Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Every two weeks, the blogosphere comes alive with something called a Blog Off. A Blog Off is an event where bloggers of every stripe weigh in on the same topic on the same day. The topic for this round of the Blog Off is "If you can't afford the tip, you can't afford the meal."

The excellent Vecchia Aidone restaurant
in  Enna, Sicily

Back in Britain I had a friend who refused to tip.  This used to irritate and embarrass me no end whenever we were out together but over the past few years I have softened a little towards her stance.

In the UK, unlike in the US, tipping is not obligatory.  You may get some surly looks in certain restaurants if you don't tip but the only person likely to yell at you for your omission is a London cabbie.

Whilst I used to round up taxi fares to the nearest pound in Britain and tip in restaurants provided the service had been good, I rarely tipped my hairdresser because the tip, added to the already high cost of his attention, would have rendered my visit to him prohibitively expensive. It is also a British convention not to tip the owner of a salon.

Not so long ago in Britain the postman, newspaper delivery boy or girl, refuse collectors and the milkman all expected tips at Christmas and these were usually given ungrudgingly by householders. I am even old enough to remember when we had coalmen and the coalman, too, got his tip.  But then there came an era when all these good folk started knocking on doors to ask for their "Christmas box" and I'm not sure that people gave it quite so willingly from then on.  Having been away from Britain for nearly seven years I am uncertain about the extent to which this custom continues, but it is rarer these days because there is more rotation among workers and local populations change faster than they used to.

Here in Italy, too, tipping is a matter of choice:  it is appreciated but not expected as a right in bars and restaurants and I even know of waiters and barmen who will hand back a proffered tip to a customer.  Why? Because taking the trouble to present even the simplest order elegantly and providing good service with a smile are regarded as routine duties and not as frills for which the customer has to pay a hidden "extra".  There are, however, a few public conveniences [restrooms] in tourist spots which the unfortunate traveller will find hard to exit without leaving the "optional" tip!

My friend in Britain felt that the tipping habit was resonant of the aristocrat distributing largesse and that its continuance actually stopped workers from fighting for better remuneration.  I have some sympathy with this view and regard tipping as being on a par with the boss who always buys his secretary a frivolous Christmas present rather than paying her the proper rate for her work.

To sum up, in a tipping culture I want a choice in the matter of whether I tip or not but I would really like to see the custom abolished. It is a social minefield and a throwback to the class system.  Pay everyone a decent wage instead!

Below is the full list of bloggers who are participating in this week's Blog Off:


Paul Anater said...

Fascinating post Pat, thanks as always. It's always interesting to explore the cultural difference that come along with the practice of tipping. When I'm in Italy I always feel like a cheapskate when I don't tip in a restaurant or coffeehouse. Some cultural stuff's just hard wired.

Claude said...

Growing up French Canadian, in Montreal (a long time ago), we seldom ate in restaurants. We gave tips only when, once a year, we had British Afternoon Tea, in the Morgan Room, on Ste-Catherine Street. My mother wanted us to learn the English lifestyle. I loved the dainty sandwiches, the little cakes, the very hot tea in small individual teapots, the fancy cups, and the white heavy napkins.

At Christmas, we gave a bottle of wine to everyone who rendered us services: the doctor, the postman, the milkman, the bread deliverer, the iceman, the hairdresser, the seamstress, the cleaning lady, the carpenter... Sometimes, my mother would add French Brie. I learned to wrap bottles, and to make bows, at a very early age.

Today, I totally agree that if you can't afford a tip, you can't afford the meal. A tip is not really "money". And it's not a supplementing income. It only means thanks for special attention. If I don't get the attention, I give a minimal tip. And I never return to that place.

As I'm getting older, I'm very generous with people who understand old age limitations. But I can be a miser if the cab driver does not open the door for me, and helps me out with my cane.

Life changes, but not the human heart. We need appreciation and attention in all the circumstances of our life.

Merci pour votre chaude hospitalité, Welshcakes. Joyeux Noël et mes Meilleurs Voeux pour la Nouvelle Année à vous et Simi!

Anonymous said...

I spent three weeks in England a couple of years ago. I experienced the same phenomenon, as an American in Britain. I tip here, so I tipped there. I could tell it irritated some of the locals that I was with... perhaps it made them look bad, or made me look like a guy with too much money in his pocket, but it is MY custom, so I tipped at every restaurant.

I doubt tipping will ever go away. Like Paul said, "Some cultural stuff's just hard wired."

Joseph said...

This was a very interesting take on tipping. As we pointed out, here in the States, the tips are part of the waiters’ wages, which I don’t particularly care for, but there it is. I was in Germany as a soldier in the mid 1960s, but the eating out was mostly just bratwurst and beer, the kind of thing one gets at a wagon somewhere. As a cook I had access to the mess hall, so I rarely ate out. I do remember that my parents went to Europe in the 1980s, and at one point they were in Vienna. My father started talking to the members of the band and said they had come all the way from America and that it would be a shame to not hear “The Blue Danube.” The band was delighted to play it, but they refused the tip my dad offered at the end! He said they left a lot of money on the table anyway, hoping that some of it would make its way to the band.

Patricia said...

Tipping is very expected in the US. It used to be 15% but I find articles saying the norm is now 20%. That can make the cost of the dinner prohibitive. In many restaurants if you have a party of more than 6, an 18% gratuity is automatically added to your bill. Most service industry people also expect a tip...parking valets, hair dressers, barbers, newspaper delivery person. Unfortunately, many people paid only minimum wage rely on the tips to have a liveable income. I have always thought TIP stood for "To Insure Promptness" and felt it should reflect the service rendered. I tip out of choice and let the amount reflect my appreciation.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Thank you, Paul. I agree that some cultural habits are ingrained. With me it's punctuality! Hi, Claude. Thank you for sharing your experiences here. I didn't realise you had had icemen there. What a nice custom yo give the winr and cheese. Je vous remercie de votre loyauté et je vous souhaite un très joyeux Noel et une bonne année. Amitiés, Simi et moi.Hi, Scott and thank you for your insight. I also agree about cultural habits. Hi, Joseph. Thanks for sharing your experiences, too. I do hope the band got some of your father's kind tip! Hi, Patricia. That is very interesting 20% does seem excessive to me. I agree with you about choice.


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