Food and Drink Travelling

Why Tipping Infuriates Me

Does anybody else find the concept of tipping completely infuriating? I find it annoying that in many situations I pay for a service and then am expected to pay extra, sometimes quite a lot extra, afterwards.

I understand why it happens: in some professions—waiter/waitress service for example—the pay can be pretty poor, non-existent even, and tips are essential for the livelihood of the person in question. But surely this is an issue for the employer rather than the diner who is already paying for the experience of eating out?

Please don’t misunderstand me. I do not want anybody in the service industry to live in poverty, but I am not supportive of any system that accepts employment without a salary, instead forcing workers to rely on tips. Neither am I a cheapskate so I do tip in restaurants, but I find the whole system confusing and it puts pressure on me when I’m eating out, to the point where I actually dread the time when I have to pay up and leave. Eating out while travelling can cause issues because the rules are just so different in every country. I have been told that in the USA not to tip, or to leave too small a tip is the ultimate crime and you will be refused any further service—even in a bar! In Sweden it is highly likely that the waitress actually has a higher salary than you do and, as you’ve had to take out a bank loan just to eat out in the first place, it seems unfair that you should have to part with even more money. In Japan it can be considered offensive to leave a tip, and in Vietnam they have absolutely no notion of what constitutes good service yet will still ask for a tip if you don’t leave one—that’s if they haven’t miscalculated the bill in the first place to add on a few extra dong in the hope that you won’t notice.

The thing I find particularly confusing is what ‘good service’ actually means. When I am eating out then there are certain things that I expect to happen: somebody should show me to a table, hand me a menu, take my order and bring my food/drink to my table. If you are going to a restaurant you are already paying for table service, surely it is in the job description of a waiter? Surely that is why you go to a restaurant rather than a fast-food joint? Yes, I know that the waiter won’t get much of that money, but as I already said, that is an issue for the employer to deal with. Personally I don’t like being harassed with questions and small talk while I am trying to eat. I do not want a waiter to hover in the shadows and descend on me every time I look their way. I certainly don’t think it is good service and I don’t want to pay any extra for it, but maybe that’s just me and my reserved British nature. I find it embarrassing when I have received substandard service but a tip is still expected, I usually end up doing what any other Brit would do—pay the tip without saying a word and then grumble about it afterwards.

Enjoying a meal out before worrying about the tip

I find it strange that only certain professions demand tips. As a teacher I am paid to do my job, I don’t expect my students to hand me a fiver on the way out and say ‘thanks for a great lesson, Miss’, or for a parent to slip me a note or two after Parent Teacher Conferences. Of course, teachers get paid a great deal more than waitresses (apart from in Sweden) but the principle is still the same. Maybe a better example would be when I worked as a cashier for a well-known UK bank. I was paid £9000 a year, not much more than a waitress’ salary. I did not get any bonuses from my employers and nobody ever slipped me some change after a particularly smooth transaction. What makes catering industry employees more in need of a top-up than the average shop or factory worker on minimum wage?

I do tip when I visit a restaurant, but it causes me a great deal of frustration. Should I stick to the recommended 10% or has inflation made that a little bit cheap now? On a recent trip to the US I was surprised to discover that a tip of 20% is the norm. When did that happen? What about the times when you’re travelling and don’t have that much cash with you? And how about those times when you go to an expensive restaurant for a good friend’s birthday but you’re pretty broke and so you order the cheapest dish, skip dessert and stick to soft drinks but then end up leaving a tip that is larger than the cost of your meal? When did eating out become so complicated?

Perhaps the notion of tipping infuriates me so much at the moment because when you’re travelling you often have no choice other than to eat out and a small tip every night of the week soon accumulates to a full meal—this is a big deal when you are on a budget.

On a recent trip to New York, I finally came face-to-face with the huge demand of tipping in a way that I have never seen in any other country. When a bar bill arrived I was faced with three choices on the printed receipt: 15%, 18% and 20% – no questions whether I thought that the service was worth a tip larger than my cocktail had cost. All she had done was bring my drinks and a plate of tapas to my table. That waitress ended up with $15 in a tip, more than I could afford to spend in any one meal for myself. It makes me wonder what her employer is doing with all the money that they should be using to pay their staff.

The bill arrives 🙁

I then encountered more tipping frustration when we took a taxi to the airport. When I take a taxi then I expect to be driven to my destination without incident. That is what a taxi driver does. That is what I am already paying for. I waved him down in a street he was already driving down and asked to go to the airport. I agreed to an extortionate amount of money as a fee. He never got out to open any doors for me, and he sat in the front seat watching me struggle to load a 15kg backpack in and out of the car. The only inconvenience I had inflicted on him was a 15 minute drive to the airport—but driving customers is his job! He asked for a $5 tip. I know that $5 is not a lot of money, but I don’t believe he had done anything to deserve it.

How much does the average taxi driver earn in tips?

Maybe I am being unreasonable but I don’t think so. I have been a waitress in the past: I didn’t get tips, I had a salary. It was nice when people chose to leave a tip, it reminded me that I was doing a good job, but I didn’t get upset with people who didn’t leave one, and they didn’t feel bad if they didn’t (or couldn’t) leave a tip. I believe this makes for better service in the end because let’s face it, who really enjoys being served by an overly enthusiastic waiter/waitress only out for a large tip?

What are your thoughts about tipping? Do you think that I am being unreasonable? Do you work in a sector where tipping is expected? How do you feel when people don’t tip? Please leave a comment below!

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14 Comments

  1. says:

    Tipping is probably the most confusing thing we encountered when we were overseas last year – we often had to rush and check the Lonely Planet guides on our iPhone in the cab from the airport just to see if we had to tip them or not. Talk about annoying!

    With that said, the service we experienced in restaurants in the US was unmatched. They definitely worked harder for their money than waitresses back here in Australia. Taxi drivers on the other hand…
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    1. I agree that the service is better in the US, the waitress who served us was very friendly and helpful (although she did get our first round of drinks wrong!). It is so confusing when you move from country to country and you have no idea what you should leave. Tipping taxi drivers is by far the worst though!!

  2. Tip jars at the counter sometimes bug me. I once went into a do-it-yourself yogurt place, where I got my cup, poured my own yogurt, put the toppings on myself and then went to the counter and put it on the scale to be weighed. All the employee did was tell me how much it cost and there was a tip jar on the counter. Huh?

    1. Thanks for the comment. Tip jars really annoy me too, in the UK if there is a jar on the counter it is usually a charity jar, but now it seems these are becoming replaced by tip jars. I’d far rather leave my change with somebody who really needs it rather than somebody who has a job! I also had to tip the person bagging my groceries in the supermarkets in South America, this really bugged me as 9 times out of 10 I had to repack it all anyway as they don’t even try to distribute the weight evenly or put same-type products in the same bags!!! Tipping has no place in a civilised society – just pay your staff properly :–)

  3. Have known NY as the city that never sleeps and of course I know why. I wish to visit the place too. I even want to visit Vegas also.

  4. says:

    I 100% agree with everything you have said. My biggest bug bear is when they select the amount for you.

    When I first arrived in New Zealand I had a hard time walking away without tipping. By the end of my trip 2.5 months later I was quite used to it, and felt better after a friend working as a waitress explained to me they are much better paid to start with in that part of the world. Going back to Canada where 15% is the norm was very painful.
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    1. It drives me crazy, it really does. I don’t have anything against tipping if I have been very happy with the service but I’d like to be in control of the amount. I also don’t like feeling responsible for paying the salary, I really believe that is the employer’s responsibility and the tip should be a little ‘extra’, not the main wage. I think the UK works in a similar way to New Zealand where the staff are paid a proper wage and don’t have to depend on the tip.

  5. hazydawn says:

    The last sentence is one of the things that bugs me the most about this system. I don’t like people being overly friendly with me only because they’re out for extra money. It makes me feel uncomfortable and even a little bit depressed when I think about whether that taxi driver is only talking to me and pretending to be interested in my personal life because they expect more money. I’m content with the standard service if they don’t feel like talking or don’t want to put extra effort in their job. That’s me, venting my feelings in the comments section of a two year old article. :0

    1. Thank you for venting on my two year old article 🙂 I totally agree, I hate feeling that somebody is only being nice to me because they want a tip. And also, I kind of want to be left alone when eating a meal, or sitting in a taxi.

  6. Jason says:

    I have issues with tipping too! I think tipping was introduced as a way for employers to underpay their employees. I think we should only tip when service is above and beyond what is expected. Why should I tip someone for doing their job. I went to Jamaica and was asked many times for tips. I hate it when they ask.

  7. Emma says:

    I agree totally. I hate this mentality of trying to make us western tourists feel guilty… Lonely Planet guide – Egypt – if you can afford to go to Egypt you can make a driver’s life easier.

    We have spent months, if not years saving and western countries have very high costs of living. It’s not our fault that someone else is poor. They knew from the beginning when they took the job on what the salary would be like. Rule of thumb, you don’t like it, get another job.
    And waiters, drivers, guides, are not performing brain surgery so they can’t exactly expect a high salary

  8. Steve says:

    Screw mandatory tipping. I’ll leave something, for any service, when I can and feel like it and I don’t allow people to shame me into feeling bad about not tipping.

    1. I am British, so I must admit that I feel somewhat similar – tipping should be a choice when you appreciate good service, rather than an expectation. However, I do feel for people in the US who are not paid well with the expectation that the tips will support their wages. What a horrible and uncaring way to treat your employees!

  9. Gina says:

    I live in NYC. And I’m sick of the concept of tipping. Paying employees is job of employers (who btw many times get percentage of tip in addition to the profits they make off business).
    It’s out of hand. Even fast food places and postman expect to be tipped.
    Recently went for brow wax – waxer made huge drama claiming tipping was 45% and she wasn’t doing it for free (despite already paying waxing and “taxes” she had added – I paid for waxing and walked out).
    Fast food places now expect tips by putting out cups and asking patrons for money.
    Tipping should be banned and employers should pay employees. Patrons pay bill and tax – that’s it and it’s enough.

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