To Tip or Not to Tip?
Top Tips for leaving Tips
Hello, it’s been a while. I do apologise for my lack of posting. It’s not been for the want of trying just sometimes things conspire against us and distractions take hold. That’s it, that’s what I’m going to blame it on, a distraction, and for that I blame a girl! That one sentence will cost me dinner for sure (what a shame, I hate eating, girls never learn!)
Enough waffle and now onto a subject I’ve been itching to write about, and I’d like to hear your thoughts too. In particular to hear from people who don’t, or haven’t, worked a floor and how they view tipping.
Now, obviously my opinion on tipping has been shaped by my experience of working in the industry, but I’ve also spent time as a civilian too and often (yep it happens) socialized with a few too!
This is by no means a definitive guide, just a few suggestions or, to put it bluntly, advice as to how to negotiate the minefield of leaving a tip, and the dilemmas a server faces that non-service personnel may not realise.
It’s a sensitive subject; servers can be sensitive souls, and we can also be utter bastards but that doesn’t mean we aren’t human! Yes, civilians, we are like you. We eat, breathe and shit. The difference is you can put us in the shit and give it to us both barrels and get away with behaviour that, if replicated in any other work environment, would cause a minor scandal.
This subject makes me, and many in our trade, sound a tad highly strung. Maybe we are, but many punters often forget we are only human and don’t deserve to be spoken to like a dog’s dinner, after all, let’s not forget slavery was abolished in the UK in 1833!
This article recently appeared on The Guardian, http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2012/aug/12/codes-waiter-really-thinking
I have to say it’s really rather tame. Most servers, management included, have far more ‘charming’ metaphors and similes ascribed to regulars! But it’s worth a read and lends nicely into where I’m going with this blog.
I’ve thought long and hard about the content of this blog, hopefully it shows, I’ve tried to make it come across not as an ‘end of a nightmare week’ rant but an informed piece. If I’ve failed, well first off I’m gutted. Hopefully you will laugh a little, and if this reads successfully, think a little more when you go out to eat. I hope it doesn’t come across as ‘taking myself too seriously’ it is meant to be jocular but some of the points raised are, in fact, serious. People’s jobs are at stake if a customer kicks off. Yes, I’ve witnessed a diner lie about his/her version of events in order to increase the level of righteous indignation they want the owner to realise just how ruined their evening/lunch or, heaven forbid, ‘experience’ by the waitress on section 2! Get a fucking life jack ass!
‘Leaving Your Change’
This is a tough one. Often customers, me included, can be caught short when it comes to tipping. This once could have been an excuse, but no more, the credit card machine has kicked this little bad boy into touch, or has it? Not completely.
I introduce you to the business person. That’s right, the “can I have a receipt for my glass of tap water please” type of character who, no doubt, has a decent wage but fails, time after time, to leave the 10% tip the service he has, probably, received thoroughly deserves. They often make you run, often get slaughtered, drip feed you what they consider ‘banter’ (as they still think they are holding onto their 20‘s) then leave fuck all! Yes, this is a generalisation and not all business travellers on expense accounts behave this way. But I can tell you now, if you know a server of any description, describe the above and they, knowingly, will nod their head and confirm that there are hundreds out there!
‘High Street Chains’
Now I will admit that I previously worked the floor at a well-known popular chain. I enjoyed it, for its limitations, and made a great deal of money as we kept our own tips. However, the pitfalls of the majority of these places are huge and, to a certain extent, are killing the independent restaurants who work their socks off to just compete. The chain I worked in was relatively good for its tipping policy. Each waiter kept his or her tips BUT had to pay a tronc fee to the tronc administrator for all credit and service charge tips which were then processed and paid with your monthly salary. The other down side was each member of floor staff was informed that we were not allowed to communicate this information to guests and told to say we kept all our tips, and that the company takes no money from us whatsoever. If you were caught by a member of management or one of the ‘mystery diners’ employed to ensure waiting staff stuck to the script of the ‘dining experience’ it was considered gross misconduct and you were sacked! Very harsh indeed.
The overall lesson, if you happen to have the misfortune of dining in a chain, tip, but do it in cash.
Tipping in a ‘Derogatory’ way’
I almost squirmed as I typed ‘derogatory’ just now, and looking back it still makes me shudder a little. Not shuddering at my terrible use of the Queen’s English, but because sometimes it feels like some customers genuinely enjoy being rude to servers. I remember reading, and I wish I could find it, an article about the psychology of serving. In a nutshell the crux of the theory was that when a customer relinquishes control of the situation to his or her server a customer tries to win it back with small, simple victories. When you think about it sounds crazy, but think again. You walk into a restaurant with no reservation and the first question on your lips is ‘do you have a table of 2 available’ or in other words ‘we really want you to feed this’. Push forward to when you’re being served over the course of a meal and for 90 minutes you are seated, lower than your server, and in a way he/she is in charge of your ‘feed’.
Having read this article a few years ago and having had the time to think on it further it actually makes a bit of sense. Pop psychology it may be, but how else do you explain someone being vulgar and rude throughout the meal then making ridiculous comments regarding your pay, how you should consider yourself lucky to be in a job, oh yes diners can be horrific. I guess though if you’ve never worked a floor you won’t know this, but it’s true. On a positive note 80% of customer’s are genuinely lovely people and don’t act as if they are in the ‘Human Alpha Zoo’!
My current gripe with customers at the moment is not necessarily rudeness. Let’s not kid ourselves, it’s hard at the moment for everybody financially. As a consequence the demand for decent service and food product has never been greater in restaurants, bars and hotels. This is great as I can genuinely see, in Sheffield anyway, independent restaurateurs, landlords and café owners coming together, while still direct competitors, to honestly support one another.
Back to my point, I’ve noticed an increasing trend of customers exclaiming there faux disgust at prices of products. For one, it is 9/10 not the owner or patron serving you so why do they think we have an input into what prices/mark ups on products should be. The average hospitality employee sees very little regarding costing, gross product figures, consumption figures and staff costing spread sheets so why exclaim your horror at the front line worker? The better option would be to write to the owner/director to get a response or simply frequent somewhere cheaper which is almost certainly a shitter product and service, again its your choice as a consumer, so exercise it!
Being told to be grateful for the job – how fucking patronising can you get?
‘I’m paying your wages, so work for it!’ Actually the cost of your meal is probably contributing very little to each servers wage and the majority is being used to pay for product, rates and other costs (which every customer seems to forget!)
‘Service Charge Dilemmas’
This leads me nicely onto the automatic discretionary service charge which is sometimes, though rarely, added onto bills. Now most establishments I have worked in do this for parties of guests often over the number of 6. I firmly believe that it should be done to every table that sits down to eat/drink and receives some form service one way or another. ‘Why?’ I hear you ask.
Well In many high end establishments the service charge is not discretionary and diners are informed of this on the bottom of menus at the start of the meal. This is an acknowledgment by the proprietors of two things, in my opinion, (1) that while the staff are valued and well trained they are not paid huge amounts of money and (2) that the service and experience on offer is truly exceptional and deserves financial reward. The debate here for some would be, surely, employers need to pay staff more but the reality is that in many places the cash flow and profit margins are so tight, that it is often impossible to pay staff higher than above the minimum wage, sad as that may be. Sadly, it is often the case that several owners don’t really give a toss about the staff and while often demanding the earth very rarely rewards them with any decent financial gain.
It is the this sad short-sightedness which contributes heavily to the negative stereotype of hospitality being an industry where the lowest common denominator of the population goes for employment simply as a stop gap. I’m not for one minute saying this is the definitive rule of thumb and, while this is only empirical evidence, the amount of university students, graduates and people who leave school with very little or simply no qualifications, and then start a career in hospitality and cooking is astonishing to say the least.
‘Shite Food, Banging Service or Vice Versa’
This is the age old dilemma of what actually deserves a tip. Well, this may well be a simplistic reductive approach to a question mired in uncertainty, but ultimately if I’m completely fair and honest I would say its 50/50 when it comes to tips. As much as the greedy bastard waiter inside me screams at me for my leniency, I have to be true. A restaurant is a team, not just one side of the pass, but everybody. It’s why the KP is the most important player in any kitchen. Ask any chef how fucked they are without their trusty KP sidekick for the weekend barrage of covers and if they are honest, will admit to being in the shit. My point is that a team should exist from top to bottom. And, as such, tips should reflect this. Yes, I know servers get paid fuck all and the majority of chefs are on salary, often an insulting one, but still it’s not that rosy! Most chefs work over 65 hours a week MINIMUM, most floor staff work no more than 55, FACT, so minor grumbles aside, the financial side sorts itself out, if you like.
When I was a chef and, before I had served, I rarely tipped unless it was added onto the bill. Now it’s different. A friend’s recent experience just about sums it up for me. He recently took a date to, what is considered to be, one of Sheffield’s food ‘institutions’. I asked him how it went this was his (edited) response:
“There was a hair in my bread (stale) and (fridge hard) butter”
“I was brought out the wrong beer in a warm glass, my date ordered a Hendricks and Tonic, we weren’t informed there wasn’t any cucumber (to which he admitted this wasn’t essential but still?!) but still that was fine. But the drink when it arrived had no ice and had never even looked at a lime, never mind a cucumber”
“Weren’t informed properly about missing menu items before we ordered so had to revise our choices, twice”
“The meat was uninspiring as was my fish dish and lukewarm at best”
“When I asked about digestifs and after I’d ordered one, the same waiter who had served us all night (Just felt like his first night and he was in the shit throughout) came back and apologised offering to give me a completely different one because it was a lot more expensive and therefore MUST be better!”
Now, all of these things sound like little, pathetic niggles, but they can really fucking ruin a perfectly good meal and from my friends account nothing was really done to rectify any of this other than a slight reduction in the bill. Which is so frustrating as this gesture is often missing the point entirely.
I then asked him if he tipped and his response to my question was as predictable as my questioning
“Yeah, of course I did, you’ve got to haven’t you.”….. I shook my head, agreed and walked away!
‘Is there a ‘right’ way to complain?’
Short answer: yes there is, but I’m not going to leave it there.
When you think about it this is a frivolous point, I mean shit the whole idea is we shouldn’t have to complain in the first place, is so important but feedback good and bad is required. It is essential, in fact, and always welcomed when it’s considered and thoughtful it’s one of the ways restaurants improve for the guests. If you have enjoyed elements of your meal/drinks/service say so for heaven’s sake.
Don’t just walk away and be a Trip Advisor wanker…. See Chefs Unite post!
Always a jug of tap water with one or two soft drinks the cheapest dishes to share when I was a student it wound me up that they never tipped! That said I kind of get it though, I’ve been an undergraduate and, ancient stereotypical jokes aside, it is tough financially even more so now.
But still, what’s worse than the student non-tippers is those who have been students and continue the practice of not tipping. Did they too not have to work in similar jobs to help support them!? If they didn’t and were lucky enough to not have to work to live did these fortunate souls not at least socialise or heaven forbid live with these unfamiliar beings?!
It may come as surprise to some, but not all front of house are tip hungry, obviously it all helps, but please understand that for some, especially in the financially restrained times we see ourselves in at the moment, that a guest tipping, or not, makes the difference between getting a cab home, having a coffee or even dessert to share after dinner. Not all of us think people are tight fisted if they don’t tip on a bill and we have run hard to ensure they have a fantastic time. The thing is, some people just don’t tip and that is cool. It hurts, of course it does. Not only in the pocket, but also professionally, as often it leads you to question whether or not the customer actually enjoyed their experience, get 4 tables in a row not tipping and you can seriously start to doubt your ability. Obviously, if the table or customer is a verbal tipper (somebody who is over gushing in the praise of food, wine and service) and believes not one jot in adding money to the bill that’s already been paid then that is also cool. Often these customers have been an absolute pleasure to serve and as a server you take pleasure in serving but still feel a little disheartened when no tip is left. But you accept it of course.
The non-tippers that really hurt are the ones who leave copper coins or tell you to keep the change on a bill that totals £29.95 and leave £30 cash! Do they not understand how genuinely insulting it is? Why do they feel the need to voice ‘keep the change’ and not just simply say nothing? It screams of someone taking the piss and it’s not funny at all really. In fact it’s rather insulting and makes it hard to welcome back someone who knowingly tries to take the piss out of you time after time. Yes, hospitality is the trade and most of us who are in it for real take it seriously, but there is simply no need for this type of one-upmanship.
There are those people who are already in the trade in one form or another and tip 10% and often more even if things aren’t as expected. I count myself and most of the servers I know in this field. I will always tip the only exception is if someone is outstandingly rude to me or tries to blag me when I know its bullshit, but even then I’m a sucker and will leave 5%. I guess it’s because I understand, and a little because I don’t want to be remembered as ‘that knob head who was on table 9 two weeks ago.’
Then you have the ‘verbal tipper’. This is a customer or tab le of guests who have enthused through out the meal at various stages, paid and then left no tip. It’s kind of understandable if these guests fall into the student category of customer but when they’ve spent £40 on a bottle of wine, had the taster menu, praised the whole evening then not tip its very hard to understand. Then again, it takes all sorts. Word of warning though, if you are one of these customers and you become a regular the staff will know and adjust their attitude accordingly. I’m not for one minute suggesting that something disgraceful will befall any of your food but you will notice a lack of intimate attention paid you. I mean, I’m all for taking pride but why go above and beyond for a guest when a different table on your section might possibly be great people who tip? Figure it out yourselves!
On the other hand, I can imagine tips being both embarrassing and a stupid concept. It’s a low form of haggling, which the average Briton is no longer accustomed to, or prepared for. If in the price of a meal you are left with the assumption that the proprietor/owner has accounted for staff costs, heating, décor and other such expenses why is the service left out of the price?
Paying for service, depending on how good it is, means you will never snap a bargain. If you go to a cheap restaurant and have a brilliant meal you feel justifiably smug. But when the service exceeds your expectations, so should what you pay for it. Staff can give you five-star treatment that is beyond your budget, you must then either stump up or feel like a miser. It’s being forced to buy lobster when you wanted fish ‘n chips.
With that said, the inclusion of service charges in the bill will make things more comfortable for the guest thus removing emotion from any tip based decision. I mean who really gets satisfaction out of under, or over, forced tipping? Not I for one and I hope the majority of you don’t either?
Lots of people find tipping interactions perfectly normal and can say: “Keep the change!” without breaking into a sweat. More than that, they say it with pleasure because, if they’d been unhappy with the service, they would have said that as well.
“If you’re unhappy, you should say something!” is my refrain. “Otherwise how will the restaurant know?” Some people find this impossible. I don’t consider myself rude nor do I consider myself socially awkward so have never really had a problem with what some people find confrontation.
Leaving a gratuity can be agonising because we know that waiting tables is exhausting and one of the most underpaid jobs in modern Britain. Our financial excess at the end of a meal is often elicited through pangs of guilt rather than that of a reward.
Unfortunately though this guilt is rarely shared by many employers who often use service charges to bump up or oversell a pay. If you count what I would consider to be average day’s tips of £30 onto the minimum wage, you’re only looking at just about £7 an hour for most waiters.