The Tipping Point

Paying It Forward – What goes around comes around
February 1, 2016
You have got to be kidding!
April 12, 2016

Here’s the thing!

It’s long been a bugbear of mine this whole question of tipping. I assume you, like me, and most people, begrudgingly go along with this strange custom mostly because of social norms and guilt.

Have you noticed that almost everywhere you turn everyone wants your money, everyone wants a tip?

Park your car anywhere and you get people asking for a tip. Pull up at a stop light and “hey I juggled; I took your garbage; I keep this intersection clean; I have a sad face; I’m poor – money please!!” Someone takes away your shopping trolley, brings you a glass of water, carries the expensive gadget to your car, or keeps the toilets clean – Give me your money!

So what are these things called tips?

I always believed TIPS when given to a person before an event or dining experience was TInitiate Prompt Service.TIPS given after an event or meal are done as a Token IProportion of Service. These acronyms are mostly urban legend and not based in fact. Research shows that the word TIP was originally a type of slang word used by criminals, thieves or fraudsters in or around the 1600’s. It was used to denote getting a share of the loot. How interesting is that tip-bit and you will soon see how relevant.

So without turning this into a history story, let me ask you – do you tip? At the tipping point do you tip, why do you tip, how much do you tip, should you tip, and is tipping appropriate or blatant classism and racism?

Do you realise that in some countries paying gratuity is illegal. In the United States of America it is expected and in some countries it is regarded as an insult. In China a tip is not expected and in South Korea it is regarded as inappropriate. In Denmark it is common for service charges to be added onto the bill but it is not compulsory. FYI the concept of tipping has been widely researched and people like Michael Lynn have written books on the subject after years of study.

I have always hated the concept of tipping and agree fully with Elizabeth Gunnison Dunn who said “It is an obligation masquerading as an option. It is a bizarre singling out of one person for compensation. It is a clumsy thing that just dangles there, clumsily outside the cost of the meal. Math’s is required. And it draws you unwontedly into the employment contract and remuneration agreement between the poorly paid employee and the restaurant owner.” All I want is a cheeseburger.

Elizabeth is correct. I do not want to be drawn into the employment problems and challenges of the company and its employee. It really isn’t my problem how much the employee is paid and I shouldn’t have to be responsible for feeding my servers kids, paying their tuition or making up the shortfall of their cr4ppy salary. It is an absolute obligation masquerading as an option. There is really no option unless you wish to go on the biggest guilt trip of your life and be judged by friend and foe.

Then there is that math’s thing and the question of how much is appropriate? How much is too much? Is there such a thing as too little? It just all makes my head hurt.

When asking people if they tip or not the responses are normally infected with feelings of guilt, remorse, pity, charity, excuses, self-righteousness and blatant racism.

Let me explain further. Have you ever asked someone if they tip only to be told that they do because they were once a waitress? Well what does that have to do with anything? Surely you cannot reward someone if the service was non-existent. And I’m not speaking here of the standard lukewarm, “can I help you?” slapdash South African service. I believe I pay a premium price at most if not all of the restaurants I frequent. I know for a fact that part of the overhead factored into my R22 cappuccino is for staff wages. Let’s face it, its frikken coffee grinds, hot water and a splash of milk. Because you were once a waitress is no reason to tip (to pay more) to somebody who does nothing but carry a cup of coffee to your table.

The real question is did they pop? Did they exceed your expectations? Were they welcoming, friendly, courteous and did they know their product? Did they go above and beyond and make your experience memorable or did they merely become friendly when it was time for you to settle the bill? 

The next question is how much?

Is it a percentage of the total bill and if so, why? Surely if I – out of the kindness of my heart – wish to hand over more of my hard earned money to you as another human being, any amount above the obligatory should be seen as kindness and an unexpected bonus?

WARNING – Look out for this!

Here’s the new thing. I kid you not on no fewer than 3 occasions at three different restaurants; servers have refused to accept money that was lower than the expected 10% of the total bill.  At the Vaal Mall Mugg & Bean my wife had added an extra R20 to our breakfast bill to be placed on the card. To her surprise the server didn’t add the R20 onto the credit card. Thinking it was an oversight she took R20 cash out of her purse and beckoned the server back to the table to collect his gratuity. He ignored her. Eventually she called another server, handed the R20 to her, to hand to our server. We witnessed him physically refuse the R20 telling the courier to return it to us because it wasn’t enough. I know! You can lift your jaw off the floor now.

This however was not an isolated incident. It happened again at a five-star restaurant in Bedford Centre called Catch. A nice place that we frequent – correction – used to frequent up to 4 times a month. The waitress in this case refused her gratuity again as if she was teaching me a lesson by not taking my money. Well, was I put in my place? I may have lost a whiff of sleep that night. No – that was just gas.

So being the quiet introverted, reserved person I am, on leaving I walked past her standing at the entrance and made it abundantly clear that I was going to take my R30 and hand it to a server in the next restaurant or better still, I would hand it to the unemployed person less than 100 m from where she stood. The manager began to apologies but I had my say with my feet as most customers do.

Look out for this new trend people! If you don’t give people enough extra money, they will “throw it back at you” in front of your family, friends or colleagues.

It’s not the restaurant’s fault I hear you say, and I must give credit to the owner of Mugg & Bean Vaal Mall who came to our table 2 days later and apologized. She also made the server apologise. I believe it is the restaurant’s fault. There is clearly a lack of training and every second waiter you meet will tell you they’re not paid enough and that without their tips they are unable to survive. This is disputed by some restaurant owners who say they are bound by unions to pay a minimum wage. Is it possible that some establishments abuse their staff by paying them slave wages? Yes! It is possible but it’s not my problem, all I want is a cheeseburger. 

So the question still remains, how much?

Should it be 10% across the board? Surely this will kill service in our restaurants because if the gratuity is built in as standard, why on earth would waiters bother to smile; upsell or be professional? And what of the servers who do go above and beyond? Should they be remunerated the same as the “poor me-I’m suffering-haven’t smiled in 5 years-hate my job- racist?”

Tipping is racist!

This is not a throwaway statement. It is a researched fact. Black people are tipped less than white people even by black people. Black people tip white people more than they do black service people. Most White South Africans tip out of guilt. Tipping is classism and condescending and mostly done out of guilt.

Research shows that many people tip out of sympathy. They feel sorry for the person “serving” them. They see them as servants which would explain some of the shocking treatment people in the service industry have to endure. They tip out of superiority “let’s face it you are poor – I am not as poor as you – so here is some charity – here are the leftovers in my wallet because you are a waiter – you are dumb – you may be studying and one day you will be clever like me, but for now you a dumb a$$ and you haven’t qualified for anything except being my slave while I am in this establishment – so because you work for a minimum wage and I am so much better then you, here is my Token to Ingratiate my Perfection”. 

Tipping is a massive guilt trip

Face it, we feel guilty. An average family will drop between R300 to R700 in a single meal even if it is at Spur. That’s probably the weekly wage of the person taking your order and bringing your food. Again – Not your fault, but that they will make it your problem. This is done with guilt. I want a cheeseburger, fries and a massive side order of guilt please.

Tipping is done out of fear

“Imagine how I will look and feel if I don’t leave a tip? What will they think of me? What will they say behind my back?” Really? You have such a poor self-image that you pay money to someone you don’t know, who doesn’t know you, because you’re worried what they will think of you when you leave the place. Really? People tip even when the service and food was below standard because of the fear of conflict.

Tipping is sexist and it discriminates

  • Fact: blonde women get bigger tips
  • Fact: women with bigger breasts get bigger tips. Not a euphemism
  • Fact: the more attractive you are, the more you earn
  • Fact: research shows that there is no correlation between outstanding service and the amount of remuneration.
  • If you are white, hot and have big hooters you will out-earn any man even if he serves you topless. There are a few places (I’ve heard), where attractive; well-endowed women serve you topless and (I’m told) they earn more than surgeons. I will research this fact – for accuracy – and report back to you.
  • Fact: up to half of all the tips earned are not declared to SARS.
  • Fact: some companies pay poorly because they know the area is a high tipping one and service people are on a waiting list to serve for next to no basic salary.

So who do you tip and who don’t you tip?

  • Why do you tip the waiter and not the owner if she serves you?
  • Do you tip the chefs, who, let’s face it; did most of the bl00dy work? They have the skill without which would render the whole business obsolete.
  • Surely there should be a tip for the kitchen staff or what about the dishwashers?
  • Do we only tip people who are poorer than us and then how do we know?

If you know what a pilot earns and you fly business class, shouldn’t you just pop in to the cockpit (apologies – not politically correct) flight-deck, on landing and shell out a few Mandela’s for a great “non-stop” flight.

Flight attendants are waitresses in the sky, so shouldn’t we slip a 50 into her top pocket for a “job well done and those extra nuts” on leaving the plane?

Where do we draw the line? And who draws the line for us?

Should we tip our wives for meals that are tasty and on time, but if they’re late and unappetizing, lock her up in the cellar again? Maybe too much personal info there! And why not pop a 20 into our kid’s palm (which they will gladly accept) because they set the table and brought your plate from the kitchen?

What about S3x workers? Nah, I suppose we do give them the tip, sometimes a bit more, but only if they Try Interesting Positions. Speaking of prostitutes and thieves, what about politicians and municipal workers? We know we can’t tip politicians. Well we are not supposed to – but this is Africa baby. No fly’s on them they just keep having Tax Increases for the People and Take Immediate Payments. TIP – get it?

Petrol attendants are unnecessary and South Africa is one of the few countries that still employ these people as a job creation exercise. Yet, in spite of sphincter-clinching fuel prices, we are expected to shell out more money to a person we are already paying to be there. Can I get my cheeseburger please?

Do you see how complicated this thing is?

But if I have to single out my biggest problem with tipping staff, it is when they don’t even acknowledge that you’ve given them something, and they don’t have the courtesy, the manners, the decency, the common basic human attribute to say – Thank you! It makes me want to have an epileptic, thrombodial fit.

I do tip!

When the service standards are exceeded and the attitude is friendly from the get go. I tip an amount that I am comfortable with giving. I over-tip when the service and food is above expectations. I tip because I can, and because I can – I do. I tip because there are hardworking service people out there who spend hours on their feet every day and on many occasions they have to deal with … the public.

Being tipped is not a right, it’s a bonus. It is a kindness and recognition token for kindness and professionalism. It is a form of giving. Let’s not legislate it or spoil it for the hardworking people who do it every day to feed their kids and give them dignity. It’s a way of saying thank-you and well done, and if it wasn’t well done, no tip until next time.

Now, just the cheeseburger please. With extra love, a dash of friendly, and a small side order of grateful.

Have a great month and remember to tip your server appropriately.

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