To tip or not to tip?

I believe there is going to be a segment on tipping during tonight’s Project. I wrote this sometime ago and have tweaked occasionally, but was waiting for a good opportunity to publish it.

Tipping has been questioned as long as I can remember in a restaurant context.

The debate has only become cloudier as we travel to places like the US, and expect more of our floorstaff than ever before.  There is a diversity of practices, and the complexity reveals itself most in group settings.

I have plenty of opinions but I won’t go into detail yet. There is one main reason – I want your opinion!

There are some themes that I see that I’ll exaggerate for effect.  Most people are a balance of some of these themes.

1. “I never tip” – it creates a false economy, is not needed (on top of wages), and/or is plain wrong.

2. “I always tip” – it achieves better service, is required for floorstaff (or the broader restauant) to survive, and/or is morally right.

3. “I tip if that is the culture or it is expected” – tip overseas when you have read in a guidebook that you are supposed to!

4. “I tip if the service is exceptional” – tip very occasionally where something special is performed, are at an occasion restaurant (or have had a couple too many!)

I’m only talking about restaurants here. There is often the fancy bar that gives you back $5 in change in coins to persuade you to tip, and the taxi fare that is rounded up, amongst other examples, but here we are talking about restaurants exclusively.

There is no right and wrong, which is why the debate is so interesting, and so often spoken about.

Once you are a tipper there is then the question of amount – rounding up (to the nearest $1, $5 or more), percentage (somewhere like NYC is 20% per some locals), or particular amounts, are all used. All options have their place.

On particular amounts, is it only for service?  Did you know that many restaurants do one or more of the following?

1. Cash tips may need to be put aside even if there was only one waitperson for your table.

2. Credit card tips may just be passed on to the owners.

3. All tips may be split between all staff (ie chefs and kitchenhands too).

4. Tips may go towards the end of year party or be passed on to charity.

I think it would be fantastic for restaurants to explain at the bottom of the bill where the tip is going. Alternatively they could ask you where you want your tip to go.

Which brings me to why do we tip? Do we tip for the service exclusively, is it a feel / vibe thing that includes even the decor and atmosphere, is a special touch like the amuse or other treats between courses, and is it ever purely for the food?

If you’re aware of why you are tipping, it then comes down to what is a reasonable tip and what is a generous tip; and this all depends on the individual ratings scale used by the tipper. These factors are what creates tension in the subject because leaving aside tipping altogether, diners don’t often agree on the overall experience in the first place!

I am convinced that given tipping is such an individual pursuit, that the only proper way of tipping at the end of a group meal is to also individually tip, but that has issues of its own!

I have also become convinced that speaking to the waitstaff and maitre’d of the restaurant about tipping practices is a reasonable thing to do.  In my experience, they’ll answer honestly and diplomatically to a question that in Australia feels like a complete faux-pas to even ask!

I’m very interested to hear what your tipping rules and thoughts are…


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