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26th October 2014

The Art of Tipping: Please, Sir… Can I Have Some More?

Sonny Flood offers insight into the ‘grey area’ of tipping

We all recall that opening scene in Reservoir Dogs, don’t we? Steve Buscemi’s Mr. Pink takes a bold stance on his tipping rights—he just doesn’t “believe in it.” Bold for our cross-Atlantic brethren maybe, but here—not so much. The art of the tip remains taboo in the UK and the concept (right or wrong) evades many of us. Broaching the issue is going to require a little tact—this is a sensitive subject.

In the interests of full disclosure, I work in a restaurant; this matter weighs heavy on my heart for that reason. Tipping culture is now (slowly) percolating its way into British society. Distinct from our North American counterparts—where it is, for all intents and purposes, a mandatory obligation—I firmly believe that the art of the tip is, and must remain, an entirely discretionary common courtesy. Having said that, I would always urge that the presumption goes in favour of leaving one, as opposed to none. But no-one is holding a gun to your head.

It is for this reason that service industry workers should be out to impress. It would be a long night if we couldn’t take a joke, (attempt to) crack a joke and, fundamentally, smile. A large part of that restaurant you’re visiting is its atmosphere—you’d be surprised how quickly that would evaporate if everyone walked around with a face like a slapped arse! If we put ourselves out for you, it is satisfying to know that it has been noted and appreciated. A handshake, a bit of gratitude and a polite “thank you” doesn’t go amiss either.

There is an old American acronym which floats around: To Insure Prompt Service (“insure” being American English for “ensure.”) I question the appropriateness. Prompt service is the aim, good service is the game. “Prompt” is the minimum; it is, well, prompt—nothing more, nothing less. It is the least you would expect. But in this regard, too many people take the defensive and scrutinise servers to within an inch of their lives. Sometimes, things go wrong. Don’t use a simple lapse to lambaste your server and, more to the point, don’t write off a gratuity if everything else has gone swimmingly. Ten marks for effort may warrant something.

My point is this: a little goes a long way. Don’t hold your server to perfection, monitoring them and waiting for a mistake. Relax, enjoy the service and don’t overlook courtesy. Although I risk sounding like your mother, manners are so important—be nice to us and we’ll show some reciprocity. Despite what you may think, for the most part we enjoy engaging with customers and earning our tips; we enjoy serving those who don’t treat us like the shit they wiped off their shoe at the door. We’re doing a job, maybe as a stop-gap or maybe as a career, and one day your kids might be doing the same thing. Spare a thought—that’s what counts, and if you can… tip.

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