On a recent restaurant visit I was presented with a bill that already had an ‘optional’ 12.5% service charge added. The food had been average, the service surly and the atmosphere positively lunar. What did I do?
Of course, I put my card in the chip and pin machine and paid the bill, tip and all.
When I left, I spent a good half-hour moaning to my wife about the tipping system. She very logically explained that I didn’t have to pay it.
Unfortunately, while she’s obviously right, not tipping means I’m hitting the often underpaid staff in the pocket. But who sets the rules on tipping? How much do I have to pay? Where do I tip?
Confusion when tipping abroad
A recent survey shows that it’s not just me who’s confused. And it gets worse when we go abroad. The survey found that 87% of travellers were confused by how much to tip and that 65% had over-tipped due to lack of local knowledge.
This is no wonder when you find that in Japan, for example, it’s considered insulting to tip, while in the USA and Canada, tipping up to 20% is considered perfectly normal (that’s a full fifth of your bill!).
In Europe, tipping tends to be around the 10% mark. In the UK, it’s 12.5%. Who sets these arbitrary amounts?*
However, aside from the obvious confusion and the varying amount – the main question is why do we have to tip in the first place?
The argument put forward in favour of tipping is that waiting staff are often low-paid, so tipping helps boost their pay packet. But we don’t tip in McDonalds or Starbucks – so why should we tip in Pizza Express or The Ivy?
And ‘discretionary’ tipping being added to bills seems like a ‘guilt’ tax – are you really going to take money away from the person standing over you with the bill?
Tipping should never be added to bills and should always be at the customer’s discretion. This is why tipping should be performance-related. Perhaps, a little business-like for a night out, but it would benefit the waiting staff and their customers.
If you get great service, then feel free to give as much as you want (there’s no law to say you have to give 12.5%!) and, conversely, bad service means no tip.
It may seem uncharitable, especially coming from someone who’s own mother relied on tips when I was growing up, but in these cash-strapped times, tips are a luxury many of us just can’t afford.
*The answer to that, in case you were wondering, is absolutely no one.