Let’s talk tipping etiquette

Tipping can be a touchy subject, especially among people who work in the service industry. Ask anyone who’s been a waiter, bartender, kitchen worker, or cleaner at a restaurant and they’ll tell you that tipping is an absolute must. If you turn around and ask the average person on the street, they probably won’t have an opinion on tipping, or they’ll say that tipping should go the way of the dodo.

I used to work in the service industry and most of my friends still do. I’ve participated in the tipping debate from the position of a waiter, bartender, hostess, manager and customer, and I still don’t have a solid answer as to whether tipping should be a thing or not. I believe that hard work should be rewarded, but I also believe that people should earn a living wage and not be paid pennies as an afterthought.

Why should I pay your salary?

Some people (usually people who have never worked at a restaurant before) will tell you that tipping should be abolished. “Restaurant owners should just pay their staff a living wage! Why should I pay their salaries if they work for someone else?” Sure, this sounds good in theory, but the reality is that most restaurant owners have a bottom line to meet, and will thus pay their staff minimum wage.

As of June 2018, the minimum wage for people in the service industry is R17,34 per hour. Sure, it sounds like a lot, but it works out to only R3 121,20 per month — if you work nine hours per day, five days per week. BUT (and it’s a big but), if you take into account that most restaurant staff work in shifts and are often shifted only a handful of times during the week, this number drops significantly. Many people see waitering and bartending as “student jobs”, but many service industry workers have families to support and rely on waitering as their only source of income. For some people this works out well, in many restaurants you can work yourself up from a cleaner to a runner, to a waiter, to a bartender, and eventually a manager; but this is definitely not always the case.

If they changed the law today to abolish tipping, how many restaurants do you think will increase their staff’s wages? Even if they wanted to, the restaurant’s expenses and income will still stay pretty much the same, so where would this extra money come from? Would you be happy if all restaurants increased their food prices to accommodate for the increase in salaries?

All waiters do is carry food, so why should I tip them?

First things first, the waiter, bartender, hostess, or whoever else you tip almost NEVER goes home with the full tip. Most restaurants pool tips between waiters, who then give a percentage of their tips to the runners, barbacks, bartenders, or sometimes even the kitchen staff. This means that your tip contributes to at least three or four different people’s salaries, not just the person who brought you your food.

Now, on to the most important part of this question. To the untrained eye it might seem like waiters only take your order and bring you food, but that’s not always the case. The vast majority of waiters have duties other than just taking orders and bringing food. In many restaurants, waiters help make and pour drinks, especially coffees and waters, and sometimes even have to pour glasses of wine or make cocktails.

They also have a myriad of other duties such as cleaning and setting up the restaurant, unpacking cutlery and crockery, helping to wash the dishes, answering the phone and organising reservations, all while juggling between 5 to 10 tables each with their own list of demands, allergies, dislikes and changes to the menu. This means that they also need to know the menu off by heart, memorising each ingredient and possible allergen, as well as the prices of each dish and add-ons, so you don’t have to wait while they run to the POS to find out how much extra avo will cost you.

Can’t I just not tip?

Some people don’t like the concept of tipping; and they should get the same level of service regardless of whether they’re planning on tipping or not. I’ve seen waiters who neglect customers who look like they won’t tip, and rather focus on customers who they think will leave a big tip. Usually, a waiter can spot a non-tipper a mile away, but that doesn’t mean that those customers should be neglected just because of preconceived notions.

I fully agree that everyone should be treated the same in a restaurant, but for now, at least in South Africa, we’re in a place where tipping is seen as customary, and people rely on that extra money to feed their families.

What is your opinion on tipping? And how much do you think is enough to tip? Let us know in the comments below.

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