Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Battle Over London Tipping

I've always found tipping to be an odd business. The Wife tends to tip everyone 15 percent, no matter what. A couple of friends tip everyone a dollar, no matter what. Some people just hate the idea of tipping and don't do it at all on general principals. I have always been against forced tipping, which is standard practice at very expensive restaurants where they are charging far too much for food anyway. But then, this is usually only done with large groups.

In London tipping it a bit different-tipping has often been covered with a service charge.

Diners at Le Pont de la Tour, Quaglino's and 18 other restaurants established by the designer Terence Conran will be presented with a bill making clear that a service charge is not included and leaving a blank space for any tips.

The move to discretionary tipping – cash that would be shared by the staff – represents the latest attempt by restaurateurs to win back diners who have deserted them in the recession. Top London restaurants have already slashed mark-ups on fine wines and hundreds of establishments are offering "two-for-one" meals or 50% off.

D&D London, which co-owns the chain with Conran Holdings, has good reason to act. It saw its profits fall by a fifth last year to £6.5m.

I like tipping, as it is one of the few chances I have in life to be a big shot and show some generosity of spirit at the same time. But I know that not everyone tips well, and I have never been a huge tipper myself. My brother always likes to do a bit of math and say there X number of people here and if we all tip Y than that's a good day's wages.

There is something to that kind of logic. Surely no restaurant would voluntarily pay their waitstaff what they make in tips on a good night? There are so many flavors of restaurants out there that it is impossible to make a definitive answer as to what a good tip should be.

I have always been in favor of the idea of a living wage-plus tips. That way there will still be some incentive to give good service, but the waitstaff doesn't miss a car payment if they have a bad week. It seems that 15% is the standard in the US, but people unused to voluntary tipping in London might lowball that number and tip more along the lines of 8%.

A standard argument against any plans to change the tipping system, as no one likes any kind of change whatsoever, is that if they don't like the system as it is-they can go get a job doing something else. Or at the very least, try to get a job at a better restaurant where the tips would be substantially better on expensive meals than on cheap meals. Or so I might assume, as I say, I don't really know.

Times are hard all over, maybe doing away with tipping altogether would be a good idea.

Read more about Tipping in The London Evening Standard. For a few London thoughts against tipping, see Citywire.

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