Whilst being a student I worked as a hospitality assistant in a large conference and events facility, where the meals had already been paid for and no money switched hands, so as a waitress I rarely got a tip. It just generally didn’t happen, even though I often worked very hard serving thirty customers four courses a night.
However, whilst tending the bar at these events, where cash was exchanged, you could often make good tips- a slow night would get you your taxi home, a better night would pay an extra hour’s wage, and on a really good night you could take home notes.
The strangest tip I ever received was whilst working at a confectioners’ in York, an American tourist gave me a £7 tip for a box of chocolates just to get rid of his change…
Tipping in Britain is a strange custom- many people have no idea about tipping etiquette. I always tip in hair and beauty salons- but many of my friends have never tipped them in their lives.
Tipping is supposed to represent a proportion of the cost of a service- in Britain the norm is around 10%, but often people will assume a small amount, like a few pounds, will be a sufficient tip for their server no matter how much food they have ordered.
This is very different than say in the States or on the Continent, where tipping is regular, at around 15%, and understood by (almost) everyone.
Here in the UK many diners are confused about where and when to tip, or may feel pressured to tip even if the service has been bad just to be polite. That doesn’t even include a proportion of people who simply disagree wholesale with any tips- for a variety of reasons, like that they believe the server already gets paid sufficiently for what they do.
I think that the reason why tipping is so now irregular in the UK is because of our archaic class system. Even around 30 or 40 years ago the kind of people eating in restaurants were in a completely different monetary situation from the people serving them. They would have know exactly how much to tip, and the people waiting who didn’t have minimum wage protection would have really valued them.
But so many social changes in this country- like the breakdown of our once rigid class system, and the increase of the amount of disposable income people now earn- mean that most people, of whatever wage bracket, eat out.
According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2009 the average family spent £38.40 a week on restaurants and hotels, which is around 8% of the average family income. This is something that until recently would have been unheard of.
This is also coupled with a rise in low and middle price market restaurants and chain restaurants in the UK- where food is reasonably cheap and the high standards of service you might find at a fine dining facility are missing- so tipping becomes problematic.
You might have had several different food servers. You might have had to wait at the bar and ordered your own drinks. Or taken note of a table number and ordered at the bar. No one takes your coat, or makes conversation.
The fact is that once upon a time there was a real, noticeable class difference between the servers and the served. Someone with a lot of cash to splash would have known how much a tip would be appreciated by a server who would have earned such little money in comparison.
But that just doesn’t happen any more in a lot of establishments, where servers are paid over the national wage, and earn a similar amount to people in retail, for example, who you would never tip.
Perhaps today a tip is most appreciated as an acknowledgement to the server rather than as a financial bonus- a tip of any amount shows an appreciation of the hard work gone into good service.