Monday 23 July 2012


Every time my husband and I go to dinner there is a pause when the check/bill arrives as we know the battle over tipping with begin. It’s a cultural thing that is as ingrained in both of us as the side of the bed we sleep on (I’m on the left, always. He’s supposed to be on the right but never seems to stay there). The disagreement seems to spring from an American's tendency to over tip and the English’s preference for under tipping – they will describe this in a totally different way of course.

Let’s take us Yanks first. We tip 20% - in our restaurants - (obviously tipping varies greatly in different venues/service industries. Don't ask me about massage parlours. I don't know, and don't want to know). Or shall we say it’s heavily suggested that you leave nothing under 15% on the table when you get up to leave. I’ve known people that have been followed out of the restaurant when they’ve left below that amount and were harassed by the waiter to ascertain why their tip was lacking. Okay, brash move, and not one I ever had the balls for when I was a waitress. 

I will readily admit (to you anyway; my husband...maybe not) that in America we are heavily guilted into tipping no matter what the service; now, usually, the service is good as people there work for tips, hence, they know that the faster they bring the King his pasta, the wider Mamma’s wallet is going to open at the end of the meal. The difficulty comes in when the service is, well to be blunt, crap. As a nation we are so conditioned to put down a certain amount irregardless of the service, that to put down anything less leaves us riddled with guilt. Or me anyway; I'm a reformed Catholic, I guilt very easily.

How I see it, and the argument I always find myself whipping out when engaging in this debate with the hubby is that once you have worked in the service industry in any shape or form, your commiseration for those looking after you increases tenfold. The mere fact that someone has to pick up after me and my child in a restaurant – and let me tell you, The King can destroy a space faster than you can say his name – in my mind should be heavily rewarded. Not to mention, the hours are long, the pay is below average and most of these individuals are banking on a good tip at the end of the meal to make up for the fact that they will never be Michelle Pfeiffer - let's be honest, in NY or L.A the amount of wait staff that are really 'actors' is egregiously high.

In England (and on the continent) tipping falls into 10-12% range and people approach it in a much more begrudging manner. If the service isn’t there, they’re not tipping. Fine, I get that in principle. But oftentimes the waiters performance depends on other factors – the cook, the food, the business of the restaurant. I suppose if the waiter is sweating his ass (hopefully not in my food) off and running around like a lunatic, despite the food being late, I feel like you can’t entirely blame him and have to give him an E for effort. So oftentimes when my partner and I are out, there is that moment at the end of the meal where he is either trying to sneak coins off the table, or I’m trying to sneak them on. Don't even get me started on delivery men that deliver our groceries. That one starts all sorts of disagreements (my stock answer for that one. MOPED. RAIN. any delivery person in England deserves a tip).

The other problem I’m beginning to discover with tipping and my American genes, is that often times it feels like tipping is a never-ending activity. Merely walking into a hair salon means you are out twenty bucks by the time you tip the hair washer, the woman that brings you water, the person sweeping up the hair, your stylist. Not to mention when one checks into a hotel; and you thought the room rate was bad. By the end of the weekend, one feels like a mobster having to line their pockets with cash just to ensure that you’re not blackballed for under tipping. OY the pressure. Has it gotten out of hand, for sure. Do I leave less than 20% now that I live in England, my husband will delightfully tell you that often times yes. I suppose it's the case of 'when in Rome', tip less. 


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