That is the question. Should you leave a tip regardless of the quality of service? How much is a good tip? Fixed amount or percentage? Does the service charge on the bill get shared with the staff? As you can see from the questions above, which is only a small number of the many more that I could ask, tipping is a contentious subject.
In my experience within this beautiful business known as hospitality there are few subjects that cause more arguments amongst staff than tipping. Traditionally the tip is left on the table at the end of the meal and collected by the server but what happens with that money from thereon becomes complicated. Is the tip for service or should the kitchen receive a percentage?
Surely without decent service and food from the kitchen the server could not have done their job efficiently. Some establishments will run a “tronc” system whereby all tips are pooled and either shared equally or by some predetermined formula. But some servers will discreetly pocket the whole amount believing that they alone contributed to the experience of those customers. If they are caught you are going to have one almighty bust-up!
It is not just the staff who find tipping a contentious issue. I am sure we have all seen those whispered intense conversations between customers at the end of the meal. There are two standard arguments that seem to take place. Firstly, who’s paying the bill, particularly when you have two couples together. Often there is the false “rush” to get the bill paid while the other couple “protest”. Then comes the amount to leave for a tip.
“How much do you think?” or, my favourite, “No, no, we don’t need to leave anything” (I will explain that one later!) But picture this scenario. Couple 1 has paid the bill so Couple 2 says they will leave the tip, it’s only fair. Couple 2 leave the table, put on their coats and head for the door, followed by Couple 1. But the “gentleman” (and it normally is!) from Couple 1 hangs back slightly, and before any servers can clear the table, he has pocketed the tip that has been left for the staff! Don’t tell me you’ve never seen it happen!!
The practice of tipping varies across different countries. I started my hospitality career in England and I can honestly say that I did not see a tip for the first 5 years! As a trainee in a large hotel it appeared that all tips left in the restaurant belonged to the restaurant manager and all tips left following wedding receptions and other functions were either left at reception or discreetly given to the duty manager!
The British have à stiff upper lip attitude to anything financial – and that is that it is considered bad manners to discuss money! We are a nation that has been raised to pay the exact amount of any purchase without argument or barter.
As we have become more cosmopolitan and now eat out more there is a general consensus that a maximum of 10% tip is sufficient, if the service has been good. I have seen customers work out 10% to the penny! I once employed a couple of Canadian waiters in my pub / restaurant near London. I had to physically prevent one of them from going after a group of 6 customers one evening because he felt the tip was not sufficient and wanted to know what he had done wrong.
I understand that in Canada and the USA a 15% tip is standard and 20% is considered decent. However, here in France, where I now run a small restaurant, the practice of tipping has been legislated. We are obliged to state on our menus and drinks lists “service compris” (service included) and are allowed to state a percentage that is considered the service charge.
This amount must be paid to employees. In reality what has happened is that customers are unhappy with service charges, so although menus state “service compris” it is unlikely à percentage has been added. But because service is included most French customers will not leave a tip. It also appears that many tourists are also confused about the etiquette regarding tipping in France. We often hear “No, it is not necessary”. Trust me, it may not be necessary but it is greatly appreciated! Unless of course the amount that is left is so paltry as to be considered insulting – but I am not getting into that here.
So what about the legal side. The main involvement from the authorities is the tax office. All tips are considered taxable income and catering staff, hairdressers and taxi drivers etc should declare them on their tax return. If your establishment runs a “tronc” system for tips the “tronc master” is responsible for declaring for the purposes of tax the amount paid to staff members. I think we all know what happens in reality but there have been several legal cases pursued by the tax office.
In conclusion, if you are a customer and you feel that your experience has been à good one then, please, leave something for the staff. If you are one of the many people that are the backbone of this wonderful industry then you will know how much a good tip is appreciated. But as a friend of mine famously said “You can’t drink a compliment”