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Tipping For Services:Thoughts And Ideas

Updated on February 2, 2017
Colleen Swan profile image

Colleen has a Master’s degree in English Literature and is an author of stories and articles focusing on the dynamics of human relationships


A gratuity, generally known as a tip, is a small, voluntary material gift, most often financial, as a reward for good service.

Tensions Engendered by Tipping

The above definition is amalgamated from several, summing up, in my view, the essentials of tipping, at least its original form. Whatever its source, with the passing of time, any sense of size and free will seems to have all but evaporated with current assumptions and quasi-demands.

America has been blamed for the growing global escalation in the pressure to tip. If true, it is, to some degree, due to the paltry wages paid to workers in U.S. hospitality and service industry. American-born, having lived in the UK for over a decade, I have experienced these cultural differences.

In the U.S, especially in urban areas such as New York City, from the second a tipped-for service begins, both parties’ mental meters switch on. Hence, a friend once mentioned how disconcerted she felt when, working part-time as a waitress during her college days, she found herself calculating, at every table, the minimum/maximum she might receive. Distasteful as this soon became, she found it inescapable.

The Taxicab And Traffic Delays

From a customer’s perspective, during a time when taxis were my main means of transportation, I developed a relaxed rapport with a regular driver. One evening, during an especially long traffic delay, I commented he probably found such tie-ups as aggravating as I did.

He replied, “I don’t, because I’m a cab-driver.”

While feeling a bit chagrined, I appreciated his candor. As cordial as our chats had become, in the absolute sense, our connection was, and would always remain, adversarial.


Double-Dipping Tipping: Should Customers Pay Two Service Providers?

Clearly, if a group of six or more people arrive at a restaurant, especially during the dinner hour on weekend evenings, two or more members of wait staff will be required. Courtesy impels such parties to pre-book one or more tables and servers for a group of this size. On the other hand, a middle-aged couple, having dinner at one table by themselves, cannot be said to need more than one server.

One such couple I talked with said, during a week-day evening, when there were few customers in the restaurant which had been recommended, two waiters served them. While the major waiter largely dealt with their straightforward order, his assistant did little more than keep their pitcher of iced water filled.

Once their dinner was over, their primary waiter disappeared, while his assistant offered after-dinner mint to each of them, on a plate, then presented the wife with a long-stemmed red rose. This couple, having provided a tip reflecting their thoughts on the quality of service, felt dismayed and annoyed when this assistant said, “You didn’t leave me a tip.”

In essence, this couple asked, “Tipped you for what? If you feel slighted, take it up with our real waiter.”


The Hairdressing Salon

The same response can apply to beauty salons, where a customer is expected to tip the person who shampoos hair, in addition to the actual stylist. The trainee delegated to shampoo frees the stylist to take on more lucrative work, such as cutting, coloring and/or hair weaving. Arguably, stylists should give an agreed-upon portion of tips to the person who liberates them to take on more financially rewarding efforts, while the customer makes one overall payment.


Tipping For Those on a Fixed Income

Some service providers resent elderly or disabled people due to their giving minimal or nonexistent tips. In terms of taxi-drivers, they might do well to remember these segments of the population comprise a large part of their customer base. In America, those who cannot travel by themselves utilize van services, for which they are charged a moderate amount. These van drivers are paid a salary similar to those of drivers of public vehicles. Still, several people have mentioned the pressure placed on them by some drivers to provide gratuities.

In addition, some food shopping delivery services have a section on their order forms designated for tips. Again, as many service users are on pensions or have debilitating health issues, this practice is often viewed as exploitive. Arguably, as supermarkets employ these drivers, it is they who should pay them sufficient salaries to eliminate the need for tips.

Good manners are made up of petty sacrifices.

— Emerson

Why Good-Will is Crucial

Given the amount of business generated (or discouraged) by word of mouth and social networking, it is worth ensuring customers leave business premises in a congenial spirit. True, there are those who more-or-less refuse to be pleased, no matter the grace or quality of their service. Still, given a pleasant patron, one successful restaurant owner has said, if service was delayed or a member of wait staff surly, the policy is to offer a free dessert or glass of wine.

In fact, it was the lack of a glass of wine, or rather the perceived disrespect, which lost one beauty salon a potential customer. As it was close to Christmas, the beauticians were offering one glass of liquid cheer to each customer-with the exception of one. This woman, new to the area, was ignored by the staff for no reason she could fathom. In search of a worthwhile salon, her exclusion impelled her not to return to that one, or to recommend it to others.

The Joy of Unexpected Compassion

Conversely, a gesture of gentleness by someone in the service industry can be moving. Best/selling memoirist Helen MacDonald, in her book, “H is for Hawk”, recounts such an experience.

After learning of her father’s death, she reacted as many of us do when confronted with horror, by continuing with day-to-day plans. Perhaps we hope to erase the source of pain by striving to ignore its reality. Hence, prepared to go out to dinner with a friend, Ms. MacDonald did so, despite her friend’s apprehension.

Ensconced at the restaurant, her appetite gone, the waiter expressed concern as to the quality of the food . When her friend subtly told him the reason, he walked away in respectful silence. Shortly thereafter, he returned with a chocolate brownie enhanced by ice cream , a sprig of mint, and other delectable toppings, at no charge. Ms. MacDonald felt warmed by this effort to empathy and consolation.


Tipping Compelled by Intimidation

Although some restaurants add a 15% tip to each bill, “for customer convenience”, any diner is free to demand the removal of this gratuity, choosing to tip whatever he or she deems to mirror the quality of the service. A more direct confrontation arises when a member of wait staff halts a customer’s exit by stating the tip to have been insufficient. Overall, patrons tend to cave, especially when from countries where such a fracas would almost never occur. Conversely, some might decide, if viewing the amount of their tip to have been justified, refuse to allow browbeating to impede their departure. Frequently, silence is the ultimate response to any type of harassment.


Avoiding Needless Tipping

Many tourists have recounted their traveling experience as forcing them to feel like tipping automatons. Having tipped the door person for opening the door, they must then tip the bartender if they would like a drink before settling into their rooms for the evening. Still, after that, They must tip the bell person for showing them to a room which both parties know they could easily have found by themselves, without the slightest assistance.

According to a memoir by Jacob Tomsky "Heads in Beds", luggage wheels have become the bugaboo of bell persons’ careers. The need for the carrying of suitcases having grown obsolete, Tomsky was advised never to ask a customer if a bell person was needed. Instead, he should say, as if offering a bonus, “My good friend, Ben, will show you to your room.”

In one case, “Ben” was given $2 for allowing the patron to find his room by himself. Tomsky’s memoir leaves its readers with a sense that, unless prepared to give fairly generous tips, a customer should keep a folding toothbrush at hand at all times, and safeguard health and beauty aids in well-locked compartments.

A man’s manners are a mirror in which he shows his portrait.

— Goethe

Motivational Tipping

A friend, hosting a dinner which he believed to be likely to enhance his career, rented a room in a restaurant, and hired the required number of wait staff. An hour before this dinner commenced, he held a meeting. Bringing forward a substantial amount of money, he guaranteed the staff it would be divided between them, but only if each customer received top notch service. While prepared to provide this gratuity, he would reduce it, if he noted the slightest rudeness or slackness. He succeeded.

Another example stems from an American yacht owner who planned a cruise for a number of members of European royal families. His security staff were apprised, if they rendered prompt and polite service to each guest, each would receive a significant bonus. Not surprisingly, the crew made the utmost effort and were rewarded as promised.

Film Actor Burt Lancaster born November 2nd 1913 died October 20th 1994
Film Actor Burt Lancaster born November 2nd 1913 died October 20th 1994 | Source

Tips Demanded From Celebrities

Kate Buford, In her biography of actor "Burt Lancaster: An American Life" recounts an occasion when Lancaster gave a friend more money than was needed to buy them both ice cream cones. When, having done so, she gave him his change, she felt aghast when he started to cry. When she asked the reason, he said, no-one, since he had become famous, had ever given him the change he was owed.

In a somewhat similar situation, according to the biography "Goddess" by Anthony Summers, a taxi-driver balked when actress Marilyn Monroe requested her change, after paying her fare. The driver claimed he should be allowed to keep it, due to her wealth. Offended, she insisted he return every cent, then tipped him according to her own choice.
In short, no matter the disparity between levels of affluence, no-one has the right to cheat or extort money from anyone.

Lastly, Poet Michael Donaghe, working during his teens as a doorman, helped to maneuver the by then hefty opera singer, Luciano Pavarotti, into a taxicab. Although this required exertion, Pavarotti did not tip him. Later, Donaghe incorporated this into his poem, “An Irish Doorman”.
Though undoubtedly disappointing when it occurred, those of us who take joy in sculpting experiences into creative work, may feel this encounter was, in the true sense, worth its frustration.

Expectations Created

In her book, “Common Courtesy”, columnist/writer Judith Martin, also known as “Miss Manners” addresses tipping etiquette. She objects to the practice in some American restaurant chains, of instructing wait staff to approach each table with some version of, “Hi, I’m Tim/Sue, and I will be your waiter-waitress.” Ms. Martin believes this allows Tim/Sue to provide substandard service, on the basis of this pseudo-friendship.

From my own standpoint, an acquaintance came to regret that, in an ebullient mood, she had over-tipped her hairdresser. After that, she reduced her tip to one she could afford on a continuing basis. Unfortunately, from that time on, this hairdresser scrutinized her check with a length and depth indicating dissatisfaction. Hence, with the exception of the holiday season, perhaps it is wise to consider the need for consistency.

Gratitude is the most exquisite form of courtesy.

— Jacques Maritain

Summing Up

Is there a way of ending or curtailing this friction which has come to pervade an increasing number of industries? So ingrained has tipping become that it would take some decades for this to occur. Still, the contention of restaurant owners that, were it not for tipping, they would be forced to charge more for food and beverages fails, in that the pressure to tip makes the cost to a customer at least as high as it otherwise would be.

If America were to adopt the type of union practiced in such areas as the UK, where wait staff, paid a living wage, were freed from the adversarial web, the process could lose a large part of its adversarial nature. I believe most customers would prefer to have a set price provided, as fixed as that of a microwave oven, airline ticket or pair of skis. It is one area which could benefit all involved by greater de-personalization.

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© 2015 Colleen Swan


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