You And Your Money: The Thorny Topic of Tipping

tippingI am a generous tipper. I was even before I saw this photo! Here’s my thinking about tipping, then I’d dearly love you to share your thoughts and opinions.

These are difficult times. The people who generally hope for a tip are usually in service jobs which are often quite badly paid. In the UK, where I live, service leaves a lot to be desired and I feel quite strongly that this is our fault. We do not create a climate where its OK to be in a service job for a while or for ever. We need people to provide these services, let’s treat them with more respect and we would all reap the benefits as these daily transactions become happier and, in a small way, life-enhancing for both parties.

The reason why I am a big tipper is because I am 100 per cent grateful that anyone will carry out any service for me of any description.   And I am nice to these people.  I go first. I’m polite and cheery and I often a hello to acknowledge them. They do a good job in response (or not) and then I tip. So I don’t buy good service with a tip, but I reward it everywhere and every time I see it. I want people providing a service to have better self-esteem, to have to enjoyed my interaction with them in a tiny way and my financial reward to them.   And they, in return, can make my day.

Let me give you a few examples.

I used to be more of a regular than I am now at Starbucks, before I bought my own Nespresso machine and learned to make a mean cup of George at home. But the ladies in the Abbeville Road branch are a delight. They are not only lovely girls, they are international travellers passing through, learning English and experiencing the UK on their travels. I can put myself in their shoes in a heartbeat.

Starbucks have created a global addiction to caffeine so all too often the people in the queue are grumpy and cannot bear any delay in the delivery of their fix, drumming their fingers impatiently on the delivery counter. Some are just downright rude, no greetings, no pleases or thank-yous, not even coming off their mobile phone to place their order. How insulting and denying and shameful is that? They treat the barista as less than equal, less than human in some horrific examples I have witnessed. And don’t start me on customers saying “Can I get” when the expression your Mum taught you was “Please may I have”. Friends has a lot to answer for, fun though it was in Central Perk with Rachel, Ross & Co.

So in awe am I of what their lives and work involve for the Starbucks gals that I empty all of my small money out of my purse and into their tip jar each time I visit. If perchance I dont have any brown and silver coins, it doesn’t matter, I am already in credit with the tip jar as they know. Even before they came to know me as a big tipper it was efficient service with a smile and a lovely exchange about the weather, their own language, how to say various seasonal messages in their native tongue, what they are doing in the UK, are they going home for the holidays, how’s business etc.

And it wasn’t all from my direction to them, quite the reverse. “Hello, we haven’t seen you in here for a while, you’ve brought the sunshine with you, you always cheer us up” etc. So it’s a mutual admiration society and consequently my drink is always great. I am not stressed to get it in a hurry and they deserve my tip on so many levels, not just good service. What did that cost me, really? Let alone how good it makes us all feel.

I am going to see my hairdresser on Wednesday, JoJo. She’s the latest in a long line of hairdressers but I am perhaps the most generous of all tippers to her, way more than 15%. Why? She showed an interest in me. She cut my hair nicely. I like her and the whole experience is one of the more joyful in the hairdresser’s chair, one of my least favourite seats. Of my generous tip, about 60% is for her service with the top-up additional 40% because I like her, she appreciates the fiscal feedback, and I want to make a financial contribution to her life in the UK.

Just put yourself in their shoes for a moment. Could you make coffee for a living in Brasilia; how’s your Portuguese? Could you cut hair in Warsaw; how’s your Polish?

In the Seventies, in Oxford, two of my school chums were waitresses. My memory may be faulty, but I am pretty sure they didn’t earn a wage at all. I think they ONLY earned tips. I seem to recall they were amongst the richest people we knew as students for only a few shifts a week. Yes, the work was long, gruelling and physically exhausting but we were young and hard work never did anyone any harm. I seem to recall they earned about £150 a week, and were encouraged to wear short skirts in a nice family/student-orientated restaurant chain which still thrives today. £150 then would be worth more than £600 today so you can gauge how well they did. Nobody minded tipping them so generously, quite the reverse. And what good training for them in customer service!

It is the norm these days for a restaurant to typically add a 12.5% service charge.  I know it is quite OK not to pay this if you feel that you haven’t had any service whatsoever, or to reduce it for limited service. This does happen to me; I don’t lead a totally gilded life. But it is rare. Those I dine with are more likely than me to be less sympathetic to waiting errors, surliness and so on. And, to be fair, it is relatively easy to train waiting staff to be good at their jobs. If they are not, it’s either your fault as the restaurateur of they should be sacked.

My own pet hate is the waiter taking my order then coming back to my table with my food only moment later but being unable to remember which of the two of us ordered what. You can make a simple annotation to your waiting pad and you’d know. This is what all good restaurants do who realise the client-loyalty potential of excellent staff training. As a restaurant it should be what you offer your staff. If this is your own restaurant and you do your own waiting too, it demonstrates care for us, your clients and customers. Show me you care, please, and I will reciprocate.   As I’ve already said, out of politeness I often go first and assume you are going to be nice and helpful. And I do know that generally we try your patience to breaking point.

Many people mis-understand the service charge, believing it is just another way for the house to profit. In my experience from my accounting days where I specialised in restaurants, this never happened. It all goes into what is known as a tronc system and after a small admin fee, because it does cost to do it this way although there can often be tax savings as well, the rest is split between the staff in a ratio between front of house staff and the kitchen brigade. It is not unheard of that this service charge forms the whole of the staff wages, though mostly it is also topped up with a basic wage.

That’s how important your tip is. Because not only is it the pay the staff are earning, it is a direct reflection of how well they are doing their job. If your experience is better than 12.5%, then by all means top it up with a few pound coins on top or even notes if you are at The Ritz. Pay what you think the service was worth and don’t assume. Ask the restaurant about their tipping policy if it’s not published on their website and/or menus. Then you’ll know, and so will your waiter if you ask in advance. He’ll know you care enough and it puts the staff on notice.

It’s like a scorecard, isn’t it?   Tell your server how well they are doing, and if you are a regular make sure they know what you like so they can get it right, like the ladies at Starbucks who get out the soya milk as I walk through the door, and so that they can take a pride in their work and be richly rewarded for doing it well.   We hear from studies by employers that a pat on the back can be at almost as important as a fair salary. And what better way is there for us to offer a pat on the back than a kindly word and a generous tip?

If in doubt, my sympathy is often with your waiter, your server, your hairdresser though not always with your taxi driver. I think if I lend my ears to listen to his right-wing claptrap even after I have given signs that I don’t want to talk (or listen, more accurately) because I am his prisoner in his cab, then this might be reflected in my slightly meaner than average tip!

When I’m overseas, I’m even more generous and I think as a tourist that’s partly what I’m there for, to bolster their economy. I love tipping in America particularly as service is mostly very jolly and joyous indeed and they frequently add an enhanced 20% for it. And I definitely don’t want my overseas hosts to think us Brits are stingy so I redress the balance for the rest of you who can be a bit tight. And there are places I’ve travelled to in my life where top-notice service has made me feel like a right royal Princess Judith and there is no my wonderful opportunity to tip – and tip big – than that.

I’d love to know what you think. What constitutes service that you would pay over the odds for? Are you comfy tipping? If you are on the receiving end of tips or wages from a tronc, how does it feel if people are mean or forget? Do you try harder at your work if you know your success is rewarded with bigger tips? Let’s open up the debate, get this working well and upgrade how we treat our service staff in the UK.

And while we are on this topic, tip or no tip, how about a cheery smile and greeting your wait staff with respect as a minimum please?

photo credit: m kasahara via photopin cc

You And Your Money: The Thorny Topic of Tipping

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2 Responses to “You And Your Money: The Thorny Topic of Tipping”

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  1. Judith Morgan says:

    Hi Donna

    I think the rewards for giving good service can often be in the satisfaction of a job well done too. And if you give of your best, someone usually notices (like the bridegroom) and something even better can come of it – promotion, good references, connections etc. I guess the tipping systems in these examples might encourage good teamwork and that’s a good thing too in the hospitality industry. Good on your girls and to you for encouraging them. We learn so much from those dodgy holiday jobs before we find ourselves in our eventual careers, mainly what to steer away from in my own experience! Thanks for joining in the conversations.

  2. Donna James says:

    Hi Judith

    My two daughters have always taken on part-time bar work and waitressing jobs to support their student loans during their University years. There was an official tronc scheme in the Michelin 2 star restaurant that one daughter worked in last summer, but that has not been the norm.

    In our experience the tips taken by waitresses and bar staff in pub/restaurants are usually split equally between all staff, kitchen brigade and front of house, including a share each for the landlord and landlady.

    During a private function where daughter number 1 was responsible for waitressing at the top table of a wedding, the groom was delighted with her and gave her a £50 cash tip, significantly more than she was being paid for her shift! This was instantly whisked off and put into the communal pot to be divided x ways!

    It would seem that the rewards for giving good service in this industry has to be a sense of pride in the service you personally offer, laying foundations for a glowing reference for future use, and keeping your job!

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