The tipping point

Recently revealed extravagances of Lady Black include a tip - allegedly reclaimed on expenses - for the doorman at a leading fashion store. Is such largesse expected from all of us? Nicholas Foulkes dissects the etiquette of gratuities, while six typical recipients explain their expectations
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The Independent Online

The art of tipping has always been difficult, even for those who do not complicate the etiquette equation (as Lady Black is alleged to have done) by reclaiming gratuities as a business expense. When should ``one tip? When not? How much? And how should one give it? Such questions still cause surprisingly widespread unease.



The art of tipping has always been difficult, even for those who do not complicate the etiquette equation (as Lady Black is alleged to have done) by reclaiming gratuities as a business expense. When should ``one tip? When not? How much? And how should one give it? Such questions still cause surprisingly widespread unease.

If you feel such unease (either because of the master-servant dynamic that the act implies or because you are - ahem - careful with money ) then you are probably one of the bourgeoisie, assailed on one side by the embarrassed class concerns of a liberal mindset and on the other by the rampant expense of living a middle-class life. But what approach should an enlightened person take?

Going out to dinner is costly enough, without adding anything from 10 to 20 per cent to the total price of the evening by tipping the waiter who serves you (even if service is included, it is only polite to leave a little something); the coat-check person who takes your outer-garments (at least £1 per item); the lavatory attendant who runs you a basin of exquisitely tepid water and holds out a crisply laundered hand towel (a £2 coin makes an appropriate noise in his or her saucer); the doorman, provided he does a little something for you (it could be remembering your name or hailing you a taxi); and the taxi-driver (a mandatory 10 per cent or so). While you're at it, why not round up the babysitter's remuneration on your return home?

Is such largesse excessive? It's a matter of taste. One useful rule of thumb, if in doubt, is to ask yourself: is this a job I would like to do? If the answer is yes, keep your money in your pocket. But the chances are that hovering discreetly by the urinals or springing to attention at the sound of customer's clicking fingers would not be your preferred method of earning a living. In which case, tip.

But it does rather depend on the country in which the services are being offered. On the other side of the Atlantic, tipping is a much bigger deal, and the untipped American is often prepared to take ruthless revenge. A US website called the Stained Apron assures anyone who is a regular customer at a restaurant but does not tip a minimum of 15 per cent that "servers are doctoring your food or throwing it on the floor and then back on to your plate, or worse". The website goes on to delineate the "or worse" in queasy detail. Let us just say that the 15 per cent you might tip in America is as much protection money as it is a guarantee of prompt service.

But to think that tipping is a mere matter of calculating the right percentage of the bill is to underestimate the complexity of this bizarre science. Imagine that you are dining in an expensive restaurant and that you eat the soup, drink tap water and order the cheapest main course.

When you pay the bill, your 10 to 15 per cent will be considerably less than that of the person who has started with Cristal and caviar, quaffed Romanée-Conti with the barbary duck, then ordered Sauternes with the pudding. But if the establishment is any good, the service should be identical. A considerate tipper will bear this in mind.

One day somebody will come up with a foolproof formula that covers all tipping eventualities, in all countries; or will invent a small handheld device into which you tap the almost infinite number of variables that influence the size of your gratuity.

For the services of a hotel porter, say, one might need to consider: the number of stars of the hotel; the floor on which your room is to be found; the distance from the service elevator to your room; the number and weight of your pieces of luggage; the brand of your luggage (if you can afford Vuitton, Goyard, Hermès or Dunhill you should tip accordingly); whether your accommodation is a room, a deluxe room, a junior suite, a suite, or presidential suite; and, finally, time elapsed between checking in and your luggage arriving in the room.

Then, having decided whether to tip, there is the agony about how and when to do so. As a useful guide, where there is a saucer/ashtray/begging bowl, the aural element of the gratuity is important, so drop a coin or two. Where a tip cannot be left - on a restaurant table, say, or on a country-house dressing-table - fold a note into a small square, hold it in your palm and transfer it to the tippee's palm. Do not worry if it seems strange and quasi-Masonic: the head waiter, site foreman, car jockey or Third World customs official will be quite at home with the gesture.

But should one tip the doorman of a fashion store? I am sure that this is a question Lady Black wishes she had considered that day she sashayed out of Bergdorf's. The answer is: unless he carries your bags to the vintage Rolls-Royce that your shareholders have thoughtfully paid to have restored, probably not.

HOTEL DOORMAN

José Nascimento, 60, The Park Lane Hotel, London
Convention: £2 for hailing a cab, £1 for each piece of luggage carried
Expected? "Yes."
Reality: "The minimum I get in tips a day may be £5 or £6. The most would be £20. On an average week I take home about £50 to £60 in tips. People tend to give £3 or £4 each. Americans and women are the most generous. Celebrities don't give the best tips - tourists are better. Our wages are lower because they know we get tips, so I do expect one; but about 80 per cent of people don't tip. My biggest ever was £50 from a football agent. I just gave him information about London and talked about London."
Current customer's view: Mary Cook, 49, pharmaceutical worker from New Zealand: "Tips do engender good service. I've been here four nights and will have paid out about £50 in tips. We're about to give 50p to £1 per big bag to the doorman. We've got two."
The enlightened view: John Mortimer, writer: "I don't know if I would tip doormen if I wasn't in a wheelchair. But I've come to appreciate them: they put up little ramps for me and push me in. They're great to me, so I tip them quite a lot - they deserve it."

CLOAKROOM ATTENDANT

Julia Baccareni, 20, Kettners champagne bar, Soho, London
Convention: £1 per item.
Expected? "Yes."
Reality: "The cloakroom is free. Only about one in 10 people give a tip. There's a plate and sometimes people give £1. Older people are usually the ones who tip. The most I've earned is £10 during a day shift. Usually you would get about £3. In an evening shift, you would get maybe £6 or £7 as there are always more people then. Nobody has ever given more than £1. I get about £50 a week in tips, but there have been many days when I haven't had anything. English people give more than tourists."
Current customer's view: Colin Lewry, 72. "I'll leave a tip of £1 at the cloakroom. I always do, partly because they keep my property safe, which is a major consideration these days. And they're charming girls. Most of them say thank you. As a musician I've worked in the catering business and I know that their basic pay is pretty awful."
The enlightened view: Michael Winner, film producer: "I'd tip her one or two pounds, because she's not doing an enormous amount. It's not a great effort holding a hat or a coat."

HOTEL CONCIERGE

Michael de Cozar, 46, Head concierge, The Ritz, London
Convention: £10 per day if using his services
Expected? "Yes, it's part of the job."
Reality: "We are Mr Fixits. We can get you anything from a drawing pin to a battle ship. (We helped get the battleship towed to America. I didn't get a tip for that, but I got a very nice letter.) I get anything from £10 to £100 a day. All the tips are shared. On an average week I'd take home about £100. I do rely on them, they make up about 25 per cent of my earnings. My biggest tip was £100, but I had to share it. I think Americans are the best tippers. Celebrities are the same as everybody else. Some people don't know the protocol, others reward you handsomely. I think tipping is good manners if someone has gone out of their way to enhance your stay."
Current customer's view: Mark Cashman, 51, American executive. "I've already tipped the concierge £10 for arranging a bouquet of flowers for my wife and £5 for getting us a sitting for tea at the hotel, which was booked out. In the service industry if someone has done a good job I want them to feel good. They have made my life easier so I say thank you with a tip. Not tipping is rude and very cheap."
The enlightened view: Mark Seddon, editor of Tribune: "In Middle Eastern countries, you don't tip the concierge. In New York it's de rigueur, so I give a couple of dollars."

WAITRESS

Kristin Jadmicek-Galt, 37, Zuma, Knightsbridge, London
Convention: 10 per cent of the bill if no cover charge.
Expected? "I expect nothing."
Reality: "This restaurant has an optional 12.5 per cent service charge that's shared amongst the staff. More than half the customers will give me something over it. The average is about £140 to £170 per week. There's no typical big tipper. We have a lot of US businessmen who come in on expense accounts who don't tip over the service charge. The gentleman who gave me £150 last night was British. The biggest tip I've got here was £225."
Current customer's view: Kelly Rigsby, 30, housewife from Maida Vale, London. "I tip when I receive a good service - normally about 10 per cent on top of the service charge. It can be up to £100. I appreciate good service - someone who pays attention to you and who has great menu and wine knowledge."
The enlightened view: Julie Burchill, writer: "The worse the service, the better I tip, because I feel so sorry for the person. I'm a good tipper anyway, but if someone pours soup or coffee over me, I give them twice as much."

TAXI DRIVER

Simon Dolin, 45

Black cab driver, London
Convention: Round up to nearest £1 if fare is under £10. If over, 10 per cent.
Expected? "Yes, if you give a good service."
Reality: "You can get as little as 10p to maybe £4 or £5 a ride - you just can't tell. Some don't tip. I'd get about £60 a week. My biggest tip was £10 taking someone to an airport. If you help them with the luggage and they don't give you a damn thing you think: 'Ungrateful swine.' Middle-aged people are the best tippers. Arab women are the worst. I've had Norman Lamont, Nigel Lawson, Edwina Currie, Lulu and Gary Lineker in here. They all tipped about 10 per cent. Some people will give you 5p. That's an insult. I give it back. I'd rather not have a tip."
Current customer's view: Steve Williams, 29, advertising art director: "I tip cabbies out of habit. If the fare comes to £4, I'd give them £5. I never give more than £2 and I don't tip them if I think they've gone the long way round. If they say they haven't got any change as a means of getting a tip, I definitely want my change and they don't get a tip."
The enlightened view: Jeremy Hardy, comedian: "I do tip cabbies, but not a lot - I probably round it up to the nearest quid. They probably earn more than I do."

HAIRDRESSER

Peter Woodall, 42, Schreiber Woodall, Soho, London
Convention: 10 per cent.
Expected? "No, but it's always very nice if they do."
Reality: "I get about £10 a day, about £50 a week. The biggest single tip would be about £20. That's from regular clients. A fiver is average. Often clients don't tip me because I own the shop. Tips don't alter my life that much, but it's nice to have. Just because I own the business, it doesn't mean I don't need the money. The smallest tip I get is £1. That's fine, I'm not going to chase them down the street to give it back."
Current customer's view: Chef Daniel Newman, aged 22. "I usually give about £3 or £4 for the quality of the hair cut and how the conversation went. I'll probably give him £4. It's a nice thing to do. And it's important, so that someone knows they're doing a good job."
The enlightened view: Esther Rantzen, broadcaster: "I definitely tip hairdressers because it's really part of their wage structure. I tend to stick to a flat rate of around 10 per cent. If I have a terrible haircut, I tip as usual, but they never see me again."

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