In the United States it is normal to tip 20% of your bill at a restaurant. You would be thought of as rude or ungrateful by most if you didn’t. This is, in part, because some establishments in some states allow a “tip credit” to count as a part of the minimum wage. This means that some places will pay as little as “$2 plus tips” so in this instance the staff will be relying on the generosity and gratitude of customers.
In the UK things are different. We have laws that prevent companies from paying less than the national minimum wage. Tips, therefore, always count as extra. But who should you tip, why and when? A conversation on Twitter between artist Moose Allain [@MooseAllain] and journalist Zoe Margolis [@girlonetrack] (and others, in replies) prompted me to do a bit of thinking about my own tipping etiquette. I think I’ve got it down to a rather imprecise one-line rule-of-thumb: If I end an encounter feeling like I’d happily buy the person providing the service a pint, if we were out in a pub, then I’ll tip. If they’ve just “done their job” and little else, then I’ve already contributed to their wage through paying for the service.
But it really isn’t that straight forward. For example, my wife Aimee made a very good point about tipping in restaurants. She said if you enjoyed your meal you wouldn’t think to tip the chef. You may not think twice about tipping your waiter, however. And that’s true. The people who actually made your meal aren’t really thought about; you may throw out a “my compliments to the chef” if you were feeling chatty. But the person who carried the food to the table will probably get a few quid from you at the end of the night. Maybe this is based on an assumption that the waiting staff are lower-paid than the kitchen staff. As someone who worked in the kitchens of Wagamama for a year, long ago, I can promise you this is not necessarily the case at all. In fact, the few waiting staff at the restaurant I worked at were all considered senior front of house personnel and were on a good quid and a half more than I was, (I was called a ramen chef).
Then there’s the system some places have that sees all of the tips put into the same pot and divided (either equally or not) among all of the staff. I’ve known of places that do this that give the management a big share, the chef a smaller share, and the kitchen and waiting staff next to nothing. Is that fair? Would you think to tip the manager on your way out? Of course you wouldn’t.
So who should you tip? Or rather, who should you tip? The conversation on Twitter was sparked with a question about whether you should tip the Tesco grocery delivery driver. My answer would be “if they were friendly, helpful and left me happier than they found me then yes”. If on the other hand they turned up, thumped the door, mumbled about the shopping, dumped the bags and drove off then they’ve simply done their job and the wage my shopping bill contributes toward should suffice. Or, per my rule, if they left me thinking “yeah, I’d buy that person a beer/coffee” then they get a tip in line with that. If not, they don’t. As I say, it’s very imprecise. I mean, what about taxi drivers?
It’s customary in the UK, so says Trip Advisor, to round the taxi fare up to the nearest pound, both as a gesture of thanks and as a means of simplifying payment by cash for both driver and passenger. But if you have a chatty, funny or interesting driver you may want to give him an extra few quid. Or if he’s made a number of pickups or dropoffs along the journey, you may want to give him something extra for his trouble. Of course, it’s no trouble in purely monetary terms. The meter is running. But we do it anyway, don’t we?
Take bin men. You don’t tip your bin man or your window cleaner or the man who does your guttering once a month, but you may stick a fiver in a card at Christmas. You don’t do this for the local newsagent, usually, or for the postman. Maybe you do. But the usual receivers of this festive gesture are window cleaners and bin men. This is because the cash, we know, will go into their pockets. It’s for the person, not the company they work for. Though how many of us actually know for sure who has been collecting our rubbish all year? We give it to whoever does so around Christmas time. So it’s not about who did it, but about someone having done it.
Tipping is a funny thing. I tend to leave a tip of around 10% in restaurants almost every time. I think, having actually considered it, I don’t so much “tip good service” as “not tip bad service”… It’s a minefield of but what abouts; I’m not sure there’s a rule at all. Which brings me back to my unreliable rule-of-thumb: If the person providing a service ingratiates themselves to me in some way – if they’re unexpectedly helpful, or if we discover through chatting that we share interests or something – then they’ll immediately guarantee themselves a tip from me. I don’t like chatty taxi drivers, as a rule, so I round up. I don’t know my bin men so leave the Christmas bonuses to my Mum who lives down the road and almost always slips them a tenner in December. I’ve been known not to tip based totally on appearance or demeanour, which is a fucking awful thing to admit; the nerdy ones get a tip, the sporty, jock-types not so much.
I’ve waffled on forever, for which I apologise. I’ve repeated myself time and again while saying very little, really. I don’t think there is a conclusion to make. Some people tip, some don’t. I’ve stayed away from talking about tipping based on what you can afford (and also tipping in fast food restaurants, at bars, at theatres or cinemas or concerts, or hotel staff – a dollar a bag in the US, right? – etc), though that too must come into some people’s decision-making process, no? If you’re eating out but are on a budget does ‘not tipping’ become a more acceptable thing? Should it matter? Who knows?
What I do know is that my shows of generosity (but is it that? Or is it just habit? Maybe I’m it’s simply social convention; I’m tipping to fit in!) tends to gravitate toward those consider to have an ‘underdog status’ in their company hierarchy, or even their life. But then who am I to judge that?! I find the whole tipping thing a bit vulgar, a bit awkward, a bit strained. Basically, if I like you – whatever you might be doing for me – I’ll show my appreciation with a cash tip; it’s impolite to ask every waiter and waitress you take a shine to out for drinks, especially when you’re married with a kid.
So, how do I end this waste-of-time of a blog post? There’s only one way. I’ll ask you what you do. Tipping: Yay? Nay? When do you do it and when do you not? What’s your reasoning about who and why and when and how much? I’d love to know because I’m fucking stumped.
PS: I found the Trip Advisor advice on “Tipping and Etiquette” to be a very interesting and unintentionally hilarious read. You can see the UK Advice here and the US Advice here. Thanks.