Tipping – the balance

There I was on one of my Food & Drink Walking Tours, enjoying some succulent plump Moules in creamy yumminess in the beautiful Art Deco restaurant of St Giles Hotel and the subject of tipping came up.

To tip or not to tip that is the question, 5%, 10% more percent, add it to the bill, include it to the prices, to ignore it all together or wish it never existed.

You see this is how it all started in Tudor England when Noble Gentlemen would be invited to stay in grand mansions with the expectation that as a guest they should tip the servants, thus adding to their wage for all their extra effort. At the time it was often moaned about in local writings, as being an expensive business, all this visiting lark, offering coins to all staff from Coachman to Dressers for the want of upper-class show up-man-ship or was it the hosts meanness in expecting his guests to pay for his staff’s overtime.

Later in 17C England in ‘ye olde coaching Inns’ & ‘Coffee Houses’ – you would tip someone quite positively inferior to you to encourage them to serve you quick and efficiently. Thus also to ensure your superior wealthy status, so them peasants knew their standing in life. Because it certainly wasn’t the working men tipping for a good pie at ‘Sweeny tods’

It’s all so Dickensian if you think about it – a tradition set in class and expectation, which in many ways should have been dissolved like the pox when a few decades later we became civilised and let women vote and men build sheds.

Rightfully so, many establishments are endeavouring to dispel tipping altogether by adding higher prices to the menu or simply paying their staff a good wage. High end restaurants in America are ensuring service is guaranteed without the expectation of the gratuity & many others are following suit, like the Cruise ships, all-inclusive resorts & high end hotels which are all happy to endorse fully inclusive service charges. It’s common knowledge that customers like this stress free option.

Don’t get me wrong I’m a tipper – not hairdressers or cabbies but waiters in restaurants and cafes, I usually do the expected 10% or thereabouts, not so much on a massive bill when I round it down to the nearest note, or round it up when there is a mass of us. But I always tip – never thought not to, it’s just something I’ve always done. Set in tradition and expectation just as my parents did.

My earliest memory of tipping is my Grandad Russ under arm handing a tip to the head waiter in a fancy restaurant in Gt Yarmouth (if there ever was such a thing) I was suitably impressed and my lasting image is one of the eldest gentleman in the family group making sure their family was well serviced by the head bowed moustached man in a black suit – a very Victorian image, all but in the 70’s in a Greek Tavern on Yarmouth seafront, the posh end, serving French onion soup and Steak Diane. Surely those days have gone when you did actually get amazingly better service for slipping a few quid to the staff here and there. I have a vague remembrance of working as a teen waitress at Hedley House Hotel, now the Carlton Manor and seeing a similar under hand tipping action – I remember everyone rallying around to ensure the Rich couple in the fur coat with little Lord Fauntleroy to their side getting much more attention while all the other plebs in the restaurant got bog standard service only wishing they had a spare few pound notes to waft around to us servants of food – but that was all vanishing in the 80’s. By the time I moved to London in the 90’s to be a chef, tips only made it to the end of the meal.

But when I think about it – it’s often a hassle, I feel duty bound to do it, especially since some meanies don’t. Then you have to work it out – find change, find a note, calculate, add it to the credit card machine, round it up, round it down, negotiate with other guests – it would be better not to bother at all but instead to be legally banned and acceptably dissolved so no one ever has to tip again anywhere in the world. I mean it’s just a matter of time before this old tradition dies. And of course the thing is not every country tips, some find it insulting, while others have adopted it by ways of the management making more money, while others have a 5% levy and others will chase you up the street if you don’t pay 20% – you need to do your research before you can land on foreign soil – it’s a mind field.

Of course as a young waitress working myself through catering college, I loved the tips – my wages were the bare minimum or what the owners could get away with & tips made the difference between buying a single or buying an album that weekend. But of course when the manager found out what I was taking in tips for my excellent service and hard work they decided to collect them all up in a large pot and divide them between all staff including the creepy chef who owned the place, the bleached blond 21 year old manager who was married to him and their niece the pot washer – those tips mounted up but never got divided, not with me anyway.

That’s the other problem with tips – the problem of them never getting to the ones giving you the good service, often ending up in the boss’s pocket or sometimes used as a buffer for low wages when the service charge is forced on to the bill. It’s all so complicated in its truth and variants.

I really believe the majority of people would prefer to pay a little extra, not as a percentage added to the bill but included in the food costs, also knowing that the staff are paid well enough to offer you the same good service as everyone else – gone are the days of Edwardian servants in pantaloons, serving wenches with busty boobs & rotten teeth along with butlers in tails taking bribes to offer you the best table next to the Kray Twins for a few shillings. We are in a century of equality with equal opportunity’s & a choice of restaurants that everyone can enjoy from the shoe maker to the candle wick factory owner.

We are in the age of the internet, the age of space craft crashing on to mars, the age of gastronomy on a rectangle slate with foam and smoke – shouldn’t we be dropping the condescending bribes of coins from four millennia ago. With the age of contactless cards and watches you can swipe it really is a matter of time before the ‘ole English tip’ is a thing of yester-year along with cheque books.


But for now 10% will have to do – – – unless you can TIP BOMB, a new craze, when you give an extraordinarily large and generous tip to spread joy and happiness, mainly to those who really need it.


What does the web say?



Interestingly enough Americans tip 10-20% while we average out at 11%, while some countries would find it insulting like Scandinavian countries, China and Japan. While I know the British have a minimum wage and tips are a bonus, Americans pay is 1/3 less with the exception that tips will make up the other 2/3 of their wages meaning often without them they wouldn’t be able to live comfortably.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gratuity – interesting list of country’s who do or do not tip.



By Zena Leech-Calton ©