The real reasons that people leave a tip in restaurants: Importance of service with a smile

What people want when they go out to eat is fun

Samuel Muston
Tuesday 25 August 2015 17:54 BST
The survey reveals the real reasons that people leave a tip
The survey reveals the real reasons that people leave a tip (Alamy)

There are many things to interest the eating classes in LivingSocial's Local Restaurant Report 2015.

For starters, it seems that people in Leeds eat out the most in the UK – 25.3 per cent go out at least four times a month – which contradicts the received wisdom that London (21.8 per cent) is the place where people flash the most cash in restaurants.

Cardiff's restaurants only draw 2.8 per cent of its populace out of the house at least four times a month for dinner or lunch, which is surprising given that the city hosts the National Assembly for Wales and the venerable members' expense accounts.

The online discounter's glossy study, based on a poll of 7,197 people across the UK and Ireland, also enlightens us as to which age group is doing the most eating out. It seems that people aged between 18 and 24 are driving the dining revolution, with that group going out 2.8 times per month (the 25-34 age group makes it out 2.7 times; 35-44, 2.5 times; 45-54, 2.1 times; 55-64, 2.2 times; 65-plus, 2.1 times).

Even more interesting than all that, though, is the section about tipping. Now, there's been a lot about the gratuitousness of gratuities in the news this past week. In London, the Evening Standard's exposé of the Côte chain's practise of keeping the entire 12.5 per cent service charge on customers' bills, rather than distributing it among staff, has disappointed many, including me, who not long ago wrote of the joys of the French brasserie chain. So, maybe unsurprisingly, I turned to that section first.

The results, presented in a graphic designed to look like a pile of brightly coloured pound coins, was surprising. Asked what was the most important factor in choosing whether to add a tip, I would have replied: "Quick, efficient service and decent food." The answers LivingSocial got back were a little different. According to its study, the most important factor in deciding whether to leave a tip was actually the friendliness of service (66.7 per cent of people said this was the case), with food quality in at second (63 per cent) and attentiveness of service (55.7 per cent) at third, followed by quick service at 40.8 per cent.

Perhaps, I can't help wonder, I have been doing it wrong all these years. Or perhaps what lots of restaurants' strive for is not what the majority of punters are after.

There is always going to be a place for high-end restaurants while people still celebrate anniversaries, birthdays and weddings, and people will always want to have their tastebuds tested in some Noma-esque joint with a waiting list longer than the Almanach de Gotha. But, for the main part, what people want when they go out to eat is fun.

They don't care if the water glass is not filled up every 14 seconds; they don't care if the place has a wine list with names such as Mouton Rothschild on it and employs sommeliers who have the solemnity of cardinals.

What people want is a smile, politeness, to feel comfortable in the place they have chosen to spend their money; rather than patronised by the chef and staff, who, in a mad rush to find innovative ways to present a plate of parma ham, have forgotten that when you go out it really is, or should be, quite simply about having fun.

It's about, if you will, living socially.

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