Tipping Point

Who to tip and in what circumstances?  It’s a social minefield where you’re constantly torn between not wanting to be mean or offensive (which I can easily be) and not wanting to be ripped-off (where again, I carry the scars!).  All the more tricky in a foreign land where different customs prevail as I recently found out on holiday in America.

In the US, the price that you’re shown can often be very different to the price you end up paying after the addition of sundry and State taxes, and the inclusion of any tip.  Every guide book tells you that tipping is expected and having been to the USA in the past and fretted about it, I had resolved this time round that I would simply add 10% to any restaurant bill and not worry about it. Job done.

If only it were that simple..…  I quickly found that my rule of thumb was going to be wholly inadequate.  Our first tipping opportunity came in a bar where we ordered a couple of salads and after a delay of several hours (OK, I may be exaggerating a little, but believe me, only a little) something finally appeared.  To say I was disappointed with an unwashed lettuce simply cut in half and flecked with a bare minimum of balsamic would be something of an understatement.  I would have complained, but of course, I’m British so I can’t do that, so I attacked it unenthusiastically for a short while until I could face no more.  It would have been easier to bear if we hadn’t been approached by the waitress more times than is reasonable asking whether it was OK (we were still British so naturally said “yes”).  Then came the bill.  I meekly added the 10% and chalked this one up to experience.

Generally over the next couple of days the 10% rule worked reasonably well until we were well out in the sticks and we went to a place where the request for tips was pretty overt, if not desperate!  In fact, there was something about this place (the overdone charm, familiarity and attentiveness of the waiting staff) that gave you a real sense that unless you tipped heavily the rent wasn’t going to get paid and young children would be sent out to work.  When the bill came three levels of tip were priced out for us at 15%, 18% and 20%.  The food was fine but the service was indifferent so I now had a new dilemma.  Taking it up to a round figure came to about 13%, but  predictably I walked out of there feeling I’d been stingy.

Another place we came across where both service and the food were brilliant (Grandma’s in Cody, Wyoming, since you’re asking, “Home of the best short stack of pancakes west of the Mississippi”) where we were simply charged 5% and that was the end of it.  And doubtless there were other places where the tips we gave went into the pockets of management and the poor waitresses saw nothing of it.  And probably some places where the tips got the staff to minimum wage but no further.

Let’s not start on taxi cabs, and hotel maids.

This is a minefield even in the United States where there is a reasonably well developed expectation around tipping.  Here in the UK, where British reserve also comes into the equation, then we truly are lost in no-man’s land.  Bitter experience over the years has led me to understand that one man’s generosity is another man’s insult. You can’t win.

Is the tip to supplement the income of workers that are simply exploited?  Or is it there to reward staff for excellent service, should they provide it?  And if they give good service aren’t we only paying them twice for doing their job?  Or should we refrain from tipping to make mean bosses pay their staff properly?  Should we pointedly not tip staff if they provide poor service?  And in a restaurant, should you tip if the food is overpriced to start with?

There’s half of me that would prefer it if; here in the UK, we abolished tips and simply priced the tip into the cost of the product.  End of.  But then there’s the other half of me that fears that with the incentive removed, standards of service; already very poor by comparison with America, would simply sink lower.

If anybody can lend me a book on etiquette, I could slip you a few bob…….

In Economy

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