Tipping down

I have been watching videos about travel, to London and the UK. The advice given is often not good. Here is an example.

In the USA, you tip everyone. The man who makes your coffee, the delivery guy, the person who takes you to your seat in the theatre (not so common these days, but you should), waiting staff, cabin crew (again, not common but I have seen it happen), hotel cleaning staff ($2 a day upwards seems the norm, otherwise they will say you were smoking in your room and you get a hefty fine, usually $500+) and so on. Depending on where you are, the amount can vary but 20% of a bill or $5 upwards seems common.

It’s a tricky problem, what to tip, and to whom. I don’t understand why we tip. Well, no, I do, it’s because the owners of companies pay low wages and staff need a tip to survive. And because sometimes you want to reward good service. But personally, I believe staff should get a good wage for what they do, and should not expect extra just for doing it. And certainly they should not get aggressive if they get no tip.

So, what are the rules in this country?

Let’s be clear who you do not tip. Coffee shop workers, pub workers, ushers, shop staff of any kind, people giving information or directions, people who bring your food in a pub, people who clean your hotel room, most people actually. If someone takes your order for food at a table, you may tip, but if you order at the bar and someone just delivers it, you don’t. There is a video saying that if you go to a pub often, you tip the barstaff with ‘have one yourself’. This is like something from a 1930s film or an episode of The Avengers. It just doesn’t happen. And chances are you’d get ‘thank you, but cannot drink while working’. Or you may just get politely brushed off. Don’t do it.

You can tip people who carry your bags in a hotel, if they take you to the room. Suggestions vary, but £2 a bag is generous.

One video from some woman from Florida on YouTube says that taxi drivers can be tipped by rounding up to the nearest pound. Well, firstly, taxi drivers did expect a tip, and could become aggressive if you didn’t give enough. After the financial problems, most appreciate anything, but rounding up may not do. For example, suppose you have a fare which is £49.95. Rounding up gives £50 and a 5p tip. Offering that and saying ‘keep the change’ is some insult. Use your brain. 10% or more will be appreciated. If you have no change, be honest. Say sorry, don’t have a tip right now, or maybe the driver can make change, but don’t be insulting.

Restaurants, of course, are the worst. Here are a few things to watch out for. Many in London, especially posh places (ie expensive) have a cover charge, maybe £5 per person. You pay this literally just to sit down at the table. Bread, water etc may not even be included. It’s the charge for them to put a cloth over the table.

Very many now add on an ‘optional’ service charge, 12.5% upwards. Sometimes it is ‘compulsory‘. You can tell them in advance if you don’t want to pay it. You may be refused entry, you may get spit in your food.

There are two reasons you may not want to pay it. One, because you got bad service, still pretty common over here, the other because you are paying by card. Let me explain.

Tips etc paid by card get taxed, so the Government gets a lot of it anyway. The money goes into the owner’s bank account. Some share the money between all staff, so your server gets little and many are paid under the minimum wage. Some companies keep all the money themselves.

You can ask for the optional charge to be removed because you got poor service (good luck – the police may be called) or because you wish to pay in cash.

Then, especially if you are paying by card, the little machine will be given to you waiting for a tip amount to be added in addition to the service charge. Don’t be conned. Even if there is no service charge added, try to leave a tip in cash if you can.

But, look at the menu and be aware what you are paying. Don’t be conned to pay twice. Oh, and as an aside, check the items and the total. Chances are it will be wrong.


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