Great news that the Business Secretary Sajid Javid is going to introduce rules (of some sort or other) to govern the practice of tipping in restaurants. You know the kind of thing. ‘A discretionary charge of 15% has been added to your bill’ – meaning that in order not to pay the extra three twentieths that have been added to the total that you expected to pay, you have to call the waiter over and explain quite why you think either that the service wasn’t worth a tip at all, or why you think 15 percent is way over the odds, which is scarcely the kind of exchange which is ever going to enhance either the experience itself or the memory. Fine if you’re just grabbing lunch or a pre-Theatre snack in Pizza Express, but a serious problem if you’re on a romantic dinner date. Will the non-paying partner think you’re stingy if you protest, or a pushover if you don’t. Do you need that kind of worry?
Or there’s that ruse they pull where even after you’ve agreed to the extra and handed over your card, the little machine asks you if you want to ‘add a gratuity’. Apparently some people actually go ahead and do so, without realising that a gratuity and a service charge are the same thing. And then, perhaps most importantly, there’s the question of what actually happens to the tip once you’ve paid it. ‘The vast majority’ surveyed in 2009, seem to think that it really ought to go to the person, (or people) who actually serve you, but in a now-forgotten social media mini-scandal last year, it was revealed that such chains as Pizza Express and Giraffe simply pocket some or all of the cash for themselves. In which case, why were we bothering to pay it? For such chains, pricing policy is simply bait-and-switch. Put a price on the menu in the window to get bums on seats, and then slap another 15% on when it’s time to pay.
Clearly this will not do.
There are many troubling issues with the whole question of tipping. Different cultures have different attitudes of course – try leaving a New York eatery without adding twenty percent for the staff, and you’ll be on the receiving end of some choice ‘disapproval’ from the waiting staff. In some countries, they’ll come running after you with your ‘change’, and there are others where to leave a tip would be an insult.
One of the pleasures (and one suspects, part of the secret of success) of Uber is the complete removal of the whole tipping business from the process of taking a cab. Those of us who are used to taking black cabs in London feel distinctly uncomfortable the first time we jump out of an Uber car and just wave a cheery goodbye. Surely he would like a tip, really, we think. Maybe it’s just something they say. After all, you don’t have to tip in a black cab. It takes a few rides to get used to the idea that pressing a couple of quid on your driver would simply be – well – a bit awkward.
But then there are the grey areas. I always tip the Domino’s pizza guy, and the man from the Indian takeaway. Not 15% but a couple of quid. But then I never tip the supermarket delivery man. Where’s the rationale there? If I get a load of heavy stuff delivered from a furniture shop, I’m apt to give something, but when the guy came to wire up my wi-fi service, I didn’t give him anything but a cheery ‘thanks a lot, bye’.
And then there are definite no-nos. When I pressed a few quid into the hands of the caterers we recently got to do a special lunch party, I formed the impression that it was a bit irrelevant. And who in their right minds would tip their doctor, their dentist, their optician? Who, buying something in a shop of any sort, would offer an extra few quid to remunerate the service received by the shopkeeper?
I think there’s something deeply entrenched in the class system here. Not so very long ago, professional people used to bill in ‘guineas’. This was equivalent to £1.05, and was, in effect, a five percent tip. One rationale is that the five percent was for the clerk that such people retained to administer their business and avoid too much contact with filthy lucre. I think it’s safe to say that you wouldn’t nowadays tip anyone who would have charged in guineas – you assumed that they were already ensuring that they were keeping their head well above water. Conversely, though, is there something a little patronising about the implied attitude to those whom we do ‘tip’. ‘Here, my man, take a little extra for your trouble’ we seem to be saying. ‘Naturally, I can see that you’re much poorer than me, and I’ll demonstrate both my wealth, and my gentlemanly generosity by bumping it up a bit. You can then tug your forelock, and be grateful, and all will be well with the world.’ Still, a waitress earning minimum wage might prefer to be patronised than to starve.
All of this will be supremely irrelevant to one young man who could be accused of neither generosity nor gentlemanliness, the loathsome racist Ntokozo Qwabe, Oxford Law student and leader of the misguided and failed ‘Rhodes must Fall’ campaign. He gloated on his Facebook page that he made a waitress cry by not only refusing to tip her, but justifying it by writing on the bill ‘we will give tip when you return the land.’ She cried ‘typical white tears’ while he was ‘unable to stop smiling because something so black and wonderful had happened.’ My favourite bit in his post is ‘like the part where we take up arms hasn’t even come yet, and yall [sic] are already out here drowning us in your white tears’. Bless. ‘The part where’. Like it’s an episode of Friends.
Fortunately, his audience were not impressed, and the good people of the social media world, as they are wont to do in situations like this, raised more than £2,000 for the young woman. While this is excessive recompense, it should at least serve as something of a slap in the face for the hypocritical scholar, and his contemptible version of social justice.