Home » Miss April Advises » Miss April Advises: Out of Pocket, an unusual tipping dilemma

Miss April Advises: Out of Pocket, an unusual tipping dilemma

Dear Miss April,

I have a issue that gnaws at me.

I love good service but it is infrequent. So I feel that if I am well attended to, and this is a place I may like to visit again, I feel I should tip well.

Poor service should be punished but in a society like Australia’s were tipping is optional. I feel that not tipping is no punishment. In the Americas and Europe i have found my abstaining to be effective and on some occasions grovelling managers and maitre’d were dispatched. I do not condone groveling especially when it comes to money.

How do I punish poor service and more to the point reward excellence in a culture thats sees tipping as exessive, American even.
Some clarity would be appreciated.

Until next time
Out of pocket

Dear Out of Pocket,

Oh, how I so admire your glorious desire to adhere to right and wrong. Your sense of imperialism is intoxicating and assumption to punish is worthy of a blog unto this theme itself. How curious!  I do empathise with you, as many do. What appears to be a straightforward matter is anything but so in our Antipodean societies because, as you allude to, it is an Americanism that has been adopted. However, I do not agree that our culture perceives tipping as excessive, many find it a social pressure to do so, particularly in parties of diners. For example a rather popular Chef Mr Neil Perry prints the following disclaimer in his menus at Spice Temple:

For tables of 10 or more guests, your account will include a recommended service charge of 10%. This service charge is at your discretion.

I ask you, if you were presented with the restaurant bill already including a 10% tip would you be so bold as to ignore it, despite the polite inclusion that it is at your discretion? Would you be able to face your 9 other dining companions to dispute such a charge? I would suggest that for most people they would pay this regardless of the service quality, and it may feel rather irksome to do so. However, it is the perfect situation for a fellow such as yourself, because to deny this tip, so obviously requested, is by all means a punishment and a pointed message.

Let us briefly look at the facts, tipping in restaurants, or anywhere in Australia, is something we have adopted from America. Why? Who is to say, I am rather cynical and believe it may be as easily as suggesting too much television – Seinfeld perhaps? Tipping is a necessity in America. The labor laws are completely different, waiting staff can be dismally paid in the US, or even more extremely, entirely reliant on tipping for a living. Therefore the client (the tipper) is paying directly for this service. In Australia our hourly rates are much more generous, the service is included in the price of the food as the employers have to cover the costs of the staff wages. I would suggest to you that if you work in administration, or the arts, or retail, you are probably earning less than the person serving you in Mr Perry’s restaurants. Do you get a tip?

But enough of that, let us see what we can accomplish here today to satisfy you.

I agree, a situation that results in grovelling is most distasteful and highly unsatisfying. I would also suggest it likely to embarrass your dining guests – a mortal social sin. Certainly, it would not happen in Australia just from declining to tip. So what is it you want? You want to punish poor service without grovelling outcomes. I have thought about this quite a bit and I have come to a conclusion which may shock and disappoint you. It is not your role to punish the staff of someone else’s business, you do not hold that power. If you disapprove of the service by no means leave a tip. If you believe the poor service should be highlighted then you should contact the manager of the business and make a complaint. That is all. I would further suggest that you do this discretely, out of earshot of your other guests for fear of making them uncomfortable, unless of course you are all in agreement. A rather civilised way of doing this would be to take note of the wait staff’s name and the following day either call or send correspondence explaining your dissatisfaction. The manager/owner should know this information, but then of course it is up to them to act upon it.

I apologise if this is all a little anti-climactic but I think it is fair and reasonable.

Now, what do you do to reward? Sorry for pointing out the obvious but you can do two things. Politely congratulate the staff for their superior service directly. And tip at your discretion. That is to say, you personally. If you are a part of a large party you can only agree on an equal tip, but if you decide to leave something a little extra that is up to you. What is that amount? Well, that is also up to you and your enthusiasm to reward, but please remember that in Australia it is often the custom for waiting staff to pool the tips at the end of the night and divide them equally. So, you might care to keep that in mind. I would further suggest this, if you are impressed by service quality and would like to reward the staff again, the best way to do so would be to take note of their name and cordially call or correspond with the establishment’s manager/owner informing them of their excellent staff. This could lead to the best reward of all – a pay rise, or bonus.

It is quite a contentious issue in Australia which is surprising considering it could be solved quite easily with a little common sense. However, for some general good insight also see the Trip Advisor’s advice, and note that additional charges “such as a 10% public holiday surcharge or a service charge for large groups expressed as a % of your bill are illegal under S53c of the Trade Practices Act.” Also note, that this entry on the Trip Advisor page had umpteen ‘revisions’ by readers with differing opinions!

I do hope this is of some help to you. With kind regards, Miss April

Heed Miss April’s Advice!

Unburden your woes, share your troubles, correspond with me here! Shh, confidentiality assured!!

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