To Tip or Not to Tip? That is the question…

I was recently confronted by a bill at a restaurant that proclaimed an optional 10% gratuity already added to the bill. Now I’m not big on automatic tipping but the service at this venue had been particularly good and I was happy to pay the extra 10% on my bill. I did walk out of there with the uncomfortable feeling though that my arm had been subtly twisted.

Tipping is a globally accepted practice but often ignites huge debate. Foodie Facebook groups in particular are heavy with threads where members expound on their views about tipping, whether it is fair practice to the patron as well as sometimes to the waiters. Whether it is deserved as it’s often expected even when poor or even bad service is presented. Whether it should be added to the bill as some restaurants do or whether it should be completely optional. The arguments abound on both sides and heated debate ensues safely online which otherwise might lead to bar-room brawl type fallouts.

So why are we expected to tip?

  1. Typically, waiters are paid very little and our tips help to make their income a little more sustainable.
  2. It is a show of appreciation for service well rendered.
  3. It is a way for restaurants to keep prices of food down and enable more people to enjoy the restaurant experience.

But here is the rub… somewhere along the line it became an expectation and not an option. Even option is not the right word because it implies expectation. It should not even be an option, more like a pleasant surprise. As long as a waiter relies on tips to make a salary worth it, the restaurant industry will continue to take advantage of that to keep salaries low. If there were better pay standards for waiters, tipping would not be an issue in the first place.

On the flip side, as patrons, we are being made responsible for the level of service we get. Should the incentive for good service not come from the restaurant itself rather than the patron? A waiter will only provide good service because he expects a tip at the end of your meal. If he did not care about getting a tip for whatever reason, you may get lacklustre service, which in a service industry affects whether you will return to an establishment. Perhaps the restaurant industry needs to examine compensation practices and incentivise their own staff for good service behaviour, not leave it to the customer to do so. This may mean that the prices of the food would go up. And this would put me and you out of pocket but the restaurant still makes their money and the waiters have a little more dignity.

So I hear you saying ‘What’s the big deal?’ Tip if you want to, don’t tip if you don’t want to. You don’t negotiate with your plumber and your doctor when they charge for their time as well as their consumables. This is true but these are practices that we afford more respect and that usually have us over a barrel at the time we are using them.  We don’t show the same respect to the people who serve us in restaurants. If waiters were protected and earned better by their industry perhaps it would bring more respect to them as well.

And in restaurants they make it difficult when they pre-add the “optional” tip to your bill and social pressure or just plain “too much Mr Nice Guy-ness” means you don’t have the gumption to ask the waiter to remove the tip so you can add your own desired amount. And how many of us often don’t even look at the bill in detail and may even end up double tipping in the process.

In South Africa there is a regulatory body that governs the food industry – The South African Commercial Catering and Allied Workers Union. They stipulate minimum wages, days off, etc. It is obvious though that much work still needs to be done to find a happy place for people employed in this space. And this extends to the international hospitality industry as well as they are all complicit in forging the tipping culture even when not warranted.

Until such time as this transformation happens it is up to the individual to make a call on whether to continue tipping willy nilly or firmly decide to be more discretionary.


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  • A few years ago I purchased groupon vouchers for a meals at sit down restaurant. when settling the bill they included the tip, upon enquiring why its was much more than the 10%, I was told that they calculated the tip on the normal value of the meals not only for what i had ordered in addition to the voucher, ie if the voucher cost me R300 and i spent a further R300 the bill would be calculated at R600, not giving me the option to decide what i wanted to tip the waiter. my brother also purchased the same vouchers and refused to pay the tip they were insisting on.

    • Wow. That is just plain ridiculous. So even your groupon voucher was subject to a tip. Normally they make their money on the drinks. This is some of what’s extremely problematic about tipping. Everyone gets to make up their own rules as they see fit.