The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

Tips Are A Four Letter Word …
January 24, 2014, 6:10 am
Filed under: Comment

One of the things I hate most about America is the tipping culture.

Actually, who am I kidding, it’s not a culture, it’s an expectation … and the worst place to be exposed to it is in restaurants.

Don’t get me wrong, I am happy to give additional money to someone who I believe has genuinely enhanced my eating experience – whether that is by their advice, attentiveness or all round demeanour – but I detest the expectation that I should pay even more for something I’ve already [over]paid for, simply because someone dropped a plate of slop in front of my face.

Yes, I know this is a British thing and I know how poorly paid many waiters/waitresses are [I was one once and I was terribly paid, mainly because I was terrible] but it gets on my nerves.

Of course, when a restaurant owner automatically adds the tip to the bill, then I nearly explode.

How dare they!

Apart from the fact that a tip should be a discretionary payment, how the hell do I know the person I may want to get the cash, will get the cash?

But what’s blowing my mind these days is the % people are now expecting as a ‘tip’.

Yes, I can be a tight fucker, but in the US, 20% is the minimum expected amount.

TWENTY PERCENT … for taking an order, dropping some food in front of your face and handing your the bill at the end of the night.


And adland feels lucky when they make 10% and for that, there clients basically expect them to be their 24/7 slaves!

I remember once being in the US with a friend and the bill came to about $65.

My friend handed over a $100 bill and the waiter said, “Do you want change?”

Cheeky bastard.

Fortunately my friend – a Brit – put the smug waiter in his place by announcing he wanted every cent owed to him.

What’s fascinating is that in China, tipping is frowned upon.

Yes you can say the country is rich – and it is – but for many millions of people, their life is very poor and yet despite that, tipping is seen as something you shouldn’t actually do and something actively discouraged.

I cannot tell you the amount of bollockings I’ve been given by colleagues for tipping taxi drivers, delivery men or restaurant staff … but the reason is always because [1] they have given me good service and [2] they never expect it.

OK, there’s also the fact I feel guilty earning a proportionately much higher salary as a guest of this wonderful country than the average person born here so that always encourages me to hand over more than I should [which in many cases, has already been bumped up by the owner for being exactly that sort of person] but the fact is, customer service people here still don’t expect gratuity [at least in the form of customer tips, they do expect ‘annual bonuses’ from their company] and when you compare that to the US service industry, that’s astonishing.

The role of a tip – or bonus – is to act as an incentive to be at your best. Do the best work you can. Push your boundaries. When you expect it, then the point of a tip is nullified and everything goes downhill.

Of course the biggest issue is whether people are being paid fairly in the first place and that’s a whole different discussion point, but where [expected] tipping is concerned, it drives me nuts.

Oh, I feel so much better for letting that out. Thank you, even though 99% of you won’t have got to this point in the post.

28 Comments so far
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I’m sure the people in your team have high expectations for payrise time. I do agree the tipping culture here is ridiculous. It took me years to come to terms with it and when I read posts like this, it reawakens all my confusion and anxieties about it.

Comment by George

Ironic that this post appears in such a tip-free blog.

Comment by John

Is the friend you are describing in your post Andrew? It certainly sounds like him which is why I always end up paying when we go out to avoid the potential awkwardness/embarrassment of a tip standoff. Clever strategy by him really.

Comment by George

He’s more of a strategist than he’d ever want to admit. It was him as well. Good spot, though in the big scheme of things, it probably wasn’t that difficult to tell was it.

Comment by Rob

He’d probably say that he needed to be to work out your briefs.

Comment by John

you miserable fucks. youre lucky you just have to pay for dinner, you should be adding a fuckload of cash just for being allowed to breathe the same fucking air as me.

Comment by andy@cynic

Being serious for a moment, I remember being in a bar in New York – not a regular bar but an early independent brewery type place with no spare seating and a heaving crowd. I knew about the tipping regime, but having ordered a pint I discovered I had no singles and left nothing with the full intention of making up for it with my next order.

I remembered hearing a bell being rung but wasn’t aware till later in the evening that they rang it every time someone didn’t leave a tip. How’s that for entitlement? Funnily enough, I felt no embarrassment the next time it rang, but I doubt the bar-staff made the connection between their behaviour and the lack of a gratuity.

Comment by John


Comment by DH

You’re here all week?

Comment by John

“Oh, I feel so much better for letting that out. Thank you, even though 99% of you won’t have got to this point in the post.”

I’m a member of the 99%, unfortunately in more ways than one.

Comment by DH

You’re not in the US now are you Rob? Just checking.

Comment by DH

Again? What is up with border control.

Comment by Billy Whizz

You can breathe, I’m not.

Comment by Rob

That’s the thing with eating at McD, no tipping required.

Comment by Billy Whizz

I’ve always struggled with the idea of tipping too. I don’t understand how you can be expected to pay someone extra for satisfactorily completing the tasks of their job. I understand if they’ve been extremely attentive, quick or helpful. That’s a different story. I feel that way for most service positions.

But what really bothers me is the idea that tipping is expected on food delivery. A lot of times delivering the food is all they do. I don’t want to tip someone 20% just for driving to my house, on top of the delivery fee.

But I digress, I’ve learned to live by this rule. If you can’t do it yourself or don’t want to do it yourself, you should tip.

Comment by btrner

Rob, I think you’re missing a key element. In the US the basic wage for service staff is very low, and tips are factored in as a supplement. Basically, the customer is expected to make up the server’s income to even minimum wage level. It’s not a very satisfactory system, but it is what it is, and they’re used to it. You can’t use your understanding of the ‘bonus for excellent service’ tipping culture from the UK or China to argue with it. In the US, service staff rely on the subsidy tips provide.

Comment by Ian Gee

No, I totally get that – which is why I acknowledged the issue of salary – but I still think the whole ‘tip culture’ in the US is ridiculous, especially when they are surprised that people won’t pay 20% for basic service with a snarl.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the situation for people in that industry is terrible, but that shouldn’t mean you should have to put up with the ‘attitude’ that some of the waiting staff possess when dealing with their customers.

Comment by Rob

says the fucker with a bad attitude for everyfuckingthing.

Comment by andy@cynic

Perfectly put Andy.

Comment by DH

Nice bit of framing on the check.
Assuming that one is going to comply with the request, no one wants to be the cheapskate that leaves 18% so naturally one is drawn to the middle number. However the exact amount is likely to be a pain in the arse to count out, so it will likely be rounded up to $15.
Therefore the bar/waiting person gets more than the 22% the highest recommended tip. It’s all win.

Comment by Eaon Pritchard (@eaonp)

All win except for the customer. Though in this case, the waiting staff were awesome so they got the good amount, not the 25 cents I once gave to someone who had been an utter shit.

Comment by Rob

Hahaha. The $100 bill. It happened to me in Toronto with a $22’s check that we paid with $100. “Any change?” It pissed us off.
We don’t have this culture in France neither and it’s been quite difficult when I moved in USA then Canada (15% to 20% here) to get used to it. And you have to get a tips almost every where!
but honestly, you actually can tell the difference in the service between France and North America. Ok, maybe it’s cause French are assholes who happen to hate everyone asking for something (even if it is their job). But still, in some ways, I think tips improve, a least a bit, the quality of the service. But this is too much sometimes. In some bars/restaurants, it ends up in harassment! They’re over-welcoming, over-attentive etc.. My point is (and I link it to the $100 story), it’s sound so fake and self-interested.
Ok, maybe the main point of this comment was French are the worst for servicing.

Comment by Jo

Hi Jo, thanks for popping by. There was a really interesting documentary a few years ago that analysed ‘service levels’ in restaurants & shops in France vs the rest of the World and found that it was much better in the land of tricolour. Maybe that’s changed, but the underpinning issue was that in France, there was pride in being knowledgable in your particular category as opposed to thinking you’re just ‘cheap labour’ so in terms of advice – be it arrogant or not – the French waiter/service staff were more useful in making an informed decision than their Western counterpart.

This was a long time ago I should add, but I always found that interesting … so maybe the French have fallen back or the West/America have improved their game. Though having a waiter tell me how the ‘soup of the day’ is made doesn’t make me think they’re knowledgable, it makes me think they’re trying to con me into respecting them.

Trying too hard, so to speak. God, I’m hard to please aren’t I.

Comment by Rob

Of course, my point was more an easy joke. I’m far away to advertise the idea that French are bad waiters / service staff. As in many problems, there is often a point somewhere between best and worst.
I more than agree with the pride to be knowledgeable. I would maybe add that we have a very unique way to think the relation ‘cheap labour’ and customers. And unfortunately, we sometimes tend to see it as a looser / winner transaction. We need to feel independent / free of any sorts of [economic/politic] pressure. Which can bring you this cold / distant / arrogant feeling.
Anyway, still a lot of people I met during my trip in US and here in Canada carry on with this idea of French’s (bad) courtesy.
But, at some point, it could come from many reasons, even from deep and old ones:

Comment by Jo

the french are fucked at many things except losing wars. they’re fucking brilliant at that and still wont accept any tips for it.

Comment by andy@cynic

Don’t forget the plague. They were really good at giving the World that as well.

Comment by Rob

I think that ‘no tipping’ culture is quite widespread in East Asia. When I lived in Japan, you were expected not to leave tip whatsoever. My friends adviced me agaisnt tipping as japanese waiters might, politely, decline to take the money and make you look like a fool in front of everyone in the restaurant.
I thought that was a japanese thing, I find interesting to find such cultural similarities there.
Here in South America, waiters expect you to tip but won’t push the issue as patrons might seen them as greedy and unrespectful.
This tipping thing is a very cool topic.

Comment by Miguel

Late reply, but it intrigued me how in Singapore I was told not to tip taxi drivers or waiters because they’d be embarassed by it.

Also when I got to Melbourne, I also found that if I tipped someone they would instantly know I was English… hah.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

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