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Tipping anxieties: What’s the appropriate standard for tipping in South African restaurants?

Is it deceitful when a waiter doesn't tell you about the already added service charge?

by: Dax Villanueva | 31 Mar 2017

I recently had some friends visiting Cape Town from the UK. They invited me to dinner one evening and I met up with them at the restaurant bar as we had to wait for our table. They ordered a bottle of wine and a couple of beers and I kept the person who was paying company at the bar while the others wandered off to find a bar table to claim.

Which means I was there when it happened... I was there when this person paid for the drinks without leaving any tip. If I remember correctly, the bill was something like R192 and he paid with a R200 note. Then waited patiently for his R8 change, which he slipped into his pocket. This was a good thing. (Yes, that’s not a typographical error, it was a good thing). Let me tell you why...

 It helped me realise that I needed to intervene when the bill came for the dinner we were about to have. You see, they don’t tip in the UK, or the service charge is included in the bill. Some travellers are savvy and find out about the tipping culture in the country they are visiting, but others assume it works the same everywhere.

My friends were treating me to dinner, so ordinarily I would not even get to see the bill. But on this occasion as the bill came I put out my hand and said, “let me check it and work out the tip for you”. I added a 15% tip and passed it to them to pay. Which they did and they thanked me for the assistance. You see they wouldn’t want to not tip appropriately, they are likely just unaware of the tipping etiquette.

When it’s a friend, you have more options. If they offer to pick up the bill when it arrives, you might offer to split it and if they refuse, say “well at least let me pay the tip then”. Even if they don’t let you pay the tip they will be aware that a tip is required and it’s not just small change.

ALSO READ: Tipping does not pay waiters' wages

When it’s not friends you’re dealing with, things become more difficult. I’ve been in more complicated scenarios where I’ve had to be more creative. If it’s a business meal, and you’re not paying, it’s not appropriate to be grabbing the bill and adding in the tip. You have to just let them pay and not interfere. In that scenario, if I sense they have not tipped I might excuse myself and go to the toilet but slip the waiter a tip en route.

Another subtle option would be to ask them, as a point of conversation, if tipping is expected where they come from. With any luck, they might ask you what the standard tip amount is in South Africa. It’s important to remember though, that you run the risk of upsetting your business associate. He or she may have tipped when you thought they didn’t or they did not want to tip for a specific reason and you’re undermining them by making a point of tipping.

How restaurants can do their part

I think that restaurants could also do a better job from their side. I recently ate at Willoughby’s and at the bottom of the bill, near the total, it said:
"Dear Guest, if you enjoyed our offering please add a gratuity (10 – 15% recommended)". That way anybody who doesn’t know what an appropriate tip amount would be will be informed, and those who are not used to tipping will have been reminded that it is expected.

Clarke’s also has a similar message at the bottom of their bill: "If you are happy with the service from your waitron the standard tip in South Africa ranges between 10% and 20%".

This is a simple and easy solution. It’s much better than the alternative solution I am seeing more and more restaurants implementing - which is to just add the tip to the bill. I don’t think this is a good direction, for a few reasons.

Firstly, in my experience (which is quite extensive) the waiter never tells the patron that the tip has been included and there is still a line for gratuity so the patron assumes they still need to add the tip, so ends up double paying.

I personally think this is deceitful on the part of the waiter, and if they don’t inform the patron they are double tipping, I consider it theft. I’ve spoken to a few owners and managers of restaurants that include the tip and they tell me that it’s policy for the waiters to inform the patron that tip is included. But when I’ve visited those establishments, the waiter has never pointed it out. In fact, I’ve experienced the opposite where the waiter, through some clever penmanship, tried to hide the fact that tip had been included.

The other reason I am not a fan of the tip being included in the bill is it takes discretion out of the equation. Whether the tip is included at 10% or 12.% (which seems to be the norm now) or 15%, it takes away the choice of how much to tip from the patron.

If I have terrible service, I want the option of tipping less. Tipping more wouldn’t be difficult because one can just add on additional gratuity but people seldom do that if they see service is already included, so good waiters may be missing out on those additional tips.

I believe informing and reminding people about the appropriate service charge is the optimal route. Forcing the service charge on people just antagonises them, especially if they end up accidentally double tipping.

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Have you been treated to dinner and suspected the person did not tip? How did you handle it? Let us know in the comments below.



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