Not long ago, a distinguished Italian restaurant in Cape Town found itself the recipient of a bewildering flurry of reviews on this website – hardly any of which appeared to emanate from people who had actually dined there. They stemmed from a reviewer who was annoyed at the attitude he received from his waitress when he short-tipped her by calculating the tip on the food only and not the wine.
Now, whilst agreeing that a waitress should never argue about her tip – that's the manager's job – I must say it was fascinating to see the different attitudes that people have towards tipping.
Comments ranged from the tax inspector 'I always subtract the 14% VAT and tip on the remainder' (get a life man!), through the nitpicky person 'I start at 10% and every time the server fails to impress, I deduct a percent', to that recurring mantra of non-tippers 'I never tip because I don't tip anyone else to do their job.'
This seems to be the main attitude from the non-tippers out there – nothing to do with good or bad service received, but simply 'I don't tip a sales assistant in a clothes store, so why should I pay a waiter for merely doing their job?' which on the face of it does sound reasonable.
Spot the difference
The thing is, you do actually pay a sales assistant to do their job – their salary is built into the price you pay for your trousers and shoes. This makes it even more annoying when you wait ages at the cash desk for the assistant to finish her recital of last night's date to her friend before she can deign to ring up your purchases.
Another, very common example – I really wish I could deduct R20 or R30 from my bank charges for every time I get the same-old blank stare, denial of any previous conversation and stubborn refusal to even look at your bank balance without 14 copies of your ID book from the staff at my bank.
I think we pay for atrocious service every day of the week, but because it is always built into the charges and prices we pay, we never specifically notice it and can’t do anything about it.
So pity the poor waiters who cannot get away with giving you the kind of attitude and lack of helpfulness that many other workers give you (I won’t even START on the people at Home Affairs and Telkom!). Minimum wage for waiters is R9.48 per hour – I certainly couldn't survive on that and I bet many people who read this would agree.
Just because the hospitality industry actually gives you the opportunity to reward good service and to express your disapproval of bad service doesn't mean you should use it as an excuse to try to save the odd R50 by stiffing the waiter on his tip.
If we all do this, then one of two things will happen – either service levels will deteriorate dramatically as no-one with half a brain will be prepared to work for the minimum wage and no tips. Or, in order to attract good waiters, restaurants will have to pay substantially more than minimum wage which will ultimately end up on your bill anyway – but this time, with no opportunity to express your disapproval if the service was rubbish.
So next time you short-tip a perfectly pleasant server, perhaps just think about all the other bad service you’ve already paid for today. At least this way, you keep your options open.
What's your take on tips?
Cathy Marston is the owner of The Nose Restaurant and Wine Bar and a fulltime, professional eater and drinker. Any food, any drink, anywhere, anytime...