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19/11/2008

A note on tipping

The government’s proposals on restaurant tipping, announced today, are long overdue. That they appear at a time when the industry is facing both haemorrhaging customer demand and rising costs in raw foodstuffs is of no importance. For years, certain restaurants – including favoured chains like Strada – have brought wages for front-of-house staff to statutory minimum levels only by hijacking the tips; a form of candlelit robbery. A ‘gratuity,’ that is, given freely, was once a means of expressing appreciation and acknowledging good service. It was never supposed to fund a waiter’s basic subsistence. In its debased modern form, the tip functions as an effective cover charge, with an ‘optional’ twelve-and-a-half per cent tacked on to everything from a bowl of olives to a magnum of Dom. It thereby does nothing to incentivise better service. The English, with a cowardly reluctance to complain to restaurateurs, swallowed this ‘table tax’ (itself a VAT dodge) like a teaspoon of arsenic-laced Petits Filous. In America, where service is typically far better, tips are wholly discretionary, with good performances well rewarded. It’s time we followed that example.

2 comments:

  1. I have written on my feelings on my tipping on my blog. I think your post brings up some interesting points.

    a) If restaurants such as Strada were forced to pay staff minimum wage without dipping their grubby mitts into the tips, this could result in more staff being laid off - many of whom are probably part time students trying to fund themselves through uni.

    b) I am personally not a big fan of the 'discretionary' 12.5% service charge. It simply is an incentive for restaurants to provide poor service and still charge for it.

    c) As you rightly point out, 12.5% for a bowl of olives and an expensive bottle of champagne is plain ridiculous. After all there is no noticeable difference in service between a £3,000 bottle of wine and a £30 one.

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  2. It is not up to us to dictate how the restaurant manages, motivates, and rewards its staff.No one is forced to work in a restaurant and if they don't like the system of tips and wages,they can go elsewhere.As customers,we don't get involved in how car companies pay their staff;or oil companies; or councils or anything else.In the USA,where I am from, restaurants do use the tips to make up the wages.The incentive thus remains intact-if there aren't enough tips,there aren't enough wages...So let's all stop this sanctimonious nonsense about how the waiters are paid.
    And if you don't like the idea that the service charge of 12.5% on a £100 bottle of wine is excessive at £12.50 compared to the same 12.5% on a £20 bottle of wine yielding £2.50 then don't order the £100 bottle!

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