Let me give you a tip, Theresa, your crowd-pleasing policy won’t work

2 October 2018

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To tip or not to tip. That is the question. Or is it? Should the question not simply be how much to tip?

Clearly it depends on your experience in a restaurant, hotel, cruise ship or wherever it may be. The point is that it’s a discretionary charge which, in theory at least, rewards good service.

The notion of the Government seeking to legislate on what has always been an informal arrangement between customer and service industry worker seems incongruous.

The minute we start to regulate anything, it no longer becomes informal and discretionary and our instinctive response to compulsion is to change our behaviour. That’s as close to an irrefutable law of economics as you can get.

Theresa May’s plan to ban companies taking a cut of workers’ tips may be well intentioned but we know that many employers will simply respond by adjusting the wages they pay accordingly.

Tipping becomes less about rewarding good service and is motivated more by sympathy and a desire to boost your waiter’s minimum wage pay.

Clearly the Prime Minister is in a place where she needs a crowd-pleasing policy or two to lift her out of the Brexit hole she’s dug for herself, but is this really the answer?

Surely the industry and its workers would be better served by starting a national conversation about rewarding good service and recognising the important role played by waiters and waitresses.

Anyone who’s eaten out in the United States will know the esteem in which service industry staff are held and how they respond. Waiters and waitresses in the lowliest diners take their jobs seriously and have great pride in what they do. And it shows.

They know every inch of the menu, can recommend what’s good and are attentive in a way that makes you instantly want to reward them. As a result, they expect a tip and, if one isn’t forthcoming, they won’t be shy about asking why.

So, let’s get the ball rolling with this important conversation. When should you tip and how much should you pay?

  • A tip should usually be 10-15% of your bill, but it’s always discretionary. Although it’s not necessary to tip, it’s always greatly appreciated
  • Tipping is most after a meal in a restaurant,  but you wouldn’t tip a member of staff in a McDonalds or a Costa coffee shop.
  • Workers don’t officially have to rely on their tips to live and all UK staff must be paid at least the National Minimum Wage. Employers are banned from topping-up wages with tips from customers.
  • Some companies let staff pocket their own tips while other pool tips and share them equally among all staff, including chefs and kitchen porters, after a shift.
  • Other companies offer a “tronc” system for tips paid on card. The company appoints someone called a troncmaster who is responsible for distributing tips to staff.
  • A service charge and a cover charge are not the same as a tip. While a company might choose to share the money with staff, both are essentially a surcharge – or extra way of charging you.
  • If you want to tip, it’s worth asking your waiter or the manager to explain how service charges are distributed to avoid paying a tip twice, or not paying one at all. 

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