Is restaurant tipping a moral issue? For my late sister, Ursula, it was. She was, I thought, a wild over-tipper, always adding 20 per cent to the cost of any meal (and to any taxi ride, good, bad or indifferent).
“It’s far too much!” I’d protest. But she’d insist that it was a Christian duty to be as generous as possible to those who had performed a service. And sometimes waiters and waitresses didn’t get paid much. Indeed, for this very reason, there was a left-wing view that you shouldn’t tip at all – whether generously, averagely or parsimoniously, because, by tipping, you were aiding and abetting an employer to under-pay the staff. If an employee was dependent on tips, that too was wrong.
And there has been another common wrong. Too often, when an obligatory gratuity is added to the bill, the waiter or waitress doesn’t benefit directly – or not enough – when the proprietor takes a considerable cut.
Now Theresa May has weighed in on the restaurant tipping issue and promised, at this week’s Conservative Party conference, that big restaurant chains will henceforth be made to hand over the full amount of gratuities to those who perform the service. Restaurant businesses like Bella Italia, Cafe Route, Giraffe, Prezzo and Strada, which add an automatic 10 per cent to the cost of the meal, will have to ensure that the full percentage actually goes to the staff.
Theresa May is probably morally right in insisting that gratuities left for staff should genuinely go to the staff. Whether this will accord with the business or economic thinking in Tory circles is perhaps another matter.
I’ve also been advised, by a gourmet veteran, that it’s better for the staff if you leave the gratuity in cash, rather than adding it to the credit card bill. So, if I eat out, I try to do so. And as I delve into my purse to fish out the 10 per cent, maybe the 12.5 per cent, I hear my late sister’s voice at my elbow. “Don’t be mean! Make it 20!”
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