Tips and service charges are in the news again.
In fact, they're seldom out of the news in these days running up to the introduction of minimum wage legislation. But what exactly is a tip?
A dictionary definition of a tip would read something like this:
"Tip: n. Small present of money, esp for service given; therefore: must tip the waiter (or waitron, if we are to accept another dictionary definition."
Gratuity payments (money presents, amount fixed by giver in recognition of good service rendered) are as much a part of the hospitality scene as soup is a starter.
They have been around for a long time. When the Good Samaritan took the robbers' victim to safety, he overpaid the innkeeper two pieces of silver in anticipation of good service.
Tips are such an accepted proportion of (particularly) a waiter's income, it is not surprising that the Government is anxious to cream off a percentage in tax by including gratuities as part of the minimum wage.
Serving staff are against this (kitchen staff less so) and now they are being supported, it seems, by two-thirds of hoteliers and caterers. Quite right, too.
In the USA it is normal for serving staff to receive a tip of anything up to 20% of the cost of the food served.
The country's Internal Revenue Service demands that waiting staff declare tips at a minimum of only 8% of income, although they can declare more if they wish. In an environment of self-assessment for tax purposes, the emphasis is placed on the employee to be honest.
The difference between the USA and Europe is that, as John Downs points out in his diary column, there is much more of a "tipping culture" in North America. In the UK, there isn't.
It's not that UK customers don't appreciate good service, it's more to do with the legacy of a class system, which makes many newcomers to the eating-out experience embarrassed by the need to "judge" their contemporaries; to become transient employers; to fleetingly be part of the ruling classes.
The reluctance to tip in the UK leads to an increasing number of restaurants having to add a service charge to the bill. But this takes away the incentive for waiting staff to "earn" their gratuities.
If they know that an extra amount of money is going to be added regardless of the standard of service given, where is the motivation to try harder?
The introduction of the minimum wage next year is exactly the right time for establishments to consider or reconsider the policy of service charges and tips.
It may be better for the industry to buck the trend of service charges and to return to a culture that allows the customer to feel in control - a culture, in fact, that allows more than two pieces of silver to be paid if waiting staff perform above expectations.
Caterer & Hotelkeeper