Why Obligatory Tipping is Bad for Service

The Tipping Conundrum

Did you know that the word tip is derived from the acronym TIPS: To Insure Proper Service? I don’t think many people do, and I think in the UK this is part of the reason why sometimes our service standards can sometimes leave something to be desired. Compared to the US, our service industry is not so heavily dependent on tipping to provide their core salary. In the US, the inverse is true, where the vast majority of service staff salary will come from gratuities. As a result, you tend to get much more of a beaming smile and a better immediate level of service in the ‘States.

Now, before anyone reading this suddenly comes over all Anglophile, I am not suggesting that the level of the best service in the USA exceeds that of the UK. I would argue the opposite is true. What I am proposing is that the average level of service in the USA is better than us here in Blighty. In my experience, the initial level of service in the USA is extremely false – it’s just part of a routine for them, a spiel that has been practiced over time to yield a good base level of tips for the minimum amount of effort.

In a country where tipping is expected, and you are largely considered a leper if you don’t leave at least 10%, the impact of leaving said gratuity is diminished. The serving staff would have to more or less sit in your soup, sans pantalons, at one’s table, before you would even consider that maybe you should leave that gratuity box blank. In England, where tipping is less (but becoming increasingly) the norm, leave a big tip, and people will remember you. That’s where the importance of the aforementioned acronym comes in. The role of a tip is to insure you retain a certain level of service, effectively. It should never be – getting into semantics – to ensure proper service. It is a retrospective reward, not a proactive one. In effect, if someone were to provide me with great service, and I didn’t tip, well, I couldn’t really hold it against them for being loath to provide that level of service again. However, if I were to leave a big tip for some great service and someone going above and beyond the call of duty, then they are then incentivised to provide that level of service again, with the promise of further reward.

“The serving staff would have to more or less sit in your soup, sans pantalons, at one’s table, before you would even consider that maybe you should leave that gratuity box blank.”

Ultimately, the message I’m trying to get across is that where tipping becomes the norm, the incentive to provide exceptional service is diminished. Where is the incentive to do more? I believe any hospitality staff should be paid a salary commensurate with the minimum level of service expected from them – the customer should not have to defend the businesses’ bottom lines by feeling obliged to leave a tip regardless of the level of service. If this means a slight increase in the cost of a drink, a meal or a hotel room, I’m okay with that. At least then it’s not a hidden cost. I can then choose whether I want to provide further reward for exceptional service.

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