A recent survey claimed almost two thirds of Britons were “unwilling” to pay a service charge and many are confused about tipping etiquette. There’s worse news for bartenders, as 98% would never tip for a drink. Is it a cultural thing, or is it down to a generation growing up with fast food and takeaways? I know I always (inwardly) question exactly why I’m tipping my hairdresser or taxi driver, when all they’ve done is the job I’ve already paid them (handsomely) for.
Even in tip-friendly USA, some upscale restaurants have adopted a no-tipping policy – largely as a result of lawsuits by disgruntled serving staff (see point 10 in the Baum & Whiteman Trend Report).
Putting aside the Living Wage debate, one of the key reasons to baulk at the ‘discretionary’ service charge is the way restaurants still calculate it as a percentage of the total bill. Clearly, a waiter will have to work harder serving a Hen Party than a couple on a date, but this aside, why should my server benefit from my choice of dishes or wine?
I compared two 3-course meal occasions in Cote. Lunch came in at £41.20, plus £5.15 service charge. Dinner was £93.40, plus £11.70 service charge.
So here’s the question. Did the waiter work any harder on the dinner occasion? He brought the same number of dishes over roughly the same length of time, so was it worth more than twice the tip? If it makes this much difference in a casual dining restaurant, you can imagine the impact somewhere pricier.
It must be time for the industry to come up with a new method. If employers won’t pay a Living Wage, perhaps they could try a fixed price service charge, based on an average cost per person or per meal occasion? On the above example, lunch would average £3 p.p and dinner £6 p.p. Or average it out at £5 p.p all day. And if you had particularly great service, you could always leave more.
Or perhaps they could build it into the cost of the dishes – after all, every other business includes its overheads in its prices. The menu may be slightly more expensive, but it would avoid the bill shock, and any resentment, at the end of a nice meal. (At a recent business Christmas dinner, our party of 12 were presented with a ‘demand’ for an additional £120).
As ever, a decent marketing strategy can help. From how you position your brand (a fair employer?) to how you communicate the service charge policy. If many diners are still confused about tipping etiquette, there’s a clear opportunity to become a customer champion. One thing’s for sure, until the industry finds a better way, we’re stuck with customer confusion and resentment over the 12.5% ‘optional gratuity’.