The ambiguity element in tipping culture has constructed an aura of unease, potential ignorance (to the cusp of bullying), unhappiness and embarrassment, every time the situation occurs. This for a customer who seeks a peaceful, happy experience and willing to shell out his hard-earned money.
A recent rant post by USA based waitress Taylar Cordova, where her guests didn’t tip her over a bill of 187USD, has now gone viral. Posted and summarized by my Facebook friend Priyank Shah, I recalled in my last two-week of exotic vacations to Costa Del Sol, Gibraltar, Barcelona and Paris, how many times did I tip a hotel, restaurant or taxi individual staff out of compulsion? The answer was none!
Google tells me in Spain there is tipping culture and in France, it borders on being mandatory. We had a fabulous, no complaints trip, and yet I never tipped any individual for sake of tipping. Only in payment counters, if there was a common tip box (hotels, restaurants and tour buses), I would empty my coins or if someone was exceptionally nice to us (as was at an awesome Lebanese restaurant) I would leave a few coins sheerly out of affection. No 10% or 15% calculation! No colonial hangover.
Here’s ten reasons why one should not tip:
- There is a service and there is a fee. The fee has been calculated based on service costs, profit and other overheads. It’s an objective entity and must be fulfilled. Any amount of money the customer has to shell over and above this, needs to have some objective behind it. When I buy a kg tomato from supermarket, I cannot add an extra tomato as a tip to myself! When I ask the waiter/hotel staff/cab driver to serve it’s only within the objective parameters of what he or she is supposed to serve. I don’t ask them for body to body massages!
- If the establishment isn’t paying well, it’s not the customer’s problem. When one takes up a server job, the terms are accepted based on fixed and objective variable pay. Not based on tips, bribes or underhand deals. Many of us feel underpaid but we cannot assume a high bonus at work if the establishment business isn’t good. So if restaurant doesn’t get customers, there will be no tips! So one cannot accept a job based on forecasted tips!
- Establishment has an option to levy service charge and increase salaries of the staff. That’s perfectly legitimate. When a customer decides to take a service it’s based on the written amounts not on what percent he needs to tip! When waiters or taxi drivers resort to name calling or bullying for tips, it’s affecting the establishment business also and scaring the customer.
- Restaurants, taxis (especially in developed countries) and hotels are luxury expenditures where customers anyways pay multiple times more than the cost price. They pay more for the peace, comfort, ease and happiness. These places keep profit margins ranging from 50% to 95%. The customer shouldn’t then be burdened with extra overheads.
- Why just tip for the waiter? Why not the cleaning staff? Or the chef? Or the security/doorman? If restaurant feels that to meet the competitive market expectation, they cannot levy service charge, they can off course put a common tip box. And encourage everyone to get more business so that tips can flow in. Better still pay a variable to the staff for number of customers who came in beyond the normal.
- Why just for taxi or restaurant? Why not at takeaway joints? Why not bus drivers? Why is tipping limited to only luxury transactions? Why not for lift man? Or tip while paying monthly electricity bills? After all, the person who is likely more needy is your pizza delivery guy rather than the hotel bell desk guy. Or the train driver guy. Or the electrician who climbs on the poles to fix the high voltage wires.
- Tipping culture creates embarrassing situations. Often at five-star hotels, and looking at my room escort, I wonder if he or she is better off in life than me. Or comes from a very respected, well to do family. Passing a 3$ tip would be an embarrassment for the person and for me! So then should I pay 20$? Why should I? Alternately if tipping culture was not on and someone paid in other forms, that would be an act closer to the heart. When Mumbai’s Taj Mahal hotel was attacked in November 2008, we were checking into Kolkata Taj Bengal amidst tight security and extremely low occupancy. The room escort upgraded our stay to luxury suite and arranged additional freebies. We didn’t tip the lovely lady. But on the day of departure, gifted her and her colleagues a huge 2kg cake from a reputed store. They were overjoyed, as it came unexpected, with heart and effort.
- Tipping also creates that unfair peer pressure. My colleague or neighbouring table maybe showing off by laying a huge tip. That will get you (and your family members urging) to meet the competition. Finally you may pay due to peer pressure, more out of compulsion, less out of heart. Beats the purpose why it was introduced.
- No one tips me at work, or most people’s work. Some have festival bonus, some have annual bonus and some have targets based variable pay. Where there is defined objectivity, the employee expects accordingly. If the annual or festival bonus is subjective or dependant on too many whims and fancies, the employee isn’t dependant on that for survival.
- Tipping is a personal choice as it’s someone’s personal money for which no service has been offered. Tipping out of welfare, humanity or judgement of a needy is absolutely fine and must be encouraged. Tipping if someone has done something outside the boundaries of that transaction is absolutely fine. At Signature Saigon hotel, Ho Chi Minh hotel, one morning on November 2012, my son threw up while we were in a hurry to leave for our tour bus. The staff were exceptional during that incident in cleaning up the mess and calming my son’s, as well as, my nerves. During our entire stay, select staff individuals would engage my kids in various capacities. On departure day, we left a fat tip to those individuals with name written and thank you notes over envelopes, for each. They were needy too. But when one of the staff heard this gesture, she came out with fresh cooked chicken curry, rice and bread, all neatly packed and said it’s for four of you to eat at the airport. We were bit confused as we hadn’t ordered anything, but she had taken the efforts to get it prepared for us. Out of love. Needless to say, since it was an afternoon flight, her gesture came in very handy as that became our lunch. A memory got etched forever, the hotel won’t ever be forgotten. And the tip remains just a small sub part of the memory. Not the real thing, cause neither did they serve for the tip nor did we tip for the tip.