Steve Madgwick tries to blog his way out of being ‘that guy’ at the restaurant who doesn’t stump up for a tip.
It was New York in the late 90s. I was about to step out of a yellow cab, after handing over about 50 cents more than the modest uptown fare.
Then I received an unadulterated New York mouthful.
“Where’s the tip, fella?” An accusation more than a question, sounded vaguely threatening.
I resisted, more out of shock and the lack of any more cash in my pocket than a principled stand. Cue an almost musical stream of abuse as the tip-less driver screeched away.
That was the moment when I decided that I was not going to be an ‘unconditional’ tipper.
Besides the New York attitude, tipping breeds complacency, a sense of entitlement, and discourages ‘genuine’ service, only fertilising sickly, desperate US-style service, the type that comes with a McSmile. No thanks.
A friend of mine recently spent a week sunning himself in a resort in Cancun, Mexico. His multiple room maids would burst into his room (in defiance of the ‘do not disturb’ sign) three or four times a day under the pretense of ‘cleaning’, their hands outstretched for tips constantly, even when he had first asked, then demanded, that his room did not need cleaning more than once a day.
If he didn’t tip in the resort’s restaurant at dinner time, he became the Invisible Man. Once he started tipping, suddenly, he was Man of the Year, fawned over and joked with, until he neglected to tip the next time.
Of course, the economics of tipping in North and Central America varies greatly with our situation. Wages in the US service industries are criminally low, the tip designed to top them up, hence the desperation by the room maids who probably make less per hour than prisoners in this country.
This is why I had preferred, until recently, the Australian tipping system (or lack of it), whereby our service providers are (arguably) reasonably well remunerated for their toil (as I once was).
However, over the past 15 years, increasingly I’ve had to battle to stand my ground, particularly in the world of restaurant tipping.
To be clear, I’m not talking about a few coins in the jar, I’m fine with that. I’m talking about the 10-to-15 per cent Nazis who persecute me, labelling me a “tight arse” and “cheap”, not even daring to question their own sheepish mentality.
I do actually tip, but just not unconditionally: when I think that the service is beyond the call. I try to pay a compromise between what I can afford and what I think is reasonable – not what the unseen overlord has deemed appropriate. And I certainly don’t make a song and dance about the handover.
Crucially, I hand the tip directly to my provider of great service, making sure they don’t get fleeced in the divvy-up of the jar or lost in the credit card transaction.
There have been plenty of cases, in Britain notably, where shared tips were being pilfered by restaurant owners as ‘service fees’ (especially those entered into Efptos-style machines).
A few weeks ago, in a restaurant in Sydney’s inner west, I turned up without a booking late on a heaving Friday night. More than an hour’s wait. Instead of belittling me for my lack of foresight, the affable metaphorically broad-shouldered waitress suggested a couple of bar options where I could go for a few drinks, telling me she would call me on my mobile when she could “magic up” a table.
Less than half an hour later, after one and a half drinks at a nearby bar, I got the call. She even kept the table clear while I finished the half drink and dawdled back.
My party was also the last to leave, while she patiently and quietly packed up around us, never huffing, puffing or tutting.
Friendly service without the theatre: that’s what I tip for. The amount of the tip certainly wouldn’t have made her evening, but at least it was a genuine gesture from both of us.
Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy, but I bet you still think I’m a tight arse, right?