Rosie Millard: Thrifty living

How I learnt to stop worrying and love tipping

the world of tipping is a notoriously uneven one. Mr Millard will hate me for saying this, but he is notoriously stingy with his tipping policy, keeping to a strict 10 per cent – or less – at all times.

I, on the other hand, am quite the other way inclined. Perhaps it comes from my student days, when I spent one Christmas working at Rackets, a "themed" diner in Wimbledon.

It was aptly named, for more than one reason; a working day spent serving cocktails (Thai Breakers) and food (Borg Burgers) was paid at the insulting rate of £1 per hour, so tips were pretty important.

The only point in my working there was to find, and serve, an American. Americans tip properly, you see. Any time an American party entered the restaurant, the waitresses, done up to the nines in shorts and tennis shoes – everyone was hired on the strength of a shapely pair of legs – would charge towards them.

Perhaps they tip so well because it's a bit easier to work out the tips over there; you simply note the tax on your bill, and repeat the sum.

In Europe, a five euro note is the perfect tip – although when I was in Rome last week and gave it to a taxi-driver, he thanked me far too profusely.

Yet when I gave the same sum to a rather scandalous Roman tour guide (who took pleasure in showing us a penile graffito scratched on a column at the Coliseum), he laughed his head off scornfully as if I had insulted his mother but got the grammar wrong.

Here in the UK, my policy in restaurants is to round up to the nearest £5, and with cabs, to round up to the nearest 50p – unless the bill is over £10, in which case you need to add on £1.

But what if the bill comes to £13.20? It seems to me that 80p is far too little, but must you then pay out up to £15?

In any case, I will invariably have no cash on me, meaning a) I must stop at a nearby cash machine, thus inflating the bill anyway, and b) I will be left with no change.

Anyway, I am now resolving to run my wallet in a different style. My one remaining Visa card is left at home. I now only go out with a Switch card, and cash. Tips are now far easier, and shopping itself is utterly different, as everything is obviously far dearer when you are shelling out real money.

This week, it was my eldest daughter's 10th birthday, so to mark this occasion, I took her to the newly-arrived production of Grease in the West End. (It was rather odd to watch the antics at Rydell High with someone who has never seen the film, but that's middle age for you).

In the programme I noticed a small advert, promoting a generous discount for a post-theatre meal at Planet Hollywood.

This was a splendid idea and, after the show, we duly went there for supper. What a fantastic night we had! It was only slightly marred by my daughter knocking the entire contents of her double chocolate shake over my dinner, lap and lower limbs but, that apart, it was fab.

When I came to pay, I was very excited. I had the programme, you see. "No problem," said the waitress, coming back with a greatly reduced bill. Marvellous, I thought, and I could even pay in cash. The only problem was that as well as putting £35 into the little leather bill holder, I also put in my Switch card. Call it a kneejerk reaction, call it instinct. Whenever I see a bill, I simply reach for plastic.

All of this meant that when Phoebe and I (in a soggy, brown garment) left the restaurant, I had paid in plastic, and in cash. Or just paid in plastic, but left an Arnold Schwarzenegger-size tip. (Well, I hadn't actually put in my PIN, but you get the idea.) The next day, rifling through my wallet in a panic to find my lost Switch card, I asked Phoebe whether she thought I could have possibly, weirdly, left the card at Planet Hollywood.

"Oh yes," she replied. "I saw you putting it into the holder along with all that cash."

Well why didn't you say anything, child?

"Oh, Mummy," she said sweetly. "I thought you were just leaving a rather large tip."

You see? My children are so used to seeing me hurl money about that they don't even say anything when I happen to do it by mistake.

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