Tipping

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.

Author: FEd

Features Editor of David Gilmour’s official blog, The Blog (‘Features’ previously being its rather naff title), affectionately – or lazily – shortened to ‘FEd’.

26 thoughts on “Tipping”

  1. 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.)

    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.

    For this alone, you are my HERO!!

  2. It’s that $2.13/hour that tells me I should tip and tip well, and I do. However I agree that what SHOULD happen is we pay more for a meal, if that’s what it takes, so that the company directly pays the wages and not the customer.

    Repeat customers are what drives business in the restaurant industry, and if a restaurant is profitable to remain open for a period of time then that means overall customer satisfaction is probably pretty good. So let’s get rid of the notion that we are paying tips for good service when we all know that only one person out of many who worked hard to provide you with your dining experience is going to get that tip, and that the restaurant should rely on that for that person’s wage.

    Some restaurants automatically charge 18% to large parties for gratuity. This is less than the now standard 20%, presumably because those who do not tip properly are now forced to. They should just add 18% to the menu cost of everything and state that no tip is required. There’s actually a restaurant in NYC that does that, if I remember right it’s a Japanese restaurant and they do it that way because that’s how its done in Japan. That’s the right way to do it. And add another $5/night for a hotel room so you can pay the maid properly, and another $.50/mile ($.30/km) to each cab ride for the driver.

    1. Another point:

      I estimate I’ve probably dined out about 1000 times in my lifetime. Not once have I witnessed an improvement in service because the customer stiffed the waiter on a tip. For that matter, complaints to the waiter and/or manager have no positive effect on service. Do you know what I have seen that lights a fire under their butts and improves service? Complaints on Yelp.

    2. For that matter, complaints to the waiter and/or manager have no positive effect on service. Do you know what I have seen that lights a fire under their butts and improves service? Complaints on Yelp.

      I can absolutely believe it. What a shame they often only take you seriously once you start bashing on a keyboard and sharing your grumbles with the world.

      I’ve noticed businesses responding to criticism online, have you? It can get quite messy.

  3. I think that tipping ‘philosophy’ varies widely by country. Nowadays here a 15% service charge is (by law) always included in bills, wherever you drink or eat. Therefore, what we called in the past a ‘pourboire’, which litteraly translates as ‘something for drink’ is never expected. If you leave a tip, you have to leave it on the table and I personally don’t tip as I don’t know who would benefit from it, maybe not even the waiter, who knows?

    There’s just one country where I always tip in restaurants, it’s Greece. I mean Greek islands because waiters and bosses (if we can call them ‘bosses’, it’s often just a family business), there, are sooooooooooo nice, so friendly, so helpful, they suggest you to enter the kitchen to choose meals, fish or whatever, they always offer you something free when you have finished, for example watermelon, homemade sweets, greek coffee (how delicious it is), local liquor, etc… always with a big smile…

    And here taxi drivers don’t expect tips either.

    And me – as a teacher – I don’t expect tips either. :)) , even though I do my best to ‘serve’ all these bloody children properly. Yes, sparkling teeth, clear diction, no swear words, no facial piercings, no outrageous make-up, no acne. 😉

    And NO! teachers’ pay shouldn’t be linked to their performance!!! That would be completely unfair. First, what does it mean ‘performance’??? Exam results??? The job of a ‘good’ teacher is much more than that… Impossible to rate/measure. But that’s another story…

    1. Bonjour Michèle, I agree. The past 3 years I have worked as a custodian and guess what? I get tips everyday when I travel to different schools in my area. No more pennies thank God, but nickels and dimes and the odd quarter found on the floor while dry mopping. LOL!

      Just like you however, my wife and I do tip well when we travel the Caribbean. It seems worthy over there.

  4. I didn’t read your whole rant but agree with you 100%. As far as I’m concerned, having to tip service industry employees is just a scam by business owners, the purpose being not having to pay their own employees a decent wage while getting rich at our expense. We, the customers, are suckered into paying them in the form of what’s called a tip. I’m sure when owner’s are at their place of business, they look over the customers while thinking, “thank you very much, you fools, for taking care of my payroll.”

    I don’t order pizza to be delivered to my home anymore because of this nonsense. If I’m sober I’ll drive to pick it up. If I’m not it’s frozen pizza tonight.

  5. i’m with ya on the leaving me alone and the tip. i’m just about done with eating out anymore. even though i leave tips, they still give very bad service and bad attitudes.

    thanks for saying what we all really feel… you are spot on. shall gather my pocket full of stones and go into the blue wild yonder… “OUT”.

  6. Hi FEd; It´s been a really long time since I´ve been here.

    I hope there will be some chat or post regarding Rick´s memory this week. I´ve been trying to learn to play the bass, so I don´t feel so lonely this days.

    Anyway, tips…

    I can tell, some time before I was working in a 4 star hotel in Montevideo, Uruguay (if you really want to know I can tell you the name of it, in case that anyone wants to avoid it) and the salary was so low that you can barely pay the public transport and collect some change of it. In the end, if you don´t get any tips (I was working in the parking lot parking MB, Beemers, Audis, and of course Fiats and so on) you wouldn´t get a decent money (even with tips, wasn´t a fair salary). I´m not working in that kind of place anymore but please, if you can, leave a tip. You can´t imagine the harassment that I´ve had to live with.

    If you want to look on the bright side, it is good that this continue to be like this, because nobody wants to live serving people´s whims so you study or try to work in another sector more rewarding…

    But, on the other hand, there would not be anyone to be a waitress or parking valet. The question is… How much are you willing to pay for someone to cook your meal and serve it to you? And… Is it enough or you have to acknowledge that you can´t afford it without underpaying for the service?

  7. I can appreciate this blog immensely. Thank you for mentioning how some states in the USA pay below minimum wage for food servers. The last owner of the resort I used to work at spent millions on lobbying and getting it on the voter ballot to make the state I was born/live in to be a “server wage” state. Fortunately it has failed each time the restaurant lobbyists have got it on the ballot. But they spend millions each presidential vote hoping to pocket more profits. Also figure in the subsidy the low wage workers need to receive to make ends meet: housing, food stamps, medical, and on it goes. So the tax payer ends up subsidizing the worker that the owners of these places of business do not pay a liveable wage to. So is the business getting the welfare or the worker?

    Of course, many say get a real job. For every liveable wage job out there, there are 1,000’s of people applying. Not enough of the liveable wage real jobs to go around. So people take survival jobs trying to keep a roof over their heads.

    I thought a resort would be more up-scale so I would not be harassed. Boy was I wrong. The regular customers and famous people were very kind. But the CEOs were generally very obnoxious, rude, spoiled, demanding, self centered people.

    Also employees get taxed automatically on 8% on total sales. At the resort everything had to be rung up on machine before it was served.

    It is not fair for the customer to make up the wage difference to make it closer to a “liveable wage”. But then to blame the server trying to get a job that will hopefully provide a roof over their head is not to blame either. Hopefully they are into their job with a positive attitude. When I trained people I would explain to the new server that one should give the service the same way they would want to be treated or one of their loved ones deserved to be treated. That also included side work to keep the area up to health code too!

    1. Sadly, there are always those:

      “Of course, many say get a real job.”

      My assumption is always that all jobs are real jobs … just some are more “real” than others 😉 … kind of reminds me a bit of this (a tad off-topic) …

      All the organs of the body were having a meeting, trying to decide who was in charge. “I should be in charge”, said the brain, “because I run all the body’s systems, so without me nothing would happen”.

      “I should be in charge”, said the blood, “because I circulate oxygen all over, so without me you’d all waste away”.

      “I should be in charge”, said the stomach, “because I process food and give all of you energy”.

      “I should be in charge”, said the rectum, “because I’m responsible for waste removal”.

      All the other body parts laughed at the rectum and insulted him, so in a huff, he shut down tight.

      Within a few days, the brain had a terrible headache, the stomach was bloated, and the blood was toxic.

      Eventually the other organs gave in. They all agreed that the rectum should be the boss.

      The moral of the story?

      You don’t have to be smart or important to be in charge … just an a$$hole.

  8. 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.

    Amen to that.

    That anyone should work (or be willing to work – zero hour contract permitting) a 40 hour week and not have enough money to keep a roof over their head, food in their belly, and a 42″ Plasma TV (that is now an official indicator?) is a disgrace.

    It’s high time business owners were held to account. If you can’t afford to pay your staff a living wage then you can’t afford to have staff therefore you business model is flawed and you shouldn’t be running a business in the first place – doesn’t work that way though, does it?

  9. if you’d ever worked on tables, you’d understand that it’s really hard work! especially when customers can be so rude and ungrateful. i had a paper round before school too and it only took an hour to complete. when i was waitressing and serving in a cafe, i’d be on my feet all day!

    but i agree that it would be better for everybody if tips were stopped and wages went up. it’s not nice taking tips from strangers even though you’re obviously glad of them because it makes you feel as though you’re being bought somehow. i never knew what to say. i also think some customers enjoyed the whole power trip way too much and wanted to be seen to be tipping.

    when i worked at a hotel, i never once got a tip!

  10. Just thinking about this. Taxi drivers must take home a damn good wage as it’s not cheap to travel by taxi but not cheap to run a car either these days, so that explains that. I’ve still never known a taxi driver to give change even when it was cheaper. It’s a given that they keep it when there’s little they can do to provide exceptional service. If traffic’s against you, you’re not going anywhere fast!

    The only other place I tip is at restaurants and that’s only because it’s expected of you, not because the service has ever been exceptional.

  11. On the 6th anniversary of the premiere of RTN at the Odeon, on September 6th 2007, where I saw Richard Wright performing the last time, and on the 5th anniversary of his death today, which is a huge loss for us all and came as a total shock, I´d like to share this video.

    RIP Richard, Shine On!

  12. I think most of the points you make are fair Fed, although I confess I tip in restaurants and to taxi drivers without any great sense of injustice – for some reason I would rather die of exhaustion than tip someone for carrying my bag but perhaps that’s just male ego.

    No doubt this is more for the avoidance of fuss than an active desire to reward although I do tip a little more when there has been some genuine good service – for example when you secure a taxi return trip. It can be difficult to make your own rules up on pay … rightly or wrongly, where tips are “customary” they become part of the expected/standard pay that applies across the market sector. We may want it to be rolled up into the basic wage, but we cannot influence that and therefore to not tip is to pay less … and it will generally be the employee at the business end that loses out. I think most (good) restaurants pool tips and share them out amongst a wider pool of staff. Funnily enough, the classier places are often the ones where a tip is less appropriate because exceptional service is a requirement … they just opt for the generous “discretionary” service charge applied directly to the bill. In the end that is a bit like your preference for “paying a bit more” … it all comes round to much the same thing.

    Less admirably, tipping does hark back to an era when certain codes of behaviour indicated you know how to fit in and therefore confer status. That’s not quite condescension but it is an assertion of your own status and we humans can be suckers for that. We also don’t like to look cheap or mean. I remember the old gag (Tommy Cooper I believe) that you would say “Have a drink on me” and pop a teabag in the top pocket.

    You also touch on bankers’ bonuses and profit related pay. Again in principle there’s nothing wrong with linking pay with performance (although I agree with Michèle that it would be problematic with teachers) – the trick is to make the arrangement actually deliver the right sort of performance or actually make any positive impact on behaviour, and the classic example of bankers’ bonuses shows how often that is not achieved. I can say for sure that I have received bonuses before that I did little to earn and also had no bonus at a time when I might have deserved one … but I generally agree with your view that “exceptional” performance should be already assumed in your normal wages … otherwise why exactly are you there?

  13. Pavlov: you have a wonderful way with words to get an important point across. Your comments are always thoughtful. I appreciate that.

  14. Recently we have been to Berlin for leisure, where many Spaniards have emigrated looking for a job opportunity. Sadly, the situation is spiralling out of control, and a huge percentage returns home within a year (see this).

    The thing I want to mention, and relates to the topic of the post, is that “free tours” through Berlin have proliferated, some of them guided by young and educated Spaniards. Wait. Free tours? Yes, but the brochures make it clear that they don’t receive a cent except for the tips given by tourists.

    We actually went to a paid tour, 12 euros which is a very reasonable price, but my face changed when the guide announced that, yes, she accepted tips. We handed 10 extra euros.

    Did we do ok? Was it just a trick, an emotional manipulation to earn extra money? Or does she get paid so little that she needs that to keep afloat?

    I have no answers, but it definitely left me a bad taste… and, hopefully, I will not have to go abroad to get a (bad) job, except that I want to learn languages or enjoy different cultures. Forcing you into exile is not acceptable. Neither are tip-subsistence work-models.

  15. Good argument and well said. If only life were that simple.

    I don’t think restaurants have this sort of pricing power. Clearly the high end places do but they are a rather small percentage of employers. It begs the question of whether there is a gap in the market for an ethical type of eaterie? Perhaps there is.

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