Alice-Azania Jarvis: Tips should be earned, not given gratuitously

In The Red

How much should you tip? Does it vary from taxi driver, to waiter, to hairdresser? I only ask because of an experience – two experiences, really – that I had this time last week. As I’ve mentioned - just once or twice - it was my birthday. Aka the Day That I Behave Like a Rich Person (Within Reason). And so it was that I dined out at breakfast, ordered a second coffee from the posh coffee seller at Broadway Market and impulse-bought cheesecake. I’d done what I’d intended. I’d followed my spending whims. And so, when dinner approached, I didn’t hold back: I ordered as I wanted, and my friends did the same. Because I had stuck to my rules –to stay local, and make the venue affordable– I knew I’d be ok.

The problem was the service. The restaurant – Pizza East in Shoreditch – is somewhere I’d been several times. And the service had always been great. Friendly, pseudo-American, enthusiastic. Not so last week. From the start, our waiter - all ironic glasses and distressed denim – seemed less interested in our table and more keen to chat with his co-workers. He evidently had charm: he was laughing and joking with them. But to us he showed little but surly indifference. “You thought that was a cheese,” said his tone when we asked him to explain the various dishes. “You must be thick.”

We hurried into our order, embarrassed. But where was the water we’d requested? And the wine? Nowhere to be seen. By the end of the meal, things hadn’t improved. He did everything he could to hurry us out; we left in a flurry of grabbed coats and bags. And yet, despite this paucity of performance, he got his tip. All twelve percent of it. We didn’t have a choice: it was included in the bill.

When restaurants began doing that as a matter of course, I was pleased. It saved time on maths, and took any awkwardness out of the whole exchange. But what happens when the service itself isn’t 12%? What if it’s more like 2%? With a party that big, 12% comes to a lot. Of course, we could have refused to pay it. But who wants that sort of confrontation?

The exact opposite experience came the next day. I went to have my hair dyed, for the first time in my life. At £110, it was more than I’ve spent on my appearance, ever. And yet, when the appointment came to an end, I felled compelled to leave a tip. A £10 tip. Not because it was expected – in fact, the staff at Bleach London seemed rather surprised –but because I wanted to. That’s how enjoyable the experience had been. And that, surely, is what tipping should be all about.

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