That is the question…
You’ve gone out for a meal with some friends at the end of a long week of classes and deadlines. Money might be a bit tight, but you’ve done the necessary calculations, and together you can afford a few 2-for-1 pizzas, and maybe even some happy hour cocktails as well. The bill comes, and you work out how much each person owes and how they’re going to pay – but what about the tip? Did everyone think to bring enough extra cash with them to cover it? Is it even mandatory? How much should you leave, or what’s the smallest amount you can tip before it seems rude? Or is it a big deal if you don’t tip at all? Does it even go to your server, or will the restaurant keep it? And why do we even tip anyway? Students are renowned for their frugality, so how do we balance our tight-fistedness with the social expectations surrounding tipping?
The exact history of tipping is unclear, but it’s thought that it originated in Western Europe during the 17th to 18th Century, and at the time was considered an aristocratic custom, allowing people to show off their wealth, ensure faster service, or simply display gratitude for servers going above and beyond their usual duties.
Nowadays, tipping norms and etiquette vary between countries and cultures. In America, a 15-25% tip is often expected (though not a legal requirement), due to servers often relying on them to supplement their low wages. In Britain, the tipping culture is less strict, but leaving no tip at all, or only small change, is considered a social faux pas and won’t make you very favourable amongst that restaurant’s staff. It’s generally agreed that 10% of the final bill is a fair tip, however the standard of service can push that up or down. If you are going to tip though, it’s best to do it properly – leaving a huge pile of 2ps and 5ps is arguably more annoying than leaving no tip at all. In my opinion though, unless your server has literally taken a shit on your plate, leaving a miniscule tip or no tip at all is pretty rude – if you can afford to eat out, you can afford the extra 10% at the end of your meal to say thank you for the service.
Outside of restaurants, there are still a number of situations where tipping is considered customary. Rounding up the price of your drinks when buying a round in at a bar, or leaving a couple of quid with whoever’s served you for them to buy a drink at the end of the night will most likely get you faster and friendlier service the next time round. Sticking about £1 on the top of your taxi fare is considered polite, especially if the driver’s helped you with bags or had to listen to your shit drunk chat, and it’s common to leave a 10% tip after getting you hair done (assuming you’re happy with it!)
However, with some employers recently being exposed for withholding tips from their staff, it’s not always easy to know whether your tips are going to those they’re intended for. In a lot of places, tips paid by card will be subject to an administration fee, sometimes up to 10%, and so only part of the tip goes to the waiting and kitchen staff. The restaurant chain Las Iguanas recently came under fire for their tipping policy, which required staff to pay back to their employer 3% of the money made off tables that tipped every time they worked, with staff claiming that this policy is interpreted differently between branches, with the charge sometimes being applied to tables that don’t tip as well. Some restaurants will even refuse to comment on their tipping policies, so it’s unclear whether their staff are receiving 100% of their tips or not.
The easiest way to find out if your tips are going where they should be is to tip in cash, and if a restaurant’s tipping policy is unclear, ask the management whether staff keep their tips. It is illegal for employers to use tips to supplement wages in the UK, but this doesn’t mean unethical tipping policies aren’t common. After ensuring that you’re giving your business to places with decent tipping policies, the most important thing is that you make an effort to leave a fair tip. It might not be mandatory or expected, but it certainly is polite, and since so many people working in the service industry are students themselves, you can probably understand how valuable tips will be to these employees. In short, tipping might seem like an extra expense, but it’s also the right thing to do.
[Hannah Burke – @hannahcburke_]