I’m just going to come right out and say it, even though it’s likely to be unpopular with some: I hate having to leave a tip. Hate it. Of course, I leave one anyway, how could you not?, which makes me hate the whole uncomfortable situation all the more. That’s the trouble.
I don’t like being fussed over, really I just want to be left alone to eat in peace and don’t wish to be a bother to anyone. I object to having my time wasted by someone with a fickle smile pretending to give a damn because that might mean I leave them more change for a service that they get paid to do (the smile should be included, that’s just politeness), just like the people who service your car or sweep your chimney.
But above all, I can’t stand how it reeks of condescension.
Spare me the fake interest, I’m not stupid. I’m too nice to be rude but you’re getting on my nerves, hectoring me to order something I don’t want, making suggestions I didn’t ask for. I’m sure you know the menu and ingredients better than most people here, you don’t have to convince me, but you don’t know me or what I like, what I’m able to eat or what I can afford, and if you keep pushing me I might ask you a question you won’t be able to answer, which would be really awkward for both of us, and then I’m going to feel guilty about it. I didn’t even want to ask a question, I don’t care about the answer, I only asked because you made me feel like I had to ask you something and now I’m wasting your time, just like you were wasting mine, when neither of us wanted to be engaged in pointless conversation, and I’m really sorry. It’s not your fault, it’s mine. Well, OK, it’s your fault because you started it. But still, I’m sorry. Now I just want to go home. Can I have the bill, please? Obviously I’ll be leaving a tip.
I imagine that many waiters and waitresses hate the whole tipping pantomime just as much as the customers. It’s horribly demeaning. I don’t know exactly how demeaning from personal experience because I’ve never served food or waited on tables; my earlier (demeaning) jobs have mostly been behind the scenes where few are likely to notice a job well done and slip a little extra in my pay packet. (OK, so at Christmas, some of the people whose newspapers I delivered before school – always quietly, without slamming their letterboxes and always gently closing their gates behind me – would leave something for me when they paid for their papers, which was usually money and always hugely appreciated. Not that I had to take the money from their hands and feel awkward, not that it made any difference to how I delivered their papers in future. I didn’t take any less care with those who hadn’t appreciated my concern; I just did my job to the best of my ability, as I had done before, and took pride in doing so. Even if it was just delivering newspapers.)
Why should customers feel pressurised into leaving tips for the people who take their orders and deliver their meals? I’m not going to suggest that it’s a damn sight easier than pedalling up hills in the dark and rain, lugging an oversized fluorescent bag on your back, when you’re still half asleep, desperately hoping nobody ‘cool’ from school sees you looking so bedraggled, and have double science first lesson to look forward to. Although of course it’s ten times easier than that.
Joking aside, some of us were brought up to treat everybody as equals and to always show respect; to never look down upon the man collecting your rubbish or the woman cleaning your desk because they are doing important jobs that keep the world turning and, but for a twist of fate, you could someday easily find yourself looking up at them from the gutter, deeply regretful and rightfully so.
Having someone to act like their personal servant, rather than providing service, might well suit those pompous, pretentious sorts who think they’re better than everybody else, have no qualms about complaining about every petty detail and actually get a kick out of belittling others. But I think most of us are realistic, sympathetic, and quite used to getting shoddy service and ridiculously small portions of cold food, sitting at wonky, sticky, badly-lit tables with noisy neighbours (yes, they’re usually children with inconsiderate parents, we’ve already established this) and so we just grin and bear it. Why make a fuss? It’s not the waiter’s fault. He or she is just trying to make a living and all that stuff. We leave as quickly as possible and choose somewhere else next time. Maybe we e-mail the manager or leave a negative review somewhere to deter others, but we don’t take it out on the waiter other than perhaps leaving a little less by way of tip. Not ideal, but better than creating a scene and making a long day feel even longer.
I can well imagine the arrogance of diners, of kitchen staff. All that time on your feet, rushing around, nothing ever being good enough for some people. But front of house get the most tips. What about those slaving over a hot grill or washing pots and pans around the back? Once tips are added to the wage of the waiters, most likely to be tax-free, it seems they are the winners and this causes resentment. Better still, it seems, lawsuits. More on lawsuits later.
We don’t tip the person who cooked our food, we can’t even be sure that our compliments reach him or her, and I suspect that’s what we’re really showing most gratitude for: the meal. We tip those who bring it to us from the kitchen (and who take it back there if we’re bold enough to demand so because we’re unsatisfied). Similarly, we punish the waitress by leaving a smaller tip due to matters beyond her control. That’s not fair, either.
We sometimes tip the maid in hotels. We almost always tip the taxi driver. Why? Have you ever tipped the people who sort your mail or those manning the ever-busy supermarket tills? Where lies their reward for long hours and low pay? If you’re lucky, you find excellent service everywhere, so where do you draw the line? We can’t tip everybody however much we should like to.
I don’t know how this tipping nonsense even started. Just pay your employees a fair wage, for goodness sake, and stop expecting customers to contribute to them out of guilt, shame and pity.
That applies to you too, Jamie Oliver, one of the world’s richest chefs, whining in the press recently about how foreigners work harder than locals, causing quite a stir (never a bad thing when you’ve got something to promote), when you’re paying as little as you can get away with.
I was stunned to learn that, across several US states, the federal Minimum Wage for Tipped Employees has been an unbelievable $2.13 per hour for the last 22 years, which puts the importance of tips into sharp perspective. How steeply the cost of living has risen since 1991. It’s no wonder we leave tips, however we might feel about doing so.
This is allowed on the condition that employers make up the difference if the employee does not reach the standard minimum wage of $7.25 per hour after tips.
Incredibly (or not), lobby groups in those states that pay more than $2.13 an hour have actually pushed to lower the minimum wage to bring it in line with those that pay the lower federal minimum – Florida, for example.
It’s not as though the only ones looking for a bonus these days are the low-paid, who have a strong case to demand more. Look at the bankers, earning bumper bonuses on top of bumper salaries (cunningly delayed this year so as to take advantage of a tax cut here in the UK). And now, in England, teachers are up in arms and threatening to strike (again) because of plans to scrap annual pay rises in favour of performance-related pay – even though most people think that teachers’ pay should be linked to their performance because that might just mean higher standards in schools.
So the pattern appears to be that the richest get rewarded, even for failure, and nobody is to tell them that they’re not entitled to their bonuses or they’ll make threats about leaving the country (and they decide their own pay anyway, so sod the lot of you); the poorest generally want to be rewarded by way of increasingly generous tips, because that’s all they’re getting, even though they’re patronising, and think it’s insulting to suggest that they shouldn’t get them because they work so hard for so little and are still waiting for this ‘living wage’ we’ve all heard so much about; and those somewhere in the ‘squeezed’ middle don’t want any element of taking home what others believe they’re worth, God forbid they might get found out, so they want things left just the way they are, thank you very much. Funny, that. And we wonder why nothing changes for the better.
When did we become commission-driven, ultra-competitive slaves to money? It’s horrible. Can’t we just do away with all bonuses and the bonus be that you keep your job and progress as far as you can go knowing you have the respect of your colleagues and admiration of your boss? I don’t know why that can’t be enough for some people. All that money saved, all that we collectively squander on bonuses of one sort of another, could instead be spent employing the burgeoning unemployed. People wouldn’t have to work such long hours with more colleagues to share the load, places could stay open longer, queues would instantly shrink, less time would be spent on hold listening to music that’s supposed to calm you but usually ends up irritating you, streets would be cleaner and safer, people would have more money to spend in their communities – absolutely everything would be better because of it.
Assuming the wage paid was a fair one, of course.
Waiters shouldn’t depend on tips to make a living. Nobody should.
Still, how awkward, deciding how much to tip. What a nuisance, needing to carry a little report card in our minds, where you leave a grade for effort as well as attainment. Presentation? Points lost for being a smoker who evidently just returned from a cigarette break? For acne? For facial piercings? For overdoing it in make-up? Bonus for clear diction? For correct pronunciation of foreign terms? For sparkling teeth? For oozing charm and flattery? Or do you take a point away for being a creep? I’d settle for efficient service with a smile.
We assume the tip is going to the person who served us, but it’s been shown many times that a portion goes toward operating expenses.
Then there are tip jars, the contents of which are to be shared by… who exactly?
Across Europe, service is included in the bill. We could argue all day long about whether this means you get better, or worse, service. I couldn’t possibly say, there are rude people everywhere giving their co-workers a bad name, costing their bosses money, and that will probably never change no matter how much they are paid. Maybe performance-related pay would weed out the most obnoxious ones…?
But back in the summer, Starbucks employees in the USA were objecting to who exactly should be entitled to a cut of their tips jar. Starbucks insisted that shift supervisors should be, but not assistant managers because even though they often serve customers, they had too much managerial responsibility to be included and earn that much more, anyway. The New York Court of Appeals agreed.
What do you think?
I still think expecting a tip and being obliged to leave one is insulting to all parties, except the bosses, who know that most decent people are too worried about looking mean to refuse to leave one, thus perpetuating the problem of low pay. I’d sooner just pay a little more for my food and drink, as several New York restaurants now insist, and forgo this awkward insincerity and pathetic desperation – for everyone’s benefit.
And we should definitely, desperately demand and support the introduction of a living wage, which would be far more admirable than keeping alive the vile, patronising display of false superiority through gratuities that keep the richest rich and the poorest poor.