matter how nice you are people (like you) don’t want to tip you! And I am a phenomenal server!

    Now I’m just ranting. But Ill you have you know, I blame you for all of my lousy low-tipped nights.

  2. Inspiration Queen. I WILL beat you next time. Maybe.

    The American system is a bit different, but even more abhorrent. The American minimum wage is so low, it has created a class system based completely on wealth. It’s a system where philosophy students serving fries for tips are less regarded than Chris Brown. It’s illogical.

    So yes, I absolutely agree that employers are a problem, although the government in the US is also to blame.

    In Europe they are just greedy.

  3. I was going to point out that in the US, we actually have a *separate* minimum wage for people who earn tips in addition to income. So, if you choose to stiff someone because they gave crap service, you’re taking it directly out of their paycheck. (Does this inspire everyone to give great service? Absolutely not.)

    The most offensive place I’ve been, however, is Israel. Every place I ate, without fail, I would be reminded “The service is not included.” If the waiter doesn’t speak enough English, it’s usually written in English on the pad in which the check is presented.

    There was one memorable instance wherein some friends and I had lunch at a restaurant and waited forever for our waiter to reappear so that we could ask for the bill. We finally flagged down another waiter to ask if he could go tell our waiter that we wanted the check. After about ten minutes he came back, informed us that our waiter had gone off shift and left, presented the bill, and said, “Remember, the service is not included.”

    The service for what, exactly? Bringing us a piece of paper? I don’t think so…

  4. I don’t think you are cheap at all. I have a similar thought process about tipping, only you’ve articulated things much better than I would have. For which, I truly thank you. It’s safe to say, many people are repulsed by the expectation to fork over more cash than has already been for the oft exorbitantly-priced treat. We’ve all had less than favourable experiences in a cafe or restaurant, only to wince once the bill comes, then this tipping “obligation” adds additional insult to injury. I long for the days where people tipped because the tip was earned/deserved, not expected/demanded.

    To be honest, I prefer to cook at home these days, and rarely go out to eat. Being an organic vegan severely limits my restaurant/cafe options where I live (Calgary, Alberta is cattle country – /eyeroll), which is just fine with me. Perhaps I’m the cheap one, my friend?

    Veggiewitch ♥

  5. A couple of the commenters already touched on the US tipping culture. What’s funny is that, when I went to visit London (from the US), I was amazed by how much less of a tipping culture it was. My first afternoon there, my travel mate and I met our first host at a pub. I went up to buy a round and came back to the table. I said to him, “Hey man, what do you tip per drink around here? I thought about doing a pound, but that’s a bit more than a dollar, which is what I usually do.”

    He looked at me incredulously, and said “Nah, mate, that’s what they get paid for.” I was amazed that I didn’t have to tip. In the US, you’re basically expected to throw down a buck for each drink (or at least a couple of them during the night), or you risk losing the bartender’s favor and/or feeling like a dick. (The former is much more important, as losing their favor means fewer drinks. Conversely, having more drinks means you don’t care about feeling like a dick for not tipping.)

    Another instance of me being corrected in London was when I was at a sushi restaurant with a few people, one of whom was a native Londoner. I put my gratuity amount on the bill — the customary 20%. The waiter, who was some kind of Asian and didn’t speak much English, was nonplussed, searching for the words to tell me it wasn’t right. I tried to tell him, “no, we’re good, man,” to leave him with the £16 tip (which also felt like a lot to me, but then the tips always do, especially at sushi joints). When our local friend saw what was happening, she told me no way, 6% was already included and I didn’t need to put anything on top.

    While the included 6% gratuity lends itself to your point about entitlements, from an American perspective this was wild to me. In the US, you’re just supposed to tip 20%. You tip 15% if they don’t really deserve it, but you can’t do nothing. Even if there’s some included, you need to add to that, because it’s usually minimal. If you don’t throw down 15% on top of the mandatory amount, you look cheap.

    I suppose the basis for the difference is just as my first host had put it: that’s what they get paid for. Another line I heard from him was “we don’t pay our servers shit.” In the US, we do pay our servers shit. Waiters rely on tips because their hourly wage is sub-minimum wage. For example, in my state, Massachusetts, the hourly state minimum wage for a waitress is $2.63 (says Wiki Answers). Then, I guess the employer is legally obligated to round that up to at least $8/hr via the tip pool (or out of the employer’s pocket if that’s not met, I imagine). $8/hr is, of course, still shit. So, as you can see, lots of guilt issues over here in the States regarding tipping. If we don’t tip restaurant staff, they don’t feed their kids, pay off student loans, buy crystal meth, etc.

    Can’t say I don’t prefer the way they do it in the UK, or the Gratuitopia that is Australia, which I was unfamiliar with until I read this post.

    Anyway, good on ya, m8. Here’s a nice tip for you: the US gets the new season of Dexter Next month! The UK won’t get it till early 2013! Hahahaha! This is still war!

    • Holy shit, your comment is nearly as long as my post!

      I think the general consensus is that America stinks. Okay, so that’s an over-simplification. Sure, America has GREAT things. Like roller coasters. And HBO. And (parts of) New York City. And ambiguous gun laws (if you’re into that kind of thing).

      However, America’s labour laws are woeful. Making fun of American tipping culture is liking shooting fish in a barrel.

      As for Dexter, there is a little thing called the internet. I will get it ON TIME, advertisement free, sans subscription. Suck it, biatch.

  6. Pingback: I Broke ALL the Rules and Now I’m Freshly Pressed! « Ex-Patria

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