To Tip—Or Not
THE lights are low, the music is soft, and the food is delicious. But that tranquil mood of dining in a fine restaurant can turn into one of puzzlement when the check arrives. ‘Should I tip the waiter?’ ‘How much?’ Many a person’s self-confidence has melted under the imaginary stare of the expectant waiter.
Some restaurant goers, on philosophical grounds, staunchly oppose tipping. They will not leave a penny. Their opposites just as strongly believe that it is necessary and proper to tip. They will be generous. But what many fail to consider is that in some countries tips and gratuities are expected. They are considered part of the bill.
“Without tips, I’d starve!” is the usual protest of waiters and taxicab drivers. So in certain countries, the United States for one, tipping is more than a thank-you for extra service rendered. It is the principal part of a person’s income.
Oscar, a waiter at a famous New York City restaurant, has a wife and three children to feed, clothe, and shelter. Why are tips important to him? “If I didn’t get enough money in tips, I would have to get an additional job,” he answers. Oscar, like most waiters and waitresses in the United States, is paid the minimum wage—hardly enough to support one person, let alone five. In addition, the waiter does not keep the whole tip. “We have to divide it between the busboy, the bartender, and the maître d’,” he explains. Oscar realizes that the rising cost of restaurant meals cuts into the amount of money customers leave as tips, yet “my own bills keep going up too,” he says.
Other people besides waiters—bellhop, doorman, concierge, hotel maid, cloakroom and washroom attendants, hairdressers, taxi drivers—also depend on tips for their living.
Consider Judith, a young woman who lives in a small German town. She works part-time as a beautician in order to support herself in her career in the ministry. She says: “Our wages are really low because the employers expect customers to give us tips.” Because of the increased cost of living, she has found that people leave smaller tips and many do not give anything at all. “Most people giving a tip do so because we have been friendly to them,” Judith explains, “not realizing that we depend on tips for our living.”
Interestingly, the U.S. government assumes that customers will leave a certain percentage of the bill as a tip in restaurants and in certain other places. Waiters and others who perform personal services must pay the government taxes on that estimated tip whether they get it or not!
What to Do When Visiting
If you are visiting a foreign country, it is wise to keep in mind the exchange rate as well as the inflation rate. One visitor who had formerly lived in Brazil returned there after many years. She was unprepared for the small purchasing power of the local currency, which had devalued about 200 percent annually during her absence. Without thinking, she tipped a man a 500-cruzeiro bill, which was a good tip when she left Brazil. The man frowned. So to be generous, she gave him a 1000-cruzeiro bill. Wearily, the man said: “Aw, forget it!” Imagine her embarrassment when she found out later that her tip was worth about ten cents in United States money!
What Tipping Tells About You
Tipping can certainly be perplexing. But when in doubt about how much to tip, do what Hugh of Nigeria does. “Ask,” he says. “I ask at information desks of airports or hotels for their suggestions.”
There is good reason for following that advice. Why? Consider this: If you are in a tour group or attending a convention, what you do personally reflects on the whole group. People will judge the group by your behavior. So regardless of your personal views about tipping, when you are with a group, if you tip just a little or not at all, others may conclude that your group is stingy or lacks social grace.
Also, remembering this ancient Biblical maxim may help you through the maze of tipping customs: “Always treat others as you would like them to treat you.” Imagine yourself in the other person’s shoes. Wouldn’t you appreciate an appropriate tip if that is the custom where you live?—Matthew 7:12, The New English Bible.
Finally, knowing how, when, and how much to tip will make you feel more at ease. Moreover, it will, no doubt, bring a smile to the recipient’s face. “It means a lot to me,” said one waitress who prides herself in giving good, polite service. When a meal is concluded on such a pleasant note, how much more enjoyable it is to all!
Tips on Tipping
IN SOME countries, tipping has, in effect, become part of the base price for a meal or a taxi ride. But this is not true in all countries. Here are a few suggestions on whether to tip or not:
AUSTRALIA: Because of wage fixing, no employee here is really dependent on tips for a suitable wage. Alan has driven a taxicab in Sydney since 1973 and rarely receives a tip. If he does, it is usually from an overseas tourist. The average Australian does not tip him, although some may round out the fare and have him keep the change.
Anis is an accountant for a Sydney firm and eats out frequently. He says: ‘Waiters in high-class restaurants expect at least 10 percent of the bill as a tip; middle-class restaurants range from 5 to 10 percent; and average ones are satisfied with anything up to 5 percent.’ Lucy, who travels frequently with her executive husband, agrees and adds that in the more exclusive restaurants, waiters ‘look down their nose’ at you if you tip only 10 percent, and in these places 15 percent is expected.
BRAZIL: The attitude toward tipping in Brazil varies. In larger cities it is expected, in smaller ones it is not looked for as much. “Most restaurants include a 10-percent service charge in the bill for the waiter,” says a headwaiter for a restaurant in the city of Curitiba. “But,” he adds, “an additional tip is generally given.” The same is true for barbers and hotel maids. One reason for this is economics: Wages are low and cannot keep pace with the galloping inflation rate of 230 percent.
Taxi drivers are customarily paid based on the meter and at times are given tips, particularly if they drove through a dangerous neighborhood or late at night. Generally the custom is to give a tip as an expression of gratitude for good service and a friendly attitude.
GERMANY: In the Federal Republic of Germany a service charge of 10 to 20 percent (generally called Trinkgeld in German) is automatically added to the bill, to be distributed among the personnel. When paying the bill, however, good manners dictate rounding off the sum generously. This kind of tip is looked upon as a “small reward for services rendered.” Unfortunately, in neighboring Austria—according to Lowell, a frequent traveler living in Luxembourg—German guests have a reputation for leaving very small tips or none at all.
Regarding tipping in restaurants, a well-known German book on manners suggests: “Don’t be tightfisted; round off the sum so that the waiter does not have to give you 2 or 3 cents change.” For a taxi ride, add 3 to 5 percent to the meter reading.
In Luxembourg, tipping is a little different. Usually the bill does not include a service charge, in which case 8 to 10 percent should be added as a tip. Even if the service charge is included, however, it is still common to add a tip of up to 5 percent.
ITALY: Here the custom of tipping is extensively practiced. Taxi drivers welcome tips of 15 percent of the fare. In restaurants, tips of 5 to 10 percent are expected for good service. “The waiter expects a tip from the customer and is disappointed if he does not receive it,” says Pino, a 32-year-old waiter who works for a restaurant in Rome, “not only because of loss of income but also because he is not shown the appreciation that is normally manifested by those who leave a tip.”
Efrem is of Ethiopian nationality. He, too, is a waiter in Rome. “Tips are very essential,” he says, because “wages are quite low.” He believes he has earned his tip when he shows his customer courtesy and speed of service.
JAPAN: The National Tourist Organization there says: “No tipping,” and boasts that “no tips in Japan make Japan a paradise for tourists.” While this is technically true, in reality tax and service charges are included in the listed prices or are added to the bill. Salaries are paid from these charges.
Taxi drivers in Japan are paid a fixed wage that is sufficient to support a family, and they are not allowed to solicit tips. Yet almost 15 percent of the passengers do tip, explaining: “This is toward your lunch.” Taxi drivers in Japan do not consider it part of their work to handle luggage, but when they do, passengers often tip for this extra service.
It is not the custom to tip in restaurants because service charges are included in the bill. Mr. Hazama, the owner of a high-class restaurant in a Tokyo suburb, told Awake! that the wages of waiters in Japan are equal to those in other kinds of work. He explained that the soliciting of tips in restaurants is strongly discouraged, as it would immediately bring a bad name to the establishment. He did state, though, that the nearest thing to a tip would be the custom of handing over a monetary gift when extra service is ordered, such as booking ahead for a special celebration party.
What about staying in Japanese ryokans, or inns? Should you tip? Usually not for standard service. But some ryokans give extra service at no additional cost. In these ryokans, guests may feel that they want to show appreciation by tipping, especially if they expect to stay for several days—for example, when attending a convention.
Japan has an interesting custom: giving money before receiving services. For instance, some guests, as soon as they arrive at a ryokan, slip an envelope containing money to the housekeeper who will be cleaning their room. It is a thank-you in advance for all the care she will give them. This thoughtfulness seems to ensure good service.
NIGERIA: Most hotels, restaurants, and similar establishments have service charges—10 to 15 percent. Jeremiah, who has worked as a waiter in hotels in Lagos for several years, says: “The money collected in this way is shared among all the employees.” He explains: “Tipping is forbidden, and employees seen taking tips may be dismissed.” Some establishments post signs informing the public of this restriction. But Jeremiah quickly adds that where workers are not forbidden to take tips, an additional tip is appreciated even though there is a service charge. “This encourages interest in customers and the giving of good service,” he says.
UNITED STATES: Tipping here is more than a reward for good service. It is how some people earn their living. But this does not mean that tipping at a fixed rate is automatic. For example, for good service, “15 percent is the standard,” says Andrea, a restaurant manager. Tip 20 percent if a waiter has been extra helpful and generous, restaurant critics advise, but 10 percent or less for poor service. “Don’t penalize the waiter for the quality of the food because he has no control over that,” cautions Oscar, a waiter. “Please tip for the service rendered by the waiter. If you feel his service was poor, tell him why, and tell the manager too.”
Tipping in New York City is different. In most restaurants 20 percent is the standard. Susie Steiger, vice president for Restaurant Marketing Plus of New York City, advises tipping 15 percent as a minimum and 20 percent if you are very satisfied with the restaurant’s service. She also observed that people from different regions of the country tip differently. Those from large cities generally tip more than those from smaller cities and rural areas. So when visiting New York City, it would be well to remember the custom prevailing there and tip accordingly.
What about taxi rides? Taxi driver Mary says that “cabbies expect a 15-percent tip.” Also, when you stay at a resort or a hotel for any length of time, etiquette expert Elizabeth L. Post suggests that, for a couple, you tip the maid about one dollar a night.