Saturday, 17 May 2008

Tipping: Inside the industry

Being a 10-year veteran of the hospitality industry, I am a compuslive tipper. When I lived in the States, I tipped every single person who offered me any kind of service from parking my car to pouring my wine. Tips are generally huge there as staff are paid well below the minimum wage and therefore an entire salary must be earned via the rewards of very hospitable service.

I knew it would be different here. Ten percent was the new standard from a 20 percent tip. And as a waitress, I expected to at least be paid fairly from my employer. What I have found is a series of restaurants across Edinburgh who deceive not only the wait staff but their customers as well.

Some restaurants do not pay the staff minimum wage. I worked for an Italian UK chain that refuses to cough up the legal minimum wage yet expect the staff to be super-servers capable of plating desserts, mixing cocktails, clearing tables, greeting the door and making the perfect cappacino all while ALSO keeping a section of eight or more tables happy even though they probably won't leave a decent compensation for your table-turning extravaganza. That said, the insanity is all part of the buzz of the business and at least I got to keep all of my tips.

The same can't be said of other local joints.
My flatmate worked for a reputable Eyre Pace establishment that let her keep her cash tips only. So where did all of those credit card gratuities go? To the owner, presumedly. She admittedly would skip through the leave-gratuity-phase when customers had to enter their PIN. This would force the guest to leave a much appreciated cash tip. And if no cash was on-hand, well it was better than the owner walking away with her hard-earned wages. Not that he was ever there, actually doing work.

I also did a trial-shift (another concept that is a total joke-working for FREE!) for a super-fine dining place on the Shore in Leith that apparently has this same policy. No one walks away with the tips they earn via credit cards and let's be honest here-if you have to fork out 100 quid on a lunch, chances are EVERYONE will charge it to the plastic. Where does it all go? Before I could even question it, a manager defensively said I'd have to speak to the owner to ask 'why' it goes back into the business. Something tells me he's been challenged before and perhaps I'm not the only one who did not return after my sneek peek into this warped world. After I'd heard enough and headed for the door, oh how I wanted to stop at the table of six Americans who would have undoubtedly put a healthy 20 percent tip into the pocket of God-knows-who, but certainly not their waiter.

I still tip and hope that everyone does too. It's just a shame that so many of us leave tips in good faith because we genuinely appreciate it when a server flashes a smile and sees to it that we don't go hungry or thirsty while under their attentive care.

Word to the wise:

Tip in cash as often as possible. Don't be swayed entirely from tipping on credit cards as not all businesses are bad apples. And just because you may ask the waitress if they will get to keep the tip for themselves, does not mean they will have the liberty of answering your question truthfully. Just beware. And bring some cash!

If you can offer some insight into these questionable practices, email or post them here.

Also in Bite magazine

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