Sunday, 27 July 2008

Tipping point

I've known for some time that restaurant tips added to the bill may never reach the waiter or waitress, so nowadays I either leave the tip on the table or give it to the server personally. I want my money to go to the underpaid toilers and not a well-heeled boss.

Even if the tips don't go to the boss they're increasingly treated as part of the staff salaries, and the basic untipped wage is reduced accordingly. Sometimes they're deliberately withheld as compensation for breakages or customers who leave without paying.

So I'm pleased to see the campaign by the London Independent for decent basic salaries for waiting staff and an end to the practice of tips being secretly filched by the restaurant. And I'm glad to see trade unions lining up in support.

It's about time these undercover fiddles were given more publicity and time the thousands of diners still blissfully unaware of where their tips are really going learnt the unpleasant truth.

Naturally the restaurant staff affected are reluctant to say anything for fear they'll be penalised or sacked by their employers, so often all they can do is stand by and watch diners and themselves being conned.

Not only do I always do my best to get a tip to the server, I invariably give one unless the service was atrocious. I think it's mean to find petty excuses for not giving a tip, like a dirty knife or insufficient smiling or bland coffee.

It's not necessarily the server's fault and after all, none of us are perfect. Would we accept a cut in our own wages because we didn't smile enough or we made a typo in a letter? I think not. Waiting staff are employees the same as us and deserve similar treatment.

So let's hear it for those restaurant staff like Manuel and let's stop being so sanctimonious over the crumpled napkin or the wobbly table.

PS: When Jenny and I were in the States, we always made sure to tip the going rate of 20 per cent, unlike other stingy Brits.

PPS: British government ministers have now said they will outlaw the use of tips or service charges to top up low basic wages. They made a formal pledge on the 10th anniversary of the Minimum Wage Act (July 31).


  1. Yes, I've been following Manuel's tipping debate too, including the Observer article and the gobsmacking resposnes from British (probably English) people, whose primary excuse was ignorance. But if you travel anywhere, it's important to wise up to local customs and in the USA one of them is tipping more - not only waiters, but taxi drivers, hotel porters and bar staff. Guide books DO tell you about it.

    However, if I get poor service in any part of the world, all bets (and tips) are off and that's that.

  2. Jenny - Indeed, how can you plead ignorance to another country's tipping customs with a straight face? Either it's in the guide book, a friend has told you or someone in the country itself has wised you up. In most cases it's just traditional British penny-pinching.

  3. 2 points I'd like to address.

    I've noticed it's increasingly common in the UK and Ireland for your bill to have an 'optional' service charge of 10% to 15% included which I find really annoying since as you say it's unlikely to be going to the servers. You are perfectly within your rights to have it removed and give it to the staff directly but few people will bother as it creates a scene. I say if enough of us create a scene the culture will change.

    "it's important to wise up to local customs" - very good point - read the guidebook for what's customary and lets look at it from another angle.

    Tipping in many parts of South and Central America is not customary. The service staff, taxi drivers etc are paid a a fair wage. But thru ignorance many tourists tip in these countries based on tipping practice in their home culture. The result is a two tier pricing and tipping culture i.e. fleece the tourists. It's great that some people have money to burn but don't ruin it for us budget travellers! - rant over!

  4. Same as in Argentina, our 'hospitality' industry are paid according to the award including time and a half on Sunday's and public holidays We tip but only for good service. Staff don't rely on tips to supplement their wage. And frankly, I don't mind if my tip is divvied up with kitchen staff as well, especially if the food's wonderful. I wasn't aware of the 'filching' practice. Tipping isn't expected here in restaurants, taxis, bell boys etc. People do it but it's not the culture of the place. Although I might 'round up to the nearest fiver if the experience has been good. (Mind you good restaurants are a damn sight more expensive than in the US).

  5. Quicky - Good point about the 'optional' service charge. I've never tried getting it removed but in future I will, as again it's unlikely to reach the servers. Interesting info re the Americas - the guys getting the unexpected tips must be very happy!

    Baino - I seem to remember us tipping a few times in Oz, in which case we must have left a few happy smiles! We didn't eat out much though as we had self-catering apartments. Thanks for the advice. Of course the ideal would be for all waiting staff to get a decent wage and for tipping to be unnecessary.

  6. hznmI see it from another angle entirely Nick. And yes, I always do tip well for pleasant courteous service and even if the food is appalling as it is not the server's problem.
    However and it is a big however, in my (tax) experience in Canada the tipping revenue is severely underreported on tax returns so even at a minimum tax rate of say 20% that is a hell of a pay-rate even at minimum wage.
    So I am not overly sympathic for the downtrodden server. At least not here and I always pay the server the tip directly.

  7. Pardon the 1st 5 letters Nick, they were part of the wordver that got splattered elsewhere!

  8. www - I hadn't thought about the tax angle. Yes, there must be lots of scope for non-declaration. But even so, how does the final income compare with the really high-earning jobs and investment incomes? Still quite a yawning gap I suspect.

  9. If I am happy with the service I will tip. If the food was inedible, service terrible, no tips from me, wherever in the world it may be. I think it is cruel for the waiting staff to be paid less just because there is a tipping custom in place, it's even worse for the bosses to be pocketing hard earned tips. Great post.

  10. GayƩ - This is the injustice, if tips are seen as part of the wage but people don't tip (and inedible food etc may be no fault of the server), then the only result is a reduced wage.

  11. I'm glad to hear that you respect the tipping customs where you are. I worked in a pub in Jury's hotel in the US, and I used to dread waiting on British and Irish guests (with some very lovely exceptions).

    Without fail, I would be told what a wonderful waitress I was and how much they enjoyed themselves - then they'd leave me a dollar for my trouble. I felt like wearing a sign that said "I only get paid $2.50/hour. I need your tips!"

  12. FG - What gets me is that they actually complimented you profusely for your service and STILL left a miserable tip. No wonder you dreaded the Brits and Irish!

  13. They were only dreaded because I had bills to pay. Other than that they were utterly charming! Enough so that I was persuaded to join them in their native land...

  14. FG - Glad to hear you liked them otherwise! A lot of Americans think Brits are a whinging, sanctimonious pain in the arse!